As a Stormont delegation heads to Stockholm this week, Finola Meredith hears how prostitutes there fear the state more than their clients and blame the legislation for the murder of a fellow sex worker
If Lord Morrow gets his way, it will soon be illegal to pay for sex in Northern Ireland. The DUP peer’s proposed legislation, the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill – which is now before the Justice Committee at Stormont – contains 19 clauses, intended to update Northern Ireland’s laws on trafficking and prostitution.
The inspiration for clause 6 of the Bill, which seeks to criminalise the purchase of sexual services, is the so-called ‘Swedish model’. Lord Morrow has repeatedly argued that similar legislation in Sweden has led to a big decrease in human trafficking and street prostitution.
And his DUP colleague, Jim Wells, a prominent member of the Justice Committee appears to be utterly convinced. He refers to “very clear evidence that making it illegal to purchase sex has resulted in a halving of the number of men doing that in Sweden, making Sweden a very cold house for prostitution and trafficking”. Women’s Aid, which works with victims of trafficking, has added its support to clause 6 too, stating that “anyone buying sexual services is supporting sexual slavery and the degradation of human rights”.
But what is really going on in Sweden? What is the reality of the situation for sex workers, the very people who are most directly affected by that country’s prostitution policy; how has this legislation affected them?
And where is the evidence that banning the purchase of sex actually works?
Pye Jakobsson, from Stockholm, is a sex worker activist and former sex worker. She is the co-founder of the national organisation for sex workers in Sweden, Rose Alliance.
Jakobsson is unequivocal in her condemnation of the 1999 Sex Purchase Act. She says that, in treating women who sell sex as damaged, weak and exploited, sex workers have been reduced to victims by the authorities.
Abuse and discrimination has increased as a result, with frequent police raids against sex workers in their own homes.
‘Police aim to catch the men, but it is Sweden’s sex workers who really pay the bill’