Northern Ireland Police no longer oppose plans to criminalise the purchase of sex in the Province, having previously been against the move.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said that making it illegal to pay for sexual services would send a strong message to organised crime groups about Northern Ireland’s attitude to prostitution.
Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris made the comments to Stormont’s Justice Committee as they were discussing Lord Morrow’s Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill.
Clause 6 of the Bill would criminalise purchasing sex.
Mr Harris said the PSNI had changed its view after listening to evidence from domestic violence charities and other non-governmental organisations.
However he said concerns remain about possible unintended consequences of Lord Morrow’s Bill, as they do not want to stop victims of crime coming forward to the Police.
Lord Morrow welcomed Mr Harris’ comments, saying: “By stating this clearly and on the record of the Northern Ireland Assembly, ACC Harris has demolished one of the central arguments of those special interests that are opposing legislation.
“The reality is that clause 6 of the Bill is an essential component in tackling the misery inflicted by those who engage in human trafficking, and it should be supported.”
Previously the PSNI had opposed the Bill due to concerns over whether the proposals would adequately support the people involved in prostitution.
In a submission from last November, the PSNI said: “The criminalisation of paying for the sexual services of a person is not supported at this time.”
Earlier this month, a former prostitute appeared before the Justice Committee calling for support of Lord Morrow’s Bill.
Mia De Faoite urged MLAs to make a “wise choice” and back the legislation because prostitution has no place in a humane society.
She spoke of her experiences as a prostitute on the streets of Dublin for six years, when she was repeatedly raped and abused.
The Bill is at committee stage, which is expected to be completed in April.