It’s time for the UK to amend its out-of-date prostitution laws

Yesterday, The Guardian reported that France was considering amending its prostitution laws, making it illegal to pay for sex. Only a handful of European countries have opted to criminalise the clients of sex workers. Sweden is the only EU Member State to have done so.

In 2010, an attempt by Labour MPs to introduce similar legislation was rejected. A further attempt to do so by Scottish MP Marlyn Glen also fell through. I am shocked that there has not been more support for these proposals. Whilst I am against legalising prostitution like countries such as Holland and Belgium have done, I totally support introducing legislation to criminalise clients who pay sex workers.

Were clients to be criminalised, there would be a dramatic decrease in the numbers of women being trafficked for the purpose of prostitution. According to the UN, some 80% of persons trafficked are trafficked for sexual exploitation. The European Commission estimates that 120,000 women and children are trafficked into Western Europe each year. The root cause of prostitution and trafficking is the male demand for women who can be bought and sexually exploited. Evidently without the demand, the supply would not be necessary and the market would be substantially reduced.

Another huge failure of the current system is the impact on the sex workers themselves. Where prostitutes are regarded as criminals, rather than victims, measures to combat prostitution can often do more harm than good. In the UK, the criminal justice system has long permitted the use of ASBOs for street-based prostitution. This is highly ineffective. Women who fail to comply with the terms of their ASBO (and this is most women) frequently end up with a short-term prison sentence. This is very demoralising for them and can destroy their self-esteem.

For the actor Philippe Caubère to claim that sex workers ‘take care of men who mostly live in sexual misery’ shows a gross misunderstanding of the issue. Prostitution is a form of male violence against women. Caubère’s words sum up the widely held belief that men are innocent victims of sexual desires and women exist to serve them. No man has ever died from lack of sex, and no man will if France reforms its prostitution laws. I just hope that it encourages the UK to do the same.

9 Comments

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9 responses to “It’s time for the UK to amend its out-of-date prostitution laws

  1. Given the thousands (literally) of new offences created by the last Government, one often concludes that the only nation the UK Labour Party would be interested in governing is an imprisoned one. The constant repetition of the mantra that prostitution is a form of male violence against women does not make it true. If the British people are not good enough for Labour to govern, Labour should try and govern somewhere else.

    Despite the issue of trafficking being forced to the top of many agendas in recent years, only 127 persons were confirmed by SOCA as trafficked in the 18 months leading up to last September 30. Of these, only 68 were on sexual grounds, or rather less than four per month across the whole UK. This compares with a sex worker population generally estimated as well into five figures, usually around 80,000. This would be the legislative equivalent of prosecuting all supermarket customers on the basis that some of products were sown, harvested or processed by trafficked workers.

    All research points to the fact that attempts by the legislature to impose its mores on the sexual decisions of adults are ineffective and very expensive to the state in terms of criminal justice resources. When determining whether or not to have sex with another consenting adult, whether or not this involves the exchange of money, there is, alas, a general tendency not to refer to the statutes. Stockholm + escort = 4,780,000 results in 0.12 seconds.

    Then, of course, the laws are positively dangerous, driving sex workers into the dark alleyways where they are more vulnerable than ever and where the Stephen Wrights and Peter Sutcliffes of this world can do their worst. This will be just as bad, whether it is the sex workers or their clients, or both, who are prosecuted. Except, of course, there are far more clients, so it will presumably require far more criminal justice resources.

  2. Richy Rich

    So Stephen-are you saying you think its ok that 68 women were found in our country being raped by multiple men a day for the profit of other men? Because unfortunately that is what it sounds like from your post.

    Also what are you trying to say with your Googling Stockholm and Escort-that you think there must be nearly 5m prostitutes in Stockholm? That you think the strategy of criminalising Johns has caused prostitution to increse? I’m a little confused by that.

    Prostitutes should not be criminalsied at all. They already are working in dark alleyways at great danger of violence by thier ‘clients’. They should be helped and offerd drug counselling and training. The men who use them should be criminalised. You mention Wright and Sutcliffe. They were both regular visitors to known red light areas and were known to the police. If they had been locked up they wouldn’t have been able to do what they did to those women.

    Even if women in prostitution aren’t directly trafficked and held at gunpoint, many of them do not choose to do it and the men who exploit their desperation should be called out-the stigma should be all theirs whereas at present it is all the prostitutes’. The age-old double standard.

