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30 August 2012

New consultation on human trafficking and exploitation

New consultation on human trafficking and exploitation

A new consultation has been announced in Northern Ireland on human trafficking and exploitation. The proposed bill seeks to improve aftercare services for victims of human trafficking through a number of practical measures. These include a clearer compensation procedure, providing special status for victims who give testimony and ensuring legal advocates for children.

Perhaps the most publicised part of the bill however is the proposal to criminalise the purchase of sexual services. This is not being put forward as a panacea that will solve every problem connected to prostitution and sex trafficking but it could dramatically reduce the demand for paid sex which has been linked to an increase in human trafficking within the UK sex 'industry'. Northern Ireland is acknowledged as a back-door entry into the rest of the UK and so it is encouraging that similar legislation has been proposed in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland.

Firstly, the Alliance welcomes a public discourse on the morality and legality of buying sex. These consultations also prompt us to consider what, apart from the sin of lust, lies behind the demand for sexual services. It's unlikely that someone wakes up and arbitrarily decides to go out and buy some sex. We live in a media-driven sexualised culture that has helped to normalise promiscuity and mainstream pornography. Sex has largely been detached from marriage and relationship and been turned into a right, a commodity to be consumed. Pornography, casual encounters, prostitution and trafficking all reduce sex from relationship to recreation. This voracious sexual appetite has led to sexual obesity and we urgently need a health check. We encourage Christians to continue to challenge these new norms with integrity and to provide leadership across society when it comes to relationship education, sexual mental health and wellbeing.

Secondly, let's be clear: prostitution and sex trafficking are two separate issues but they are inextricably linked. Where prostitution is permitted or tolerated sex trafficking follows. The proposed legislation essentially advocates for the 'Swedish Model' which criminalises the buyers of sex rather than the sellers. This law has had a significant impact in Sweden with some reports of a 50 per cent reduction in both on-street and off-street prostitution within the first year of implementation. According to Swedish police, the ban on the purchase of sexual services acts as a barrier to human traffickers and procurers who are considering establishing themselves in Sweden.

Thirdly, trafficking of human beings, made in the image of God, is clearly an injustice. Some of those involved in the sex 'industry' may not have physical chains but they are often still slaves to someone else's lust. This is at the very least an opportunity to stop and examine how we treat sex workers and how we value sex, freedom, consent, human dignity, and relationship.

The Alliance is working with anti-trafficking networks of charities and churches throughout the UK to bring God's kingdom to dark places. The Alliance in Northern Ireland also continues to lead a campaign to tackle the demand for sex trafficking.

You can respond to Lord Morrow's consultation in Northern Ireland until 18 October, and keep a look-out for a similar consultation shortly in the Scottish Parliament.