Exploitation within the sex industry affects some of the most vulnerable in our society. Often it is a person’s lack of choice that forces them to ‘choose’ prostitution. Some get involved in selling sexual services at a young age and many have experienced abuse in childhood or have spent time in local authority care. Studies show that high numbers of women in prostitution have experienced coercion from a partner, pimp or relative and that incidents of violence are much higher than in the rest of society. Drug and alcohol misuse is a problem for some and chaotic lifestyles make it difficult for people to leave prostitution without support.
There is also a link between prostitution and trafficking for sexual exploitation. Whilst most people in prostitution have not been trafficked, many women and children are trafficked to provide sexual services, 62% of all trafficking victims in the EU.
Tackling the demand for paid sexual services is crucial to addressing effectively the market for human trafficking and preventing the exploitation of vulnerable people. Sweden, Norway and Iceland have introduced laws to criminalise the purchase of sexual services, which the evidence demonstrates to be effective in changing attitudes towards commercial sexual exploitation. Last year Northern Ireland followed suit and introduced a law to ban the purchase of sex which CARE supported.
In Scotland, there have been a number of attempts to introduce a similar law. Former MSP, Trish Godwin published a consultation proposing to criminalise demand for paid sex in 2010. This proposal ran out of time and did not proceed when the Scottish Parliament election was held in May 2011. Rhoda Grant MSP launched a further consultation on the subject in 2012. CARE for Scotland supported her proposed Criminalisation of the Purchase of Sex (Scotland) Bill. The Bill failed to get sufficient cross-party support to proceed. In 2015, Mrs Grant then attempted to amend the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Bill in order to criminalise the purchase of sex. At that time the Scottish Government was unwilling to support this proposal, but commissioned academic research on the matter which is due to report in February 2016.
It is likely that a further attempt will be made to criminalise the purchase of sex after the May 2016 Holyrood election. The Scottish Labour Party has adopted the criminalisation of the purchase of sex as party policy. The SNP Government remains open minded on the issue and a number of SNP MSPs are openly supportive of this proposal. However, there are others within the SNP group who strongly oppose the proposal. In addition, the independent MSP, Jean Urquhart, who is standing for the socialist coalition RISE, is proposing to decriminalise prostitution and associated activities such as soliciting, brothel keeping, living off immoral earnings etc.
As well as tackling demand, more needs to be done to provide support programmes for those who want to exit prostitution. The successful Routes Out programme in Glasgow should be replicated in other parts of the country.
Questions for Candidates
- What would you do to address commercial sexual exploitation and to promote better strategies to help people to exit prostitution?
- Would you support legislation to criminalise the purchase of sexual services in order to reduce demand for commercial sexual exploitation and protect the vulnerable?