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Monthly Archives: September 2013

The sex trade in Northern Ireland: the creation of a moral panic?

This week TTRP are delighted to have Dr. Graham Ellison as a guest contributor. Dr. Ellison is a Reader in Criminology in the School of Law, Queen’s University Belfast. He is currently principal investigator on a project funded by the British Academy investigating the policing and regulation of prostitution in four European cities (with Prof Ron Weitzer and Dr Susan Dodillet). 

Commercial sex – “prostitution”, or in the United Nations’ preferred terminology “sex work” – has once again been thrust into the spotlight in Northern Ireland in the aftermath of Lord Morrow’s Human Trafficking Bill, which has attracted intense publicity, including a recent BBC documentary. Now in its second reading in the NI Assembly, the Bill includes a raft of provisions to support victims of human trafficking. The main focus of attention is Clause 6, which, for the first time in the jurisdiction, would make it a criminal offence to pay for sex. Drawing on the claimed “successes” of the so-called Swedish or Nordic model, the rationale is that this will reduce “demand” and that trafficking into the commercial sex industry will be seriously impaired. However, Northern Ireland already has fairly robust penalties in place to deal with sex trafficking. Since 2009 it has been an offence (punishable by a long jail term) to knowingly procure sexual services from a trafficked victim, while existing law rightfully prohibits any sexual activity with someone who is underage or otherwise vulnerable (as defined in the legislation).

Lord Morrow’s Bill has come under fire from academics (myself included), the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), civil society, the NI Department of Justice and sex worker rights organisations, which all raise rather different criticisms of the proposal. My view, as a criminologist, is that the proposed law conflates two very different issues (prostitution and trafficking), is premised on a particularly narrow abolitionist view of sex work, grossly overestimates the extent of “demand” in Northern Ireland, and is out of line with policy developments occurring elsewhere in the United Kingdom and indeed continental Europe. (more…)

Middlemen

A key component of human trafficking, recruitment often involves labor and migration brokers, with varying levels of complicity, in the process of exploitation. Recruitment practices for low-wage migrant workers may increase the risk for exploitation as a result of the costs incurred to the worker. Recruiters and agents themselves may be abusive. Moreover, the recruitment experiences of workers pre-migration can be linked to vulnerability to exploitation not only during employment, but also in the process of repatriation. In Singapore, the repatriation process itself can be forced and abusive, exacerbating individual risk by enabling employers to deport workers without pay or compensation for injury. (more…)

Slut-shamed: perpetuating mythologies of (underage) consent

The inevitable media backlash against the trials and convictions of “celebrities” for the sexual exploitation of girls has begun in the UK.  The long-simmering idea that children could be complicit in, and indeed consent to their own abuse, has surfaced.  For example, Eddie Shah, a former owner of the Today newspaper, found not guilty of six counts of rape of a girl under the age of 16, said in an interview:

Rape was a technical thing – below a certain age. But these girls were going out with pop groups and becoming groupies and throwing themselves at them… If we’re talking about girls who just go out and have a good time, then they are to blame.  If we talk about people who go out and actually get ‘raped’ raped, then I feel no … everything should be done against that.

A column by Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail focused heavily on the dropping of sexual offences charges against another entertainer, Jim Davidson, accusing the associated police operation, Yewtree, of becoming a witch-hunt.  These public pronouncements, notably by men, have been matched by worrying developments in a recent sexual assault case in which the prosecuting barrister, Robert Colover, described the 13-year-old victim as “predatory in all her actions and she is sexually experienced.”  The defendant was found guilty of sexual activity with a child, among other offences, but was given a suspended sentence.  Criticism, including from the Lord Chief Justice, was levelled at the judge in the case for his comments at sentencing that the victim “looked and behaved older”, a factor he took into account when deciding the sentence.  (more…)