A look out of the window at the greyness that cloaked the Midlands today tells me that time has moved on from last summer. Some things seem not to have changed. Unfortunately one of them is the quality of responses to consultations on proposals to criminalise the purchase of sex. Last summer it was Scotland, this time round it is Northern Ireland. I did blog about the Scottish consultation here but will not be doing the same for Northern Ireland. There is no need to as pretty much everything I said about that consultation applies here – not least the preponderance of copy and paste responses from people who clearly know nothing about sex work. You can find a list of the responses here. If you only have time to read a few please read the submjssions of Amnesty International, the Police Service of Northern Ireland and of Wendy Lyon who submitted what is pretty much a fully annotated academic paper. The police say that, as far as they are concerned, the majority of sex workers in Northern Ireland are independent and not trafficked or pimped, that the proposed legislation would be difficult to police and consume large amounts of police time better spent on dealing with real trafficking, and that by cutting the police off from sex workers and clients it would close off a valuable source of intelligence.
The Northern Ireland Bill is not actually only, or even primarily, about sex work. It is actually a Bill to do with combatting human trafficking and it is Clause Six that would criminalise the clients of sex workers. The Clause is not an essential part of the Bill and could be dropped without impairing the legislation in any way. In fact it would improve it since, as the Police point out, Clause Six is not really compatible with the rest of the Bill. A stubborn insistence on retaining the clause could, of course., lead to the whole Bill, with its worthwhile provisions, being lost.
Will the supporters of Clause Six, notably the Democratic Unionist Lord Morrow, listen? Sadly experience suggests that the noisy advocates of the Swedish model and similar are immune to fact and argument. Ideology rules.
While the police in Northern Ireland are making a positive contribution to a public debate of importance, thing are, sadly, different in West Yorkshire. I heard on Twitter last week about a case involving Polish brothel keepers where the sentencing hearing had to be postponed because the useless Capita Applied Language Solutions could not find an interpreter. I was intrigued but depressed when I read about the case today. Poles are enterprising and hard working people at least when not in Poland where enterprise is held back by labyrinthine bureaucracy . and these ladies had been suitably enterprising. They were sex workers who, fed up with exploitation at the place they were working, set up on their own, effectively a co-operative brothel. Things were fine until the police raided the premises and the ladies were prosecuted, receiving unbelievably harsh sentences of long hours of community service and suspended prison sentences, the main effect of which will be to prevent them earning a living in the way they choose.
So in Northern Ireland we have a Bill that purports to end the sexual exploitation of women while in Bradford two women receive a criminal record for escaping exploitation. There can be no more eloquent, no more depressing comment on official policy towards sex work in the UK. The time for decriminalisation has surely come.