Parliamentary group reports on trafficking and exploitation in UK

Labour Party

A Parliamentary Group has published its report on the problem of sexual exploitation in England and Wales, which it found is widespread throughout the UK.

The report ‘Behind Closed Doors’, conducted by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade, urges the Government to combat the demand that drives sexual exploitation by making paying for sex a criminal offence in all locations. This is a model I have supported and campaigned for over many years.

The problem for the police and other law enforcement agencies who seek to fight this criminal activity is that by its very nature the model is transient, in other words brothel owners will operate for a short period of time in one area, before moving to another location.

In addition to these “pop up brothels” women themselves are moved across different locations, allowing the sexual exploitation to continue. This makes it incredibly hard for the Police to identify, challenge and eradicate.

Furthermore, while the size and the structure of these organised crime gangs varies, what they have in common is the methods used to source and retain women, while also ensuring law enforcement agencies do not impede the ‘work’. They use coercive measures to stop women from talking to agencies, they isolate them, use sexual and physical violence and debt bondage among an array of other despicable and cruel measures to ensure the women stay.

The report states the UK must become a hostile environment in which trafficking is not able to flourish in any way.

To achieve this it suggests several recommendations which include: The Government working to combat the demand which drives sexual exploitation. This should be done by making the purchasing of sex an offence. It also recommends that Government makes prostitution procurement websites more accountable. They must take more responsibility for facilitating and profiting from this kind of exploitation. It’s other significant recommendation is that the Government should change the law by removing the criminal offence of soliciting in a street or public space for selling sex.

However, because of the deceptive nature of exploitation and the lengths traffickers go to ensure they aren’t uncovered, all of which is outlined brilliantly well in this report, law enforcement agencies are only aware of a small proportion of what takes place.

The true scale of the problem is not reflected in the figures that are available. But we do know that still in 2018 thousands of women are being sexually exploited across the country and we must challenge the source of the problem and as a significant move in the right direction the introduction of the Nordic Model (where the purchaser of sex is criminalised not the supplier) would help.

BBC World Service interview

Labour Party

Last week I was invited onto the panel of the BBC World Service programme World Have Your Say. We discussed new legislation passed in the French Parliament just the previous day which criminalises paying for sex. In other words the responsibility for the act rests with the purchaser rather than the seller of sex-what is more commonly known as the Nordic model of prostitution.

A number of guests were invited to contribute from all areas of the world and I explained why I welcome what’s happened in France. We can use evidence from Sweden, the first country in Europe to criminalise the buyer, and since then statistics show that street prostitution has declined by 11%.

Relations with police in Sweden are reportedly very good, safety of prostitutes is a priority and there is a high level of protection as a result. There are also exit programmes in place for those seeking to leave prostitution, which the legislation in France will also include.
The discussion on Friday included views from across the world where there protection of prostitutes varies hugely from country to country. However, one area all sides couldn’t agree on was the issue of rates of trafficking.

The European Union has carried out a lot of research in the area of trafficking, and official statistics from the EU state that approximately 85% of prostitutes are victims of trafficking. However, the reality is that we do not yet know the true extent of trafficking or how far and wide it reaches. These are some for the most vulnerable women and they do need to be protected by all those who can and should be helping them.

You can listen to my interview here. It’s in two parts, just follow each of the links.


Ending violence against women

Labour Party

The Independent newspaper, today published results of a survey by the campaign group for sex workers which seeks to end violence against sex workers. The survey by National Ugly Mug (NUM) revealed approximately 96% of those surveyed said people should not be criminalised for buying sex from a consulting adult. A further 82% declared hey would feel less safe if such legislation was introduced.

Their concern is that criminalising the purchaser of sex will make clients more apprehensive therefore making the sex worker more vulnerable.

However, the Independent’s own editorial pointed out that prostitution is a dangerous business. As regular readers to my blog will be only to aware I have campaigned for some time about the need to reform legislation with regard to the treatment of sex workers.

