Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Considered approach necessary to protect victims of human trafficking

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We need to beware of silver bullets in legislation. Making something illegal doesn't necessarily stop it happening and there can be unintended consequences. That is why following our hunches and moral instincts is seldom good enough.

Nobody could doubt Lord Morrow's compassionate intent. He sees himself as the heir to William Wilberforce, the born again Christian MP who campaigned against the slave trade in the 19th century. He is backed by CARE, a Christian group who helped draft his legislation. They also tried to get a version of Sweden's Sex Purchase Act enacted in Scotland.

Lord Morrow argues that men buying sex should get their collars felt, not women forced to sell it. Intuitively that sounds right. Sweden has seen a collapse in street prostitution since it introduced a similar law in 1999. But there has been a similar decline in other developed countries as the sex trade moved from street to internet.

Human trafficking hasn't collapsed in Sweden either, it has simply become more difficult to monitor. Earlier this year two Romanians were extradited to Sweden from Northern Ireland on suspicion of being part of a human trafficking ring.

Both deny any wrongdoing and must be presumed innocent. Yet the fact that suspects were arrested here for offences involving Sweden shows that our laws are not as lenient as is sometimes implied. There is no suggestion that it originated from a Swedish tip-off either.

We have had two convictions for human trafficking here, an ethnic Chinese woman and Hungarian man. That shows the law has teeth.

Allowing prostitution but making it an offence to promote or organise it has advantages. The police can take a flexible approach aimed at helping people caught up in the sex trade.

Some argue that it should be legal for a number of prostitutes to work together in a single premises, so that they can protect each other, rather than encouraging operation as vulnerable individuals.

However, any change, whether to liberalise or tighten the law, must be carefully thought through, not rushed through on a tide of emotion or a gut feeling.

Lord Morrow has already succeeded in getting some changes to David Ford's Justice Bill around the protection of trafficking victims.

Perhaps that is the best outcome available.

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