A sex worker is to use human rights legislation to try to overturn a new law in Northern Ireland that makes it illegal to pay for prostitutes. Dublin-born law graduate Laura Lee is launching an unprecedented legal challenge that could go all
the way to Strasbourg.
The region is the only part of the UK where people can be convicted of paying for sex. The law, which was pushed by Democratic Unionist peer and Stormont assembly member Lord Morrow, comes into effect on 1 June.
Lee told the Guardian she will launch her case at the high court in Belfast in the same month as the law comes into effect. Lee said:
I am doing this because I believe that when two consenting adults have sex behind closed doors and if money changes hands then that is none of the state's business. The law they have introduced has nothing to do with people being trafficked but
simply on their, the DUP's, moral abhorrence of paid sex.
I believe that after June 1st, sex workers' lives in Northern Ireland will actually be harder and the industry will be pushed underground.
Lee said her legal team would be referencing several articles of the European convention on human rights to challenge and overturn Morrow's law:
There are several articles that we can look starting with article 8 that governs the right to privacy. We will also focus on article 2 that concerns the right to life and we will argue that this law puts sex workers' safety by the fact the
legislation will drive the trade further and further underground.
And then article 3 is about protection from degrading treatment, which is very relevant because in Scotland police have been subjecting sex workers to terrible things such as strip searching on women working in Edinburgh saunas. Our legal team
will also refer to the right to earn a living enshrined in the European social charter.
Lee said she will fund the case partly via crowdfunding on social media networks and from sex worker campaign groups across the world.
It is my intention to initiate a judicial review at Belfast's high court in respect of provisions contained in Lord Morrow's human trafficking bill. As a sex workers' rights advocate, I campaigned long and hard against this legislation because
evidence from around the world shows us just what damage the Swedish model does. It places sex workers in grave danger and the bill as presented does not decriminalise us as has been claimed. Should it be illegal to pay for sex? Panel verdict
Laura Lee, Julie Bindel, Margaret Corvid, Rahila Gupta Read more
The Dublin-born law graduate added:
True decriminalisation looks to repeal all of the nonsensical laws around sex work and allows us to work together for safety. That's not the case in Northern Ireland now, and it will certainly not be the case after 1 June. When two consenting
adults meet to have sex then, whether money changes or not, the state has no right to interfere.
Sex workers and supporters are protested at the launch of a biased and inaccurate guide for journalists on prostitution and trafficking. The guide is authored by anti sex work campaigner Julie Bindel, known for partial reporting which disregards
the experience of sex workers and conflates prostitution with violence. Eaves and the National Alliance of Women's Organisations, the two groups organising the event, campaign for increased criminalisation of prostitution despite evidence that
this makes sex workers more vulnerable to violence.
The Prostitutes Collective published a fact sheet debunking commonly quoted myths on prostitution.
PROSTITUTION: FACT AND FICTION
CLAIM #1: 80% of women in prostitution are controlled by traffickers.
FACT #1: This is a lie. Less than 6% of sex workers are trafficked. Many migrants prefer working in the sex industry rather than the unrewarding and sometimes exploitative conditions they meet in non-sexual jobs .
CLAIM #2: The average age of entry into prostitution internationally is 13 years old.
FACT #2: This statistic is a lie. It comes from a survey of YOUNG PEOPLE under 18 years old.
CLAIM #3: 50% of women in prostitution in the UK started being paid for sex acts before they were 18 years old.
FACT #3: This statistic is misleading. It fosters the view that many sex workers started as children which is reinforced by the oft quoted erroneous statistic that the average age of entry into prostitution is 13?. In fact, the same survey
found 80% of female sex workers in the UK started working over the age of 16. A survey of adult sex workers in Stockton found that the average age of entry into prostitution was 20.
CLAIM #4: 95% of women in street prostitution are problematic drug users.
FACT #4: This figure is unreliable. It comes from Home Office funded exiting and support projects . Sex workers who don't use drugs have little contact with these projects and are unlikely to be surveyed. There are no reliable figures of
drug use among sex workers and therefore no evidence that the rate of drug use is higher than among journalists, politicians or celebrity chefs.
CLAIM #5: The Swedish law that criminalised clients whilst decriminalising street workers is a successful model; there is a decrease in prostitution and trafficking.
FACT #5a: There no evidence that trafficking, rape and other violence has decreased in Sweden. However, recent research shows that sex workers face increased stigma and are more vulnerable to violence.
FACT #5b: There is no reliable evidence that the Swedish law has resulted in a reduction in prostitution. One oft quoted statistic is from a survey that found the number of men saying they buy sexual services has decreased from 14% in 1996 to
7.9% in 2008. How can this be trusted when buying sex was not criminal in 1996 so there were less reasons for men to lie? The Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare found it was difficult to discern any clear trend up or down.
Evidence of an increase in massage parlours in Stockholm is ignored.
CLAIM #6: Decriminalisation does not work.
FACT #6: This is not true. New Zealand decriminalised in 2003 with verifiable improvements in sex workers' health and safety. The law removed prostitution from the criminal law, allowed people to work together collectively, and distinguished
between violence and consenting sex. It reinforced offences against compelling anyone into prostitution, stating a specific right for sex workers to refuse any client. A comprehensive five-year government review found: no increase in
prostitution, no increase in trafficking; drug users treated as patients not criminals; sex workers were more able to report violence and leave prostitution if they choose. Legalisation (like in Germany, Nevada and the Netherlands) is state-run
prostitution which sets up a two-tier system where the most vulnerable workers remain illegal. It is opposed by most sex workers.
Decriminalisation has received vocal support from World Health organisation, UNAids, Human Rights Watch, Global Alliance against Trafficking in Women and 100s of other organisations worldwide.
CLAIM #7: 68% of women in prostitution experience post-traumatic stress disorder.
FACT #7: This figure is absurd! Researcher Melissa Farley and this research were reprimanded by Canadian Supreme Court Judge Himmel because Farley failed to qualify her opinion regarding the causal relationship between post- traumatic stress
disorder and prostitution, namely, that it could be caused by events unrelated to prostitution.
CLAIM #8: Once in prostitution, 9 out of 10 women report wanting to exit but feel unable to do so.
FACT #8: Another absurd statistic from the discredited Ms Farley. Even if it were true, it could as easily be claimed that once in factory, office, agricultural and domestic work: 9 out of 10 women report wanting to exit but feel unable to do
so. Financial alternatives and resources for women, not abolition of prostitution would better address this.
CLAIM #9: 70% of sex workers spent time in care.
FACT #9: This statistic is untrue. It is based on studies of YOUNG PEOPLE who were more likely to have had a background of troubled family relations or the care system than adults involved in sex.
CLAIM #10: Over half of women involved in prostitution in the UK have been raped and/or sexually assaulted, the vast majority of these assaults perpetrated by sex buyers.
FACT #10: This figure may be true. It is a survey of women working on the STREET. Sex workers experience high levels of rape and other violence but this does not mean that prostitution is violence.
Using violence to justify the criminalisation of clients is deceitful as it ignores evidence that criminalisation forces sex workers to work in isolation at greater risk of attack. Women Against Rape report that 1 in 4 women have been raped and
that only 6.5% of reported rapes result in convictions. Police time and resources are desperately needed to focus on the investigation of actual violence not the policing of consenting sex.
FACT #11: Prostitution is about â?¦.. money!
The majority of sex workers are women and men (including transgender women and men) who decided to sell sex in order to escape poverty or achieve a better standard of living for themselves . 74% of off-street sex workers cited the need
to pay household expenses and support their children .