Women’s Aid is extremely disappointed by the Queen’s University Belfast research published today on prostitution in Northern Ireland. The research is deeply flawed and lacks a basic understanding of the links between prostitution, human trafficking, and the spectrum of sexual exploitation that is taking place in Northern Ireland.

It is for this reason that Women’s Aid has withdrawn its name from the advisory committee for the research. As acknowledged experts on all forms of violence against women, with direct experience working with those who have been sexually abused and exploited both by strangers and intimate partners, we feel that this research is flawed, limited, and contains judgmental bias.

We are concerned that the research is extremely limited in scale, and cannot present a true or reflective picture of prostitution and its links to sexual exploitation in Northern Ireland. It has roundly failed to gather meaningful data on those working in prostitution in Northern Ireland.

There is already a significant body of international evidence which shows the links between prostitution and sexual exploitation, and the dreadful problems that women in prostitution face. These include violence inflicted against them and severe addiction to alcohol or drugs, which often starts as a means of masking the horror of the life they are forced to live.

Women’s Aid also has concerns about judgmental bias contained within the conclusions in the research. The report fails to recognise prostitution as a serious violation of the human rights of women and girls. Even by the research’s own limited statistics, it is obvious that women are pressured into prostitution when faced with desperate choices based on poverty and survival of their families.

We are also extremely concerns that the report fails to identify certain types of informal prostitution as child sexual exploitation. Where the report acknowledges instances of “young people casually offering sexual services in return for phone credit or drugs”, there is no acknowledgment that such practices are clear evidence of child sexual exploitation.

Overwhelming evidence shows that girls enter prostitution at a young age and are often victims of child sexual exploitation. In light of the recent cases of child sexual exploitation and grooming in Northern Ireland and throughout the UK, it is shocking that this study fails to make those links.

Women’s Aid is opposed to all forms of abuse. We are supported by all major international and local women’s organisations in recognising prostitution as a fundamental abuse of women’s human rights. For this reason we are fully in support of the proposed Trafficking and Exploitation Bill, and Clause 6 which will criminalise those who buy sexual services in Northern Ireland.

This research has nothing to add to the debate – it cements the myths around prostitution as a benign career, and masks the horror of the abuse and degradation which is the reality for many in prostitution.

For further enquiries, please contact:

Annie Campbell (028) 9024 9041 or Louise Kennedy 07739 348347