Women’s Aid welcomes the Trafficking and Exploitation (Further Provisions and Support for Victims) Bill, which is being debated in the Assembly today (23 September 2013). This legislation is a resolute step forward in tackling the abuse of women and girls who are forced into sexual slavery in Northern Ireland.

The Bill, which has been introduced by Lord Maurice Morrow, is a radical opportunity for Northern Ireland to lead the way in the fight against human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

Annie Campbell, Director of Women’s Aid Federation Northern Ireland, said: ‘We call on all political parties to grasp this opportunity and support the Bill, to send out a clear signal at home and worldwide that Northern Ireland says no to human trafficking and exploitation, and no to all violence against women and girls.’

In particular Women’s Aid welcomes the focus on demand in the sex trade, and the inclusion of sanctions for buyers of sexual services in Clause 6 of the Bill.

Annie Campbell continued: ‘Women’s Aid fully supports the need to criminalise the actions of those men who believe they have the right to pay to degrade and abuse another human being. Anyone buying sexual services here or worldwide is supporting sexual slavery and the degradation of human rights.’

Women’s Aid also welcome Clause 6’s explicit protection against prosecution for those in prostitution. This recognition of the vulnerable position of women in prostitution is vital, and Women’s Aid strongly urges that further provision is made in government policy to support those who find themselves forced into prostitution for whatever reason, and to assist them in exiting prostitution.

Annie Campbell said: ‘The Trafficking and Exploitation Bill will help protect women trafficked into Northern Ireland from other countries, but it is also vital to protect the many women and girls who are forced into prostitution or groomed for sexual exploitation right here at home. We already know that networks of abuse are rife within Northern Ireland, as the current investigation into the sexual abuse of young girls in care homes shows.

These vulnerable women and girls, many of whom have experienced horrific domestic abuse in their backgrounds, are groomed and targeted precisely because of their vulnerability and lack of other viable options.

This Bill sends a strong message that Northern Ireland is not a trafficking-friendly country, and that it is a place where women and girls are respected and valued.’