17,000 use prostitutes in Northern Ireland each year, says new study
Around 17,000 men in Northern Ireland - 3% of the adult male population - pay for sex each year, according to new research.
The first report of its kind on prostitution found that criminalising prostitution here would put sex workers in greater danger, was unlikely to deter customers and almost impossible to police.
Queen's University questioned 171 sex workers online, 31 of which said they lived in Northern Ireland while 62 said they had sold sex here. Others didn't state where they lived or sold sex.
Also quizzed were 446 people who had paid for sex, 51 of whom live here and 89 who had purchased it in Northern Ireland.
The research found:
- 61% of sex workers thought changing the law would make them less safe;
- 85% of sex workers believed outlawing the purchase of sex would not reduce sex trafficking;
- 2% of prostitutes supported criminalising the purchase of sex;
- 16% of clients said a change to the law would make them stop paying for sex.
Researches said there were around 350 sex workers available in Northern Ireland every day.
The vast majority are online, with about 20 estimated to be involved in street prostitution, mostly in Belfast and Londonderry.
Of the 17,000 men said to be paying for sex here each year, 84% use the internet.
Most sex workers are women from Eastern Europe but there are also prostitutes from France, Spain, Italy and Brazil, African nations and Latin America.
The average age of a sex worker in Northern Ireland is 30 but 1.5% are under 16 and a further 2.3% are aged between 17 and 18.
There are also a small number of women prostitutes (0.6%) over 60 and researchers said there was anecdotal evidence of at least one street-based sex worker aged 70.
Asked how the government should respond to prostitution, 52% said sex work should be legalised.