Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Prostitute in formal complaint to Assembly over grilling by DUP man

Laura Lee is against the proposed Bill
Laura Lee is against the proposed Bill
Paul Given

An escort has said she felt sickened after a DUP Assembly Member quizzed her about her sex life and accused her of exploiting the disabled.

Laura Lee has lodged a complaint against justice committee chairman Paul Givan, who interrogated the sex worker at a hostile hearing.

Ms Lee was giving evidence that was critical of proposals from Lord Morrow, another DUP MLA, which seek to make it illegal to pay for sex. She had been invited to take part in her capacity as spokeswoman for the Irish Union of Sex Workers (IUSW).

She argued that the new law would be counter-productive as it would drive the sex industry underground, making it more difficult to detect the human trafficking which Lord Morrow is trying to combat.

Ms Lee also argued that many sex workers like her were not being coerced, but had chosen their trade freely.

At the justice committee hearing last month Mr Givan strongly disagreed with her and quizzed her about her sex life, asked her how much she charged and accused her of exploiting the disabled.

She claimed she had "felt sick" after being questioned by Mr Givan.

Ms Lee, who works part-time as an escort in Scotland and Belfast, also said that she was now being investigated by the tax authorities after her appearance.

But she said she had nothing to fear from the tax probe.

"My tax affairs are absolutely fine, because I am completely above board and I have years of accountant-led reports, every Mars bar I ate on tour is noted," she said.

After Ms Lee gave evidence, Mr Givan thanked her and said: "You have obviously painted the picture that you have never been subjected to any violence and that you enjoy your work."

But prior to that he had been more strident. In her letter of complaint to Douglas Bain, the Commissioner for Standards, Ms Lee quoted the MLA's code of conduct.

It says that individuals should not be subjected to unreasonable and excessive personal attack.

It adds: "Members should keep in mind that rude and offensive behaviour may lower the public's regard for, and confidence in, Members and the Assembly itself. Members should therefore show respect and consideration for others at all times."

Ms Lee is of the belief Mr Givan overstepped these boundaries. "I submit that there are several instances in which Paul Givan MLA breached that rule. He asked about my personal sex life, my relationship with my father and – most damning of all – he said that I 'target vulnerable disabled men'."

Ms Lee accused Mr Givan of having an aggressive tone and attitude at the committee hearing. She told the commissioner: "Mr Givan's conduct was unbecoming of a gentleman, never mind the head of a justice committee. I ask that you give my complaint serious consideration and I look forward to hearing from you."

Asked for comment, a DUP spokesman said the party was aware of the complaint.

"We await the decision by the Commissioner for Standards as to whether this complaint is admissible.

"The Standards Committee has noted in the past that many complaints submitted have lacked substance.

"It would not be appropriate to comment until this complaint has been assessed," he said.

Ms Lee, originally from Dublin but now based in Scotland, frequently travels to Northern Ireland. She will be here in March for a panel discussion on women's rights organised by the Labour Party.

BACKGROUND

Currently, individual consenting adults are allowed to buy or sell sexual services here. However, many associated activities are illegal and it is against the law for a number of sex workers to operate a brothel together in a flat or house. Some people here, particularly immigrants from poorer countries, have been trafficked into prostitution. Lord Morrow, a DUP MLA, is promoting a Bill that aims to combat human trafficking by making it an offence to pay for sex. Laura Lee, a sex worker, gave evidence at the justice committee to oppose this. The PSNI is also opposed.

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