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Snapshots of law, gender and sexuality news from the past couple of weeks.

The Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill (NI)

Sarah Thin, Durham University

On the 20th of October, the Northern Irish Assembly passed the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill, a controversial new law which purportedly seeks to combat human trafficking and sexual exploitation by, inter alia, criminalising the act of paying for sexual services.  It is likely to become law by mid-2015.  By targeting the buyer as opposed to the seller (a novel approach within the UK), the proposals aim to recreate the supposed success of the ‘Swedish model’, the idea behind which is to reduce demand within the sex trade thereby reducing levels of sex trafficking.

There has been heavy criticism of the proposals: a survey of sex workers has found that 98% of them oppose the proposals and 61% believe the new law would make them less safe.  Many argue that the Swedish model ‘strips women of their agency and autonomy’ by criminalising the consensual buying and selling of sex, has increased the stigmatisation of sex workers, and its success appears to have been greatly exaggerated.  While no-one would deny that human trafficking is a major problem in today’s society, claims that the majority of sex workers in Northern Ireland are victims of trafficking have been shown to be unfounded, and many believe the plans will simply force the sex trade further underground, making it even more difficult to combat the issue and provide support to victims.  These proposals, while presumably well-meaning, conflate the two separate issues of trafficking and consensual sex work and are likely to be at best ineffective, most likely very harmful.  We must hope that the new campaign for a similar law in England meets with a more considered approach. 

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HFsmlHelen Fenwick is a Professor of Law at Durham Law School. This post is also published at Human Rights in Ireland.

 This post concentrates on Article 8 ECHR to argue that it can be viewed as sympathetic to feminist goals since, due to its particular ability to impose positive obligations on the state in relation to creating respect for private or family life, it can require the state to create curbs on the actions of non-state actors particularly adverse to women (eg. in relation to domestic violence: Hajduova v Slovakia) and ensure the efficacy of services that women in particular might need to access, such as to abortion (P&S v Poland). Women are, it is argued, more at risk than men from the actions of non-state actors within the private and family sphere (see intervention of Equal Rights Trust in Eremia and Others v Moldova on this point), so Article 8 has a particular pertinence for women, and unlike Article 14 (the guarantee of freedom from discrimination), which has not proved to have a strong impact as a means of advancing the interests of women due to its reliance on furthering formal equality (see eg Dembour Who Believes in Human Rights, Ch 7), Article 8 can address the substantive concerns of women, without the need for any reliance on a comparator.

Other ECHR Articles are also relevant. Article 3 would also support recognition of positive obligations, (see McGlynn, Clare (2009) ‘Rape, torture and the European convention on human rights’ ICLQ 58 (3)) including in the contexts considered below, although the harm threshold is obviously high. Article 8 currently may be the gateway to Article 14, the freedom from discrimination guarantee (bearing in mind that the UK has not ratified Protocol 12). In other words, if Article 8 is engaged but no violation is found, a violation of Article 14 might nevertheless be found of the two read together (Van Raalte v Netherlands).

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ComputerErika Rackley and Clare McGlynn (Durham University) have written widely on extreme pornography. You can read more about their research here and here.

In May 2008, following a 3 year period of extensive consultation and against a backdrop of significant and predominantly critical public debate, a new offence criminalising the possession of extreme pornography received its Royal Assent. The Government’s purpose in introducing the new law was to address an ‘increasing public concern’ about the availability of extreme pornography particularly that produced outside the UK and distributed via the internet which lay beyond the reach of the Obscene Publications Act 1959. It did so by shifting the focus from the producers to consumers – targeting the users of pornographic material by enabling prosecutions to be brought, for the first time, against anyone downloading, and therefore generating the demand for, such material.

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ComputerWelcome to Inherently Human’s Blog Carnival, ‘Criminalising Extreme Pornography: Five Years On’.

This Blog Carnival follows from the ‘Criminalising Extreme Pornography: Five Years On’ seminar which took place on 8th May 2013 at Durham University, marking five years since the passage of legislation criminalising the possession of extreme pornography. The seminar brought together academics, activists, policy-makers and other regulatory authorities to evaluate the success or failure of the legislation and to ask what, if any, reforms are necessary to secure progress toward this objective. Delegates were encouraged to tweet using the hashtag #EP5 (more…)

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This is one example from the campaign 'This is not an invitation to rape me' carried out by rape crisis Scotland.

Jennifer Hey

47,000. The estimated number of rapes each year in the UK

191. The number of convictions for rape each year in the UK

Countless: the injustices against women in the criminal justice system.

Lindsay Armstrong was 16 when she gave evidence of being raped the previous year, three weeks later, she was found dead in her room having committed suicide.

When a woman is raped she faces the critical decision of whether or not to report the crime to the police. And whilst it may be him who committed the crime, it will most likely be her who is put on trial at court. That is, of course, if the case even gets that far given that the majority of cases are dropped before they even reach that stage. (more…)

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Welcome to Inherently Human – an online forum dedicated to critical engagements with the politics of gender, sexuality and legal studies.

Another blog on law, women, lesbians, gay men, bisexual and trans people? Is it really needed? We think it is. Feminist and LGBT legal theorising and activism remains a minority concern within the academy and beyond. While other blogs related to this field of inquiry exist, we believe there is still far too little dialogue and debate in this area which has animated, frustrated and empowered those who recognise that power lies in gender and sexual identities. (more…)

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