Laura Lee attempts to overturn abolitionist law in Northern Ireland

This article is in the Observer today, and it is completely one-sided reporting, from the use of the euphemistic ‘escort’ as well as the obfuscatory ‘sex worker’, to the lack of reporting of the opposite side of the story. It reads more like a regurgitated press release from the sex industry.

Sex worker and law graduate Laura Lee is steeling herself for a battle in Belfast’s high court that she believes could make European legal history. The Dublin-born escort is now in the final stages of a legal challenge to overturn a law in Northern Ireland that makes it illegal to purchase sex.

Not a single person in the region has appeared in court charged with trying to hire an escort, though Public Prosecution Service figures show that three are under investigation. The region is the first in the UK to make buying sex a crime. The law was introduced in 2014 by Democratic Unionist peer Lord Morrow and supported by a majority of members in the regional assembly.

But Lee will enter Belfast high court with her team of lawyers aiming to establish that the criminalisation of her clients violates her right to work under European human rights law. Since the law was established, Lee insists that the ban has put her and her fellow sex workers in more peril from potentially dangerous clients.

Just before flying out to address an international conference on sex workers’ rights in Barcelona this weekend, Lee told the Observer that most men currently seeking escorts in Northern Ireland no longer use mobile phones to contact her and her colleagues.

“They are using hotel phones, for example, to contact sex workers in Belfast rather than leaving their personal mobiles. This means if one of them turns violent there is no longer any real traceability to help the police track such clients down. Men are doing this because they fear entrapment and arrest due to this law.

This sounds like a pretty weak argument to me, as if there isn’t CCTV, credit card receipts and plenty of other ways to trace whoever rented the hotel room. If the police really cared about violence against prostitutes – something we all want – they would be able to track these men down.

Where do these ‘bad johns’ go under full decriminalisation of the sex industry? They go to the women who are trafficked, who are desperate, who can’t afford to pick and choose.

What these comparatively privileged woman in the sex industry are fighting for (aside from the sex industry itself) is better conditions for them, the ones at the top of the pyramid (the sex industry is a pyramid with a very broad base); decriminalisation increases demand and lowers standards, it is clear from Germany, and the cracks are beginning to show in New Zealand as whistle-blowers come forward.

Lee seems to be leading a jet-setting activist life-style – subsidised by Amnesty International perhaps? – how much actual ‘escorting’ is she fitting in around the legal action and the public speaking?

Among those supporting Lee is Amnesty International. Before the court hearing, Amnesty’s campaign manager in Northern Ireland, Grainne Teggart, said they had major concerns about the “Morrow law”: “Sex workers are at heightened risk of a whole host of human rights abuses including rape, violence, extortion and discrimination,” said Teggart.

“Far too often they receive no, or very little, protection from the law or means for redress. Laws must focus on making sex workers’ lives safer and improving the relationship they have with the police, not place this relationship at risk by criminalising them and the context in which they work. Similar laws in Nordic countries have failed to decriminalise sex workers, who are still pursued and punished under remaining sex work laws.”

This is just lies, the Nordic/Abolitionist model decriminalises the prostitute her/him self, what they are actually referring to is the criminalisation of pimps:

In Norway we found evidence that sex workers were routinely evicted from their homes under so-called ‘pimping laws’. In many countries of the world, two sex workers working together for safety is considered a ‘brothel’.

We need to remember, AI deliberately chose to look at Norway, a country that had only recently enacted abolitionist laws, rather than Sweden which has had the law in place for over a decade – if the way a law is enacted doesn’t follow the intention of the law, as described above, that can and should be addressed, changes in the law always include re-educating the police and changing the culture, as happened in Sweden.

There is this very dishonest argument from sex industry advocates, that the abolitionist approach doesn’t improve the relationship between prostitutes and the police – if the police hate prostitutes that much, what difference would decriminialising the whole sex industry make?

Decriminalising the whole sex industry is the main goal of sex industry advocates; the proof is there that decriminalisation increases trafficking, and lowers working conditions, the real beneficiaries are pimps and brothel keepers (and the hand-full of already privilidged ‘sex workers’ at the top of the pyramid).

AI’s own research found no evidence of police violence against prostitutes in Norway, so the idea that full decriminalisation of the sex industry is necessary for a good relationship between the police and prostitutes has no foundation. In the UK, the ‘Merseyside Model’ was enacted only by a change in police culture, and no change in the law.

Lee’s Belfast legal battle is only the start of a Europe-wide campaign to overturn the model in which Scandinavian countries pioneered the outlawing of men buying sex. Lee’s next target is the Irish Republic, which, under new anti-trafficking laws, has introduced a similar ban aimed at criminalising clients.

“A win for us in Belfast will have a knock-on effect and set a precedent across Europe. If successful up north there will be a challenge in Dublin and sex workers across Europe can use the precedent to overturn the so-called ‘Nordic model’ in their countries,” she said.

From the outset, Lee said she had expected a “tsunami of abuse” on social media from her opponents, an alliance of religious groups and some feminist organisations on the island of Ireland. “In the hate mails they focus a lot on my daughter and say things like ‘I really can’t wait until your daughter goes on the game’ and vile things like that. Religious people tell me they can’t wait until I burn in the fires of hell – charming really! But they must know I am dogged in my determination to fight this law on behalf of all sex workers, especially the ones that can’t put their heads above the parapet and take a public stand. I am strong enough to do so and can take their abuse.”

And, of course, there is the dishonest lumping together of feminists and the religious right; I am confident no radical feminist has told her to burn in hell, or said “I really can’t wait until your daughter goes on the game” (although they may have asked her how she would feel about her daughter entering the sex industry, not exactly the same thing).

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