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Monday 23 July 2018

'Her bravery was unending' - tributes paid to sex worker and campaigner Laura Lee

Dublin-born law graduate 'was fighting for every single sex worker in this world'

Laura Lee
Laura Lee

Rebecca Black

The campaign started by sex worker Laura Lee will go on despite her passing, her legal team vowed last night.

Tributes have been paid to the 39-year-old Dubliner and law graduate following her death, with her colleagues described her bravery as "unending".

Ms Lee (39) had been due to start a legal challenge at Belfast High Court to a new Northern Ireland law which makes it illegal to pay for sex.

Her passing was announced on Facebook by a family member who spoke of their devastation.

The post was responded to with scores of messages from friends expressing their shock and sadness.

Several of Ms Lee's friends last night changed their social media profile pictures of images of her in her memory.

The cause of her death on Wednesday morning was not known last night.

Sex Workers Alliance Ireland said in a statement issued to the media; "We are heartbroken and devastated at the loss of our dear friend, colleague and SWAI board member Laura Lee.

"Our hearts are with Laura's family, friends and all who knew and loved her.

"Laura's bravery was unending. She believed passionately in justice and was fighting for every single sex worker in this world. Her dedication and commitment to our struggle has made a huge and lasting impact, and she will never be forgotten."

They requested that Laura's family's privacy is respected.

They added; "We urge any sex worker who is struggling with this bereavement to get in touch with SWAI on 085 824 9305 or at info@swai.eu."

Ms Lee's solicitor Ciaran Moynagh told the Belfast Telegraph last night that he will continue her work.

"We are deeply saddened by the death of our client Laura Lee," he said.

"Laura courageously fronted a campaign and judicial review which sought to defend and protect thousands of sex workers who do not have a voice.

"In the face of much opposition she maintained great dignity.

"Laura Lee will be remembered as one of this country's most fearless human rights advocates and we are committed to continuing her work."

PUP councillor Julie-Anne Corr Johnston last night said she was shocked by the news of Ms Lee's sudden death.

"As an acquaintance and an admirer I'm both shocked and saddened by the news," she said.

"A formidable woman, Laura Lee will be remembered for her determination to stand for what was right, what was just, even if it meant standing alone.

"My thoughts are with her daughter, family and friends now and in the difficult days to come."

Ms Lee was well known across the UK for speaking out for those that work in the sex industry, and highlighting the dangers those workers can face.

However, she was best known in Northern Ireland after taking judicial review proceedings in a bid to quash legislation making it illegal for men to pay for sex.

Ms Lee took the step following a law that was brought into Northern Ireland after being championed by DUP peer and MLA Lord Morrow.

Northern Ireland is currently the only UK region to make the purchase of sex a criminal offence.

She crowdfunded more than £7,000 from clients, other sex workers and friends to secure a judicial review, aiming to get the legislation repealed.

Although the law shifts the burden from prostitutes to their clients, sex workers believe it could leave them more vulnerable to violence.

They fear it will drive the trade underground and expose them to increased danger by making it increasingly difficult to screen customers who may use fake names and disposable phones.

Ms Lee's legal team have argued that the amendments to the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act breach her human rights entitlements to privacy and freedom from discrimination. They also allege a failure to comply with equality law.

The first hearing at Belfast High Court is due to take place later this year.

Belfast Telegraph

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