Amnesty Cautions Against the Criminalisation of Clients Clause in Northern Irish Trafficking Bill

The Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill proposed by Lord Morrow currently being considered in Northern Ireland could, if passed into law, usefully place support for victims of human trafficking on a statutory basis and amalgamate some existing legislation into one single Act. The Bill includes a clause that recommends the criminalisation of the purchase of sex to reduce demand for trafficking. Clause 6 would introduce a hierarchy of criminal liability among those engaged in the selling of sexual services, many of whom may be vulnerable, with some remaining at risk of prosecution and others not.

It is the opinion of the author of the Bill and some stakeholders that demand for paid sex is directly linked to human trafficking or sex trafficking specifically. It is the opinion of the whole of the sex workers’ rights movement that legislation criminalising the purchase of sex under policies that seek to ‘end demand’ is directly linked to increased levels of stigma and discrimination experienced by current sex workers. It is further the opinion of the sex workers’ right movement that the policies that criminalise the buyer of sex have their root in the deliberate conflation of trafficking with sex work.

Amnesty International, who is currently carrying out a global policy consultation on sex work, has called on the Northern Irish Assembly to reconsider Clause 6 of The Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill. Amnesty International believes that the clause which seeks to criminalise the purchase of sexual services, unhelpfully conflates two very complex social phenomena – sex work and human trafficking – which could potentially prove counter-productive.

Grainne Teggart, a Northern Ireland campaigner at Amnesty International recently said of the Bill that although “it is claimed that this clause will help protect sex workers, by shifting the criminal liability away from them as the seller of sexual services on to the purchaser but in reality, though, it fails to do this and provides no exploration of, or guarantees against, the potential unintended consequences of such a move.”

Amnesty's policy stance on sex work should be announced in September 2014 following an extensive global policy consultation with Amnesty members worldwide.