Almost nobody begins a career as a sex worker through choice. As such these women remain vulnerable and legislators should seek the best way to protect them. I favour the Nordic model of prostitution which criminalises the purchaser rather than the seller of sex.

Increasingly we are realising that many sex workers in this country have been forced into carrying out the role and are in fact victims of trafficking so we have a duty to protect these women too.

Recently I wrote about a pilot project in an area of Leeds which had designated a zone for sex workers to work without fear of prosecution. The results of this laissez faire attitude were alarming, despite the murder of a sex worker within the zone it was deemed a success. Incredibly other police forces have signalled that they are considering replicating the model.

Sex workers need to be supported, criminalising them does not work and the burden of responsibly should be placed on those men who seek to use sex workers.
You can read the Independent’s editorial here.


My European Parliament Speech on Prostitution and Gender Equality

Labour Party

My report on prostitution and sexual exploitation takes its starting point in the Directives on victims of violence (2012) and in trafficking (2011) which clearly couples trafficking and prostitution.

My report is trying to change the perspective on prostitution from the supply to the demand side and therefore endorses the “Nordic” model to criminalise the client rather than the prostitute, who should have all adequate help and not be condemned and stigmatised when often suffering from trauma, drug and alcohol addiction and a higher mortality rate than women in general. Programmes to help women to escape prostitution should be developed. Prostitution should more be seen as a form of violence and as such be an obstacle to equality between women and men. The economic crisis in some countries has also forced women into entering prostitution which shows that the economic inequality is important.

Laws on prostitution vary across the European Union. In the UK prostitution is not illegal but soliciting, running a brothel, pimping and associated activities are. In Holland a bill in 2000 lifted the ban on brothels with the aim of reducing prostitution and controlling and regulating it by introducing a municipal licensing system. The Dutch government carried out two evaluations on the impacts in 2002 and in2007. In the 2007 evaluation it was clear that 95% of the prostitutes worked without employment contracts, were not entitled to social service benefits, had no exit programmes, and did not pay tax.  Furthermore work permits for prostitutes were not accepted and thereby the prostitutes had to be referred to the underground market. According to a 2006 study the majority of the female prostitutes are migrants, mainly from Eastern Europe and the sex business represents 5% of the GDP namely around 600 million Euros yearly. According to the national Rapporteur on Human Trafficking there has always been a clear relationship between human trafficking in the Netherlands and 60% -70% of the women are forced by criminal groups to be prostitutes.

In Germany a similar approach to that in Holland is in place and a study carried out by the Federal Ministry found that 92% of the women working as prostitutes had suffered sexual harassment and Germany is considered one of major destination for victims of human trafficking and the Anti -Trafficking Directive 2011/36/EU has passed by Bundestag but not Bundesrat.  In Der Spiegel a debate has been conducted this last year where it has become clear how young poor women from Romania and Bulgaria are treated as sex slaves for flat rate services to German men.

On the other hand, buying sexual services is a criminal offence in Sweden – the Nordic Model. France has just passed a law in the National Assembly in line with the Nordic Model.

My report views this as a way forward for the European Union.

Punish sex buyers to reduce prostitution

Labour Party

Poverty and economic problems have led to an increasing number of women and girls being forced into prostitution. In my report adopted today by the Women’s Rights Committee I call for measures to reduce prostitution by criminalising sex buyers, and Europe-wide awareness-raising campaigns and prevention strategies, especially for socially-excluded, vulnerable and poor females.

I am pleased the Women’s Committee voted through my report on sexual exploitation and prostitution, and its impact on gender equality.  It is good that the Committee has come together to state its position on this growing phenomenon, at a time when a number of member states are considering how to reduce it.

My report, approved by 14 votes to 2 with 6 abstentions, stresses the need to reduce prostitution and trafficking and to help victims of sexual exploitation to reintegrate again into society. Education should play an important role to prevent prostitution.

