Last night, members of the Stormont assembly voted in favour of a bill that would outlaw the purchase of sex in Northern Ireland.
Buying sex is currently legal in Northern Ireland though activities such as brothel keeping, pimping, and soliciting a person for the purposes of prostitution are against the law. Research shows that about 17,500 men pay for sex in Northern Ireland every year.
The proposal to outlaw purchasing sex is among a number of clauses contained in a bill aimed at amending Northern Ireland’s laws on trafficking and prostitution and was passed by 81 votes to 10.
The Guardian reports that “While the legislation still has to pass further assembly stages, the significant majority support… means it is essentially now destined to become law.”
This makes Northern Ireland the first in the UK to criminalize the purchase of sex, a move led by Sweden, which was the first country to criminalize the purchase of sex in 1999. Norway and Iceland adopted the model in 2009 and in December 2013 France followed suit.
Canada’s new prostitution bill, which would also criminalize johns, recently passed in the House of Commons. Bill C-36 must pass the Senate (which it most likely will) before being proclaimed into law before the end of the year.
That so many countries are now considering and/or adopting models of law that criminalize pimps and johns speaks to changing attitudes about the reality of prostitution, a growing understanding of the impact of prostitution on gender equality, as well as evidence showing positive results from countries that have adopted the Nordic model, never mind the epic failures of models that have legalized or fully decriminalized the sex industry.