Why Northern Ireland’s new law banning the purchase of sex is patronizing and problematic

Oct 29, 2014
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Opinion: Turning off the red light in Northern Ireland

Why Northern Ireland's new law banning the purchase of sex is patronizing and problematic

‘Independent research by Northern Ireland’s Department of Justice showed that no locally-based sex workers surveyed supported criminalizing the purchase of sex.’ Above, sex workers wearing masks to protect their identity protested against the human trafficking Bill at Stormont last week. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Stormont may be collapsing around their ears – broke, rancorous and dysfunctional – but if there’s one thing on which Northern Ireland’s divided politicians can always be sure to agree it’s the regulation and control of women’s bodies. All for their own good, of course.

That’s why the Northern Ireland Assembly has voted overwhelmingly in favour of a ban on the purchase of sex. The new law – part of DUP peer Lord Morrow’s Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill, and inspired by the so-called Nordic model – would seek to “target those men who buy sexual services and support those trapped in prostitution to exit it”.

But Sinn Féin and the DUP are not the only ideologically opposed groups to find common purpose in this enforced rescue mission for “fallen” women. Care, the conservative Christian organisation which campaigns against abortion, and Women’s Aid, which assists victims of domestic violence, are also united in their enthusiastic support for it, bolstered by the absolutist conviction that all commercial sex is a form of violence against women.

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