  3. Richy Rich –
    Of course it’s not OK for anybody to be trafficked. Indeed, there should be a law against it. And if you think there is, try comparing S57-59 of the Sexual Offences Act with the Palermo Protocol, and you might be in for a big surprise.
    The vast majority of sex workers do not need drug support because the vast majority are not on drugs. Class A and B drug use is common only in the street sex work sector, generally estimated as some 15 to 20 percent of sex workers.
    It is rare for sex workers to be prosecuted, other than for street soliciting, and even here there has been a shift to ASBOs rather than criminal prosecution, which, if undertaken, requires an initial caution. ‘Escorts’ commit no crime. Nor do sex workers in brothels, only anyone who provides them with the relative security of a brothel, the Home Office presumably considering it imperative that women are placed at maximum risk in order to justify even more punitive laws.
    Contrary to your information, Peter Sutcliffe was never known to hire sex workers. Indeed, if you read authorities on the subject, such as Hilary Kinnell for example, you will discover how little violence, as commonly defined, comes from clients and how much from sex workers’ families, the general public, and the state, which sometimes steals sex workers’ children.
    The vast majority of sex workers do not work in dark alleys, though certainly the street sex worker population have to when there is a kerb crawling clampdown: a marvellous demonstration of the wonders brought about by criminalising clients, and if you want to follow that one try Googling the “Amanda Walker” case.
    You might also look at what happened in Aberdeen when the Scots more recently introduced kerb crawling law, see how the local outreach service for sex workers was reduced to trying to text their former clients, and how a managed area offering what little protection could be offered to those within it was destroyed, displacing the issue around the city to the consternation of all, and disconnecting outreach services funded by the taxpayer, thus threatening public health.
    Studies in Canada and elsewhere clearly show that the idea of running around criminalising people should be a non-runner. It solves nothing and makes a bad situation worse. In Vancouver’s Downtown East Side, the increase in violence to sex workers resulting from criminal justice interventions has actually been scientifically measured.
    What is blisteringly apparent from the tragic history of all this is the truly staggering incompetence of the Home Office and successive governments to sensibly address the situation since Victorian times.

  4. As someone from from New Zealand, I have taken a little interest in the NZ legislation, which works differently from the Swedish system.

    I have to differ from Mary and say I prefer the NZ arrangements. As with Prohibition, criminalisation is a gift to organised crime. If is far better to have strict controls and address the well-being of then workers.

  5. A correction to my earlier comments, sorry – the SOCA figures came in two tables. The correct total figure for persons confirmed trafficked to the UK for sexual exploitation over 18 months was 108, or seven a month.

  6. another example of counter-productive cuts…
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/apr/17/prostitution-human-trafficking
    Sex-trafficked women’s charity Poppy Project in danger as funding withdrawn
    The Poppy Project needs £450,000 of charity aid to survive. Without it, countless victims of abuse will be left to cope alone

    We are living in the same world as where Cameron says everyone should speak English and then cuts ESOL funding… 😦

  7. Hardly left to cope ‘alone’, Martin. Off the top of my head I can think of Barnados, the Salvation Army, ECPAT UK, UK Unseen, the NSPCC, the Madeleine Trust, StoptheTraffick, LAST, CCAT…
    And hardly countless. We’re fast approaching the stage when the 108 sex trafficking victims a year could have one each.

  8. Daniel Oxley

    When countries of vastly different levels of wealth open their borders to each other the sexual exploitation of women described in this piece is inevitable. As usual the EU creates problems and is incapable of solving them.

    The dishonest campaigning which took place prior to the UK’s EU membership focussed on cheaper food, cheaper wine and hassle free travel for a foreign holiday. They were very careful not to be too precise about what ‘ever closer union’ actually meant, just as they never explained that our laws would be subordinated to laws made abroad.

    Another thing about which the authorities kept quiet was the eventual opportunities the Federation would have to indulge in secular moralising about prostitution. It would have been much more honest if the Common Market had been presented as the Common Everything or if the public had been told that they should vote for one big new country called Europe.

  9. Ministers have proposed new legislation that would make it a criminal offence to pay to have sex with someone who is controlled for another persons gain .The aim is to target men that use prostitutes who have been trafficked or who are being forced into prostitution by pimps or drug dealers….. The murder of five prostitutes around Ipswich in December 2006 provided fresh impetus to efforts to crack down on prostitution.A national strategy to tackle the trade was published two years ago to try and disrupt it but ministers now believe more needs to be done to cut the demand for prostitutes.Ms Smith yesterday published the results of a six-month review into prostitution laws that was designed to find ways of reducing demand among the tens of thousands of men who are thought to use prostitutes each year.Ministers have been determined to tackle the human misery suffered by many in the sex trade and reduce the exploitation of women working on and off the street as well as the amount of trafficking.