Paying for sex could become illegal in the North if proposed law changes are introduced.
The crackdown on prostitution is part of a range of measures contained in draft legislation aimed at tackling human trafficking and exploitation in Northern Ireland.
While activities such as kerb-crawling, pimping and brothel-keeping are illegal in the UK, selling or paying for sex is permitted.
Democratic Unionist Lord Morrow, who is proposing the law change in a Private Member’s Bill, claimed the move would make human traffickers think twice about coming to Northern Ireland.
He said while it was illegal to pay for sex with a victim of human trafficking, it was often a difficult offence to prove.
“I am trying to make it an offence to purchase sex because many of those who have been trafficked and sent to Northern Ireland are pushed into the sex trade,” he said.
“Now it is very difficult to differentiate between a person who is coerced and a person who is a willing participant so therefore what we are saying is if a person purchases sex then they are the offender.”
The Assembly member’s Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill, which was sent out for public consultation today, has many hurdles to overcome if it is to become law – none higher than the task of gaining sufficient cross-party support across the Stormont chamber.
Lord Morrow said the problem of human trafficking in the North was “escalating” – highlighting police figures that showed there were 27 victims rescued last year, compared with 11 in 2008/09.
He said a ban on purchasing sex in Sweden had sent a strong signal to sex traffickers that it was not a good place to target.
“We want to be getting this message out about Northern Ireland,” said the Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA.
“Do not be sending your women here to Northern Ireland.”
He said he was not naive enough to think his Bill would stop prostitution outright, but he said it would make it more difficult for the trade to operate.
“I think if my Bill becomes legislation it will make it much more difficult for these pimps or these controllers to control women,” he said.
“The problem is this: when these unfortunate people are trafficked they are brought to Northern Ireland, their passports are confiscated, they are perhaps made to live a vile life, being fed on drugs and all of that.
“My Bill is designed to get to the root cause. If there is no demand for this trade then there is no market so therefore it should hopefully wither on the vine.”
As well as the ban on buying sex, the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill proposes to:
:: Allow courts to take aggravating factors into consideration when passing sentence;
:: Extend the definition of “other exploitation” to include forced begging;
:: Define what is a victim of trafficking;
:: Introduce compensation procedures for victims;
:: Ensure child victims have a legal advocate to support them through the relevant criminal, immigration and compensation procedures;
:: Provide “special measures” for trafficking victims if they act as witnesses;
:: Set out what assistance and support as well as civil legal services are required and available to victims of trafficking;
:: Ensure no prosecution is brought for a criminal offence committed by a trafficking victim as a direct consequence of being trafficked;
:: Require training and investigative tools to be made available for police and prosecutors;
:: Require Stormont’s Department of Justice to produce an annual strategy on raising awareness and reducing trafficking in human beings.
The public consultation period ends on October 18.