Development & Alumni Relations Office 


18 September 2019

The Department of Justice has today (Wednesday 18 September) laid in the Assembly a report of an independent review into the operation of the offence of purchasing sexual services.

Carried out by academics at Queen’s University Belfast, the review was commissioned by the Department under Section 15 of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act 2015, which introduced the offence and required a review of its operation after three years. 

The research was undertaken by Professor Graham Ellison, Dr Caoimhe Ní Dhónaill and Erin Early from the School of Law at Queen’s.

Speaking about the findings, Professor Ellison said: “This law has not reduced the supply of prostitution in Northern Ireland which is currently higher than it was before the legislation came into effect. Nor has it reduced the demand for prostitution services with a majority of clients stating that purchasing sex is now as easy as it was before the law.

“What it has done is increase levels of abuse and anti-social behaviour directed towards sex workers who are the group least well placed to do anything about it.” 

The report covered the impact of the legislation on the demand for sexual services, the safety and well-being of sex workers, and human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

It reported that, in the period from June 2015 to December 2018, there had been 15 arrests and two convictions for purchasing sex and 31 arrests and two convictions for human trafficking for sexual exploitation.

Higher numbers of sex workers advertising online in the post law period were reported, rising from 3,351 to 3,973: an increase of 622. An increase in demand for sexual services was also reported by sex workers in the period following the introduction of the legislation. However, on-street prostitution has declined in comparison to previous research, reducing from an estimate of 20 active on-street sex workers operating in Northern Ireland in 2014 to currently fewer than ten. 

The research also indicated that it was not possible to say if the change in the law was responsible for any increase in crime against sex workers, but it did point out that a heightened fear of crime had contributed to a climate whereby sex workers feel further marginalised and stigmatised.

The review determined that the legislation has had minimal effect on the demand for sexual services; and due to the absence of any evidence that demand had decreased, it was unable to suggest how the offence could have impacted on human trafficking.

The report's conclusion stated: "It may be disappointing for proponents of this legislation that the research did not uncover more evidence of a reduction in prostitution in Northern Ireland, particularly since this was hailed as such a success in Sweden (on which the Northern Ireland law was based), and one of the main reasons why the Nordic model (so termed) has been exported internationally.

"However, we would respond by suggesting that the evidence base from Sweden and the Nordic countries generally is simply not strong enough to support the proposition that sex purchase legislation has led to the massive decreases in prostitution and human trafficking that are alleged to have occurred in those jurisdictions."

The full report and an assessment of its findings are available here:

Media enquiries to Zara McBrearty at Queen’s Communications Office on telephone: + 44 (0)28 9097 3259


Back to Main News









Top of Page