POST WRITTEN BY: Jessica Mlinar (’16), J.D. Pace Law School
Northern Ireland passed a law on June 1, 2015 making “buying sex” a criminal activity. “If convicted, a person could be fined, sentenced to a maximum of one year’s imprisonment, or both. It remains an offense to keep or manage a brothel, but the new law removes criminality from soliciting in the street or public place.” The efforts stem from the idea that the correct way to minimize prostitution and other activities of that nature is to decrease the demand for them rather than punish the prostitute. Andrea Matolcsi, a spokeswoman for Equality Now, which is an international women’s rights group, wholeheartedly supports these efforts. In her opinion, “the legalization and decriminalization approach is not benefiting anyone.”
By the same token, other countries believe that the best approach is to legalize both the selling and buying of sex, largely due to the fear that passing laws turning purchasing sex into a criminal activity will cause more harm than good. Buying sex is not a novel idea; it has been around for decades and any controversial move may consequently drive the activity underground. Additionally, it is feared that strict laws outlawing these activities will increase violence against women.One sex worker, Katie McGrew, explains a concern that this new law will lead to “situations where more women are competing for fewer clients [which] has dangerous consequences, including charging less, offering services they wouldn’t have previously, and agreeing to unsafe sex.”
Further, the migration of the newly criminalized activity presents another problem. The Immigrant Council of Ireland stated that there was no doubt that men would “make the short journey over the border in order to escape the law.” Some believe that this movement has already begun and is evidenced by the increase in advertisements in the over-the-border areas.
Nonetheless, other countries such as France and Irish Republic are considering enacting similar legislation that criminalizes the conduct of a client, while protecting women who are in the business of providing sex. “ The Nordic Model” (social and economic model of the Nordic countries which makes purchasing sex a criminal activity) has been adopted in Canadaand Sweden, as well as Norway. Only time will tell which one of the two mainstream routes proves to be more successful.
In my view, this worldwide issue does not have a single solution. It is clear that authorities themselves struggle to figure out which approach works the best. This is because no one model has proven to be one hundred percent effective. Nonetheless, I believe that adopting the Nordic model is the right way to go. Passing a law criminalizing this undesirable activity shows just how important it is for Northern Ireland to manage and limit prostitution, or rather criminalize purchasing sexual services. Decriminalization can often be perceived as giving up, rather than as a way of taking control and fighting harder.
- Joseph D’Urso, Buying Sex a Criminal Offense Under Controversial Northern Ireland Law, Reuters (Jun 1, 2015).
- Alexandra Topping, Northern Ireland Prostitution Ban Divides Opinion, The Guardian (Oct. 23, 2014).
- Amanda Ferguson, Paying for Sex Now a Criminal Offence in Northern Ireland, The Irish Times (June 1, 2015).