Number of prostitutes has increased in Northern Ireland despite ban on paying for sex
A body representing sex workers has called for the decriminalisation of paying for sex in NI - after a review of the impact made by the legislation showed it has had almost no effect.
It follows the publication yesterday of a report commissioned by the Department of Justice which reveals sex workers reported an increase in demand since 2015.
The findings prompted a warning from Sex Workers Alliance Ireland spokesperson Kate McGrew that the law is actively "harming" the mental health of prostitutes.
"There has not been a decrease in demand for sex work since the introduction of client criminalisation," she said.
"Instead, we have seen an increase in sex trafficking by 26% and the health of sex workers put at risk."
The review concluded that due to "the absence of any evidence that demand had decreased" it was unable to determine how the offence impacted upon human trafficking.
It revealed that only two of 15 people arrested for paying for sex between 2015 and 2018 were convicted and only two of 31 individuals arrested in connection with human trafficking for sexual exploitation were convicted.
However, there has been a reduction of more than 50% in the number of on-street prostitutes, which has fallen from around 20 in 2014 to less than 10 in 2018.
The study, which was compiled by academics from Queen's University Belfast, found that it was not possible to attribute any increase in crime against sex workers to the new laws. But it did find that "a heightened fear of crime" has contributed to sex workers feeling further marginalised and stigmatised.
It also points to a rise in "high levels of nuisance and anti-social behaviour" which have soared by 677% and warned they can "be every bit as insidious" as overt violence, adding that nuisance calls from trolls have the "potential to impact on a sex worker's mental health" in the long term.
Ms McGrew said the law has failed to reduce demand and protect sex workers, who have reported a 200% increase in threatening behaviour.
"Policing consensual sex work does not reduce trafficking and is a waste of resources.
"The law has put the mental health of sex workers at risk by causing an increase in threatening behaviour," she said.