Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Belfast's prostitution problem 'out of control'

Call for action on complaints

Street prostitution in Belfast is out of control and making life a misery for city centre residents, it has been claimed.

Street prostitution in Belfast is out of control and making life a misery for city centre residents, it has been claimed.

Dozens of prostitutes - some in their mid-teens - are selling themselves nightly just yards from the City Hall, said SDLP councillor Pat McCarthy.

He said he has received complaints from residents at a number of central apartment complexes in the area who claim they are being pestered.

Mr McCarthy said there is a continual nightly "rat run" of men of all ages driving through Alfred Street, Adelaide Street and Linen Hall Street in search of sex.

"If you drive around any night you will see the prostitutes. There are about 20 or 30 on any given night and they are getting younger," he said.

"You can also see cars with pimps in them. They (the prostitutes) are being controlled - it's not freelance.

"I would be surprised if there wasn't paramilitary involvement.

"One female resident was propositioned going in and out of her apartment building by kerb crawlers," he said.

"One male resident was parking his car and a prostitute got in, thinking he was a customer."

Politicians are dodging an open debate on the issue which is undermining Belfast's resurgent reputation as a modern European city, according to the councillor.

"This can't be allowed to continue as it is. It is impinging on the quality of life of residents.

"We need a mature debate to see if we can come up with some solutions," he insisted.

Belfast has two options, he said, on how it deals with the "oldest profession in the world" and must now make a decision.

"Do we take a 'zero-tolerance' approach or do we legislate for it like in Amsterdam? We have to decide."

If people opted for the latter - a "red-light" district, possibly in one of the city's industrial estates - it could be properly policed, he suggested.

The situation has prompted a meeting of residents, to be attended by the PSNI, in City Hall next Monday evening.

Mr McCarthy said he raised the matter in a written question to the local district policing partnership last year.

"Police didn't seem to think there was a problem. They said they would look at it again but it seems to me they have done nothing. It's getting worse.

"We now have transvestites hanging around outside Belfast City Council's Cecil Ward building," he added.

The PSNI say they are tackling sex crime in the city centre but pointed out there is no actual offence of "kerb crawling" in Northern Ireland.

A Drugs and Vice Team was set up in south Belfast last September to combat sex crimes, including on-street prostitution and serious and organised prostitution controlled by criminals, a police spokeswoman said.

"In that DCU police have successfully closed down 20 brothels and charged 12 people in connection with offences under the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

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