Reducing the demand for prostitution

My colleagues in the Women’s Rights Committee and I agree that the best way to combat the trafficking of women and girls for sexual exploitation is the so-called Nordic model, which criminalises sex buyers and not the prostitutes. This model views prostitution as a violation of women’s human rights and as a form of violence against women. My report calls on member states to take the Nordic model as a reference.

Prostitution linked to human trafficking and sexual exploitation

My report highlights that prostitution feeds human trafficking.  According to Commission data, 62% of humans are trafficked for sexual exploitation and 96% of the identified and presumed victims are women and girls.

EU countries should therefore strengthen policies to combat human trafficking, and provide social services for victims and help women leave prostitution.

Poverty and desperation

My report calls on national authorities to help prostituted women to find alternative ways to earn money other than prostitution and to put exit programmes in place.

Prostitution and exploitation can damage the health of women in prostitution, and cause physical or psychological trauma or alcohol and drug addiction, especially in children and adolescents.

I call on member states to tackle the on-going economic and social crisis which, in some cases, forces women, men and children into prostitution and to support women who want to get out of prostitution.

I also call for member states to ensure different sectors, such as NGOs, the police, judicial, medical and social services, work effectively together.

International consensus is the only solution to the horrors of the sex trade

Labour Party

This is an extract from a longer piece for Policy Review. Click here to read it in full.

Prostitution is an outrage which takes place on a global scale. Like many of the international challenges we now face, the sex industry transcends jurisdictions and spills across borders. As recently as September a police raid on an Ilford brothel revealed a house of Asian women, brought to the UK and made to work against their will.

Trafficking and ‘sex tourism’ mean that, at both the ‘supply’ and ‘demand’ ends, unilateral solutions are no longer enough. We need cross-border consensus if we are to achieve anything.

I believe the EU must set the direction of travel. Globalised crime networks and legal disparities between countries mean that, for example, Romanian prostitutes can now be transported en masse to London – or that British men can go on sex ‘holidays’ to Amsterdam. These problems will only be solved by a pan-European approach.

At present policies vary hugely from one country to another. In the UK we have blanket criminalisation. Prostitution is effectively illegal for both women providing services and men using them. This doesn’t address the core problem, and sometimes perpetuates it; prostitutes are convicted, criminalised and deprived of a route out, and thus return to the streets. As a result the UK system creates a subterranean economy, which is demeaning at best and dangerous at worst.

Holland and Germany’s ‘hands off’ approaches are no better. The Netherlands has become the top European destination for trafficking since decriminalisation, and Germany has seen steep increases in prostitution levels. The Mayor of Amsterdam has admitted it is “impossible” to create a “safe zone not open for abuse by organised crime”, and international women’s charity Equality Now say Holland’s system is “a failed experiment” which has “empowered buyers, pimps and traffickers”.

Moreover, neither the UK system nor the Dutch Model acknowledges the inequality which takes place when a man pays a woman for sex. Despite the fact that 96% of sex trafficking victims are female – and that 89% of prostitutes say they would escape the industry if they could – both systems effectively collude with the idea that women ‘choose’ to sell their bodies.

Later this year I will be reporting to my colleagues on the European Parliament’s Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee on how we can address prostitution across Europe. I favour the Nordic Model, which permits selling sex but criminalises buying it. The approach was introduced in Sweden in 1999. It has halved street prostitution there and caused a marked reduction in trafficking. There is evidence, too, of a knock-on effect for social attitudes, with Swedish men now three times as likely to oppose paying for sex. Experts who have seen it up close say it has also increased trust between police and prostitutes.

For me the Nordic Model represents the ideal compromise – a middle way, which is neither overly judgemental of women forced into the sex trade, nor laissez-faire when it comes to dealing with the men who exploit them. Unlike the alternatives it makes a distinction between buyers of sellers of sex, and I believe it is the only solution which brings real gender parity.