An academic from Queen's University Belfast has challenged claims being made about the extent of human trafficking in Northern Ireland.
Dr Graham Ellison from the university's School of Law says there have only been four proven victims of sex
trafficking and three of forced labour, since figures were first published for Northern Ireland in January 2012.
He is critical of organisations aiming to rescue women from prostitution, which he dubs the rescue industry . He added:
I think there are vested interests tied up with this.
I am a bit sceptical of the number of smaller organisations popping up all over the place that have anti-trafficking at their core and which
get state funding and which seem to exist for propagating this myth or something.
Asked how the public should choose which experts to believe on the subject of prostitution and trafficking, he had a simple answer:
I don't think that the research from advocacy groups, with an abolitionist [anti-prostitution] perspective, is very rigorous. And of course I think mine is very rigorous.
Dr Ellison was awarded a grant in May to
begin his first piece of research on prostitution. With the help of other academics, he is comparing regulatory models of prostitution in Berlin, Prague, Belfast and Manchester as part of a study relating to Lord Morrow's bill.
He estimates there
are around 10 mainly street based male escorts in Belfast and up to 30 women. Advertising online he says there are around 500 women in Northern Ireland, mainly in Belfast, Newry and Londonderry who have been available for sex work appointments over
past two year period . Only around 20-30 are available on any given day, he says, though a small number are duplicate adverts.
A spokesman for the Department of Justice, which has done extensive work to tackle human trafficking in Northern
Ireland, said 17 suspected victims have been referred to the NRM/UKHTC since the start of April 2013. Six were found not to be victims, one has been confirmed as a victim and ten cases are pending.