As Anti-Slavery Day was marked across the UK yesterday, it was confirmed that prosecutions are being considered against men who unwittingly buy sexual services from human trafficking victims in Northern Ireland.
Consultation is ongoing in Northern Ireland about enforcing legislation which makes it an offence to buy prostitution services from a girl if she is under the control of another person.
And the PSNI is also studying a Swedish model which has dramatically cut down on human trafficking in that country by banning the purchase of all prostitution services – even between consenting adults.
Upper Bann MP David Simpson, who is a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Human Trafficking, last night welcomed the news.
“Northern Ireland is becoming more and more exposed to this vile crime and I welcome the PSNI and authorities taking any steps which will help victims,” he said.
“People need to know this is not a victimless crime. There are people being trafficked across the border into Northern Ireland who are the victims of criminal gangs.
“Anything that removes the safety net for those who abuse these victims and serves as protection for them should be welcomed.”
Last month the PSNI attended a conference in Dublin organised by the Immigrant Council of Ireland and anti-trafficking group Ruhama, which involved senior members of the Swedish and Norwegian police forces and the Garda.
The conference organisers argued that a law banning the purchase of all sex would reduce sex trafficking of women and girls right across the island of Ireland. The PSNI has previously acknowledged that the model has been used successfully in Sweden to reduce human trafficking.
A PSNI spokesman told the News Letter afterwards: “We are aware of the proposals made at the conference to change legislation and we are studying them.”
The News Letter can also report that criminal justice agencies in Northern Ireland are consulting about enforcing section 14 of the Policing and Crime Act, which came into force last year. It puts the onus on men who purchase sex to determine whether the women they use are operating under duress. The act does not allow a legal defence that the buyer did not know the victim was under the control of another person.
A PSNI spokesman told the News Letter: “There is consultation ongoing between PPS and PSNI through the Organised Crime Task Force on the implementation and enforcement of this legislation. This may involve media campaigns in conjunction with enforcement and prosecution.”
It is understood a variety of techniques can be used to prove a woman is operating under duress, such as tracking marked bank notes given to them which are then found in the possession of their pimp.
Yesterday the Policing Board marked UK Anti-Slavery Day with a commitment to tackle the crime.
“This is a particularly outrageous crime which unfortunately is on the increase,” said spokesman Conall McDevitt MLA. “This is an important issue for the board and we intend to consider human exploitation in more depth in the future.”
Meanwhile, last night volunteers from Craigavon ACT (Active Communities against Trafficking) marked Anti-Slavery Day day by flooding their area with flyers.
Spokeswoman Mel Wiggins said: “The activists are playing their part to inform the public that men, women and children are being recruited and then tricked or forced into exploitation on a street near them. They are joining with other local groups across the country who are acting together on the UK’s second official Anti-Slavery Day to make their communities harder for traffickers to hide themselves and their victims in.”
Also yesterday it was revealed that Virgin Atlantic has been the first airline to train cabin crew to spot and report signs of human trafficking on flights.