Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Bill need not subsume sex trade

Most people would agree that Lord Morrow's Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill is well-intentioned but in conflating the heinous crime of human trafficking with clamping down on prostitution there is potential of confusing the issue and diminishing the measure's impact.

The Justice Committee yesterday heard the astonishing story of how a woman was held as a slave in a Belfast flat for up to five years after being brought illegally from India.

She was made to perform household duties and look after children for a senior doctor, according to the evidence given. But while it was a tale that almost beggars belief, it is doubtful if Lord Morrow's Bill could have prevented this woman's exploitation. On the sex trade issue, prostitution is not a profession which would gain much public support. Yet that is not to suggest that all woman engaged in selling sex do so under duress or because they are being controlled by someone else. There may well be women who, possibly for economic reasons, enter the trade voluntarily and continue to work in it freely.

Attempting to make the purchase of sex illegal could have unintended consequences which actually run contrary to Lord Morrow's hopes. If the trade is driven even further underground, women could actually be in greater danger of exploitation by gangs or simply in danger of their lives since they could be forced to work alone without the protection of other like-minded women.

Stopping prostitution has proved impossible over the years and across the world. There is no reason to believe that Lord Morrow's Bill would have any greater success in that respect.

However, his ambition to curb human trafficking is one that deserves support.

There should be no hiding place for those willing to trade in fellow human beings for whatever purpose and Lord Morrow has done a signal service by raising the issue. It would have been best if he had concentrated solely on that trade and not introduced wider curbs.

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