Human Trafficking in Northern Ireland: Who’s Buying It? (3/5)

Justice Minister David Ford was hailed on Friday night at the conference on Human Trafficking in Portadown as a leader in his field, as someone who is paving the way for others due to the model of policing in Northern Ireland; that is, as one who is concerned about challenging and changing the mindset that hosts the crimes it fights. Of course, the PSNI’s approach to human trafficking is to rescue victims and bring perpetrators to justice; but they also acknowledge the context the crime that makes the victims sits in: that, specifically in terms of sex trafficking (and this is what this post will focus on, though the principles relate to all kinds of slavery), there are men in our country willing to purchase sex – sex from women forced to provide that ‘service’.

Several times the audience was reminded in a harrowing presentation by Detective Superintendent Philip Marshall that human trafficking follows simple business principles.

  • The motivation is money. There is a great deal to be made from the sale of human beings.
  • The risk (currently – though last week saw the first ever conviction of human trafficking in Northern Ireland) is low, the reward is high.
  • The supply is only provided because of demand. Organised crime gangs would not have their hands in this ‘industry’ were it not for the demand for it. In relation to sex trafficking (as Philip Marshall named it, “rape for profit”), there are 170 victims of trafficking in Northern Ireland, ready to be sold for sex as you read this, because there are men who are willing to pay to abuse them.

These men are often referred to as ‘punters’ or ‘customers’ – but it has been suggested several times that more appropriate titles for them would be ‘abusers’ or indeed, ‘rapists’. Indeed, this is nothing else but rape for profit. Stereotypically, we imagine these men to be sad, lonely, socially inept people – in actual fact, the men the PSNI find in brothels are on their lunch breaks, professionals, neighbours, friends, family members.

The bottom line is this: without demand, there would be no supply. Without men in Northern Ireland willing to pay for sex with trafficked women, there would be no sex trafficking in our country (and this is currently the most common kind of trafficking here). To (perhaps controversially) broaden the picture: without men willing to pay for sex, there would be no prostitution, forced or otherwise. No demand; no supply. It is hateful to even refer to these intricately created and wonderfully purposed human beings as ‘supply’ – but it is a brutal reminder of how they are seen by the traffickers: as commodities.

In Paul Maguire’s Primetime investigation into the sex trade in Ireland shown last night, he suggested the demand for commercial sex there has increased tenfold in past 20 years. Yesterday the BBC reported that Northern Ireland has the fastest growing sex industry in the UK. As I wrote on Monday, £500,000 is spent on sex each week in NI.

The PSNI’s message on Friday was clear as it echoed the ethos of the force – “We need to be honest and acknowledge and address the demand from all sides of the community; to challenge and change the mindset. {…} We’ll tackle the supply…what about the demand?”

It is upto us to partner with the police and the judiciary system and take responsibility, as citizens and participants, for our culture that creates and condones this demand. A hyper-sexualised culture. We have a problem in Northern Ireland. It is on the increase. And until we tackle the demand, there will always be people trafficked for sex, raped for profit.

Our culture cradles the mindset that it is acceptable to buy sex, that it is acceptable to use women (and increasingly, especially with the Ladyboy trend, men) as sex objects, and that “all parties are having fun”. David McIlveen is quoted as having said yesterday during a debate on the issue in NI; “This is not Pretty Woman. This is not the glamorous happy hooker as appears in a number of the Sunday newspapers.” And indeed, last week, DublinCallGirl wrote on her blog, from the perspective of a prostitute, what prostitution is like. Check it out here. All parties are NOT having fun.

“If there wasn’t such a need, there wouldn’t be so much business, now would there…?” The Candy Shop, a film about sex exploitation.

Monday’s post outlines human trafficking in Northern Ireland.

Tuesday’s post outlines what is being done against trafficking in Northern Ireland.

Tomorrow’s post will cover the task of challenging the mindset that cradles human trafficking.

Friday’s post, I’m leaving open to your response to the other posts – if you have questions and comments, please contact me and we’ll shape the final post together.

4 thoughts on “Human Trafficking in Northern Ireland: Who’s Buying It? (3/5)

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