Report published on impact of sex purchase offence

Date published: 18 September 2019

The Department of Justice today laid in the Assembly a report of an independent review into the operation of the offence of purchasing sexual services.

Graphic for paying for sex report

The review, carried out by Queen’s University Belfast, 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 review reported on 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.

The review 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 less than ten. 

The research reported that it is not possible to say that the change in the law is responsible for any increase in crime against sex workers, but a heightened fear of crime has contributed to a climate whereby sex workers feel further marginalised and stigmatised.

The review concluded 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 determine how the offence could have impacted on human trafficking.

Further information on the report and an assessment of its findings by the Department is available at Justice-NI/publications.


Notes to editors: 

1.  The offence of paying for sexual services was introduced by the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2015 following a Private Members Bill which became the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act 2015. Section 15 of the Act requires that:

2.  ‘The Department must, at the end of the period of 3 years beginning with the coming into operation of subsection (5), review the operation of Article 64A of the Sexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 2008 and lay before the Assembly a report on that review; that report must in particular include—

(a)information as to the number of arrests and convictions during that period in respect of offences under Article 64A;

(b)the Department’s assessment of the impact of Article 64A on the safety and well-being of persons providing for payment sexual services of the kind to which that Article applies;

(c)information as to the number of arrests and convictions in the period covered by the report in respect of—

(i)offences under section 2 committed with a view to exploitation that consists of or includes behaviour within section 3(3) (sexual exploitation);

(ii)offences under section 4 committed with the intention of committing an offence mentioned in sub-paragraph (i); and

(d)the Department’s assessment of the extent to which Article 64A has operated to reduce human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation.

3.  The Department tendered for external researchers to carry out the review and, following a public procurement process, Queen’s University Belfast was awarded the contract in October 2018.

4.  All media enquiries should be directed to the Department of Justice Press Office, 028 9052 6444. Out of office hours please contact the duty press officer via pager number 028 9037 8110 and your call will be returned.

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