Northern Ireland Sex Workers Gear Up to Overturn Ban on Using Escorts Services

Mon, 24 Apr, 2017

In what may make legal history, a Dublin-born escort, Laura Lee, who is also a law graduate, is in the final stage of a lawsuit that could result in the overturning of the law in Northern Ireland region that bans the purchase of sex.

The region was among the first in the UK to make buying sex a crime in the year 2014 which was passed by Democratic Unionist peer Lord Morrow and got support from most of the members of the regional assembly. Those charged with trying to hire escorts were to appear in court, but none appeared. The Public Prosecution Service said that three people were under investigations.

Laura Lee and her team of lawyers will appear in Belfast high court to prove that banning buying sex violates the right of working under European human rights law. After the law was passed in 2014, Lee and other escorts often find themselves at more risk from many of their clients.

Lee is expected to attend an International Conference on Sex Worker’s Rights in Barcelona this weekend. Before leaving, she gave an interview where she said that men looking to use her and other escort services no longer use mobile phones to call them up. They mostly use hotel phones to contact them rather than use their personal numbers. If any of these clients turns violent and hurt the escorts, there is no way to track them back.

Lee emphasized that the law was putting sex workers like her at risk. Before, clients could easily be traced in case they tried to hurt them or be abusive towards them. The law was passed to protect women who are in this trade, but in reality, it is doing the opposite. She said that most of the sex workers today want to work in partnership with another sex worker so that they can protect themselves. Even the demand for sex workers is still the same that it was before the law was passed, most of them are doing it in secret, and the business is becoming even harder to trace.

Lee has found many supporters and one of them is Amnesty International. Their campaign manager, Grainne Teggart said that the ‘Morrow Law’ was putting sex workers at risk of being sexually attacked and will lead to increase in violence, extortion, and discrimination against them. As it is, sex workers do not receive any protection from the law, the law will only make situations worse. 

Laura Lee Overturn Ban on Using the Services of Escorts
Laura Lee, a sex worker, has taken a legal challenge to legislation making it illegal to pay for prostitutes
FREDDIE PARKINSON/PRESS EYE

The legal battle in Belfast is just one of the many campaigns across Europe to overturn laws that criminalize buying sex. Lee wants to take the fight to Irish Public that has recently introduced a similar law that criminalizes individuals buying sex under its anti-trafficking laws. Lee is hopeful that a win in Belfast will help sex workers in Europe and other countries to remove the similar law.

Lee has seen her part of criticism. Many religious groups and feminist organizations are sending hate emails to Lee and comments on her social media accounts. But, she is not affected by these and determined to fight against the law for all the sex workers especially those who are unable to take go public with their opinions.

Lee is determined that Brexit will not be able to stop her from challenging the new law. Since the European court of human rights does not apply to EU countries, even if Northern Ireland leaves the UK, it will make little difference. She will go to any lengths to make sure that the unjust law is overturned.