AN explosion in the number of women selling their bodies for sex has been blamed on the economic downturn.
The ongoing effects of the recession and cutbacks to student support have been cited as reasons behind a rise in the number of women turning to sex work to make ends meet.
George Lewis, co-chairman of Scotpep, a campaign group supporting sex workers, told the Evening News: “Recently we have heard more stories of people – women and men – entering the industry and perhaps some of them have been compelled by economic circumstances. This may not just be down to the recession, but also the reductions in student funding and support.”
His views were echoed by Jan MacLeod, chair of the Women’s Support Network, who said that, while many sex workers were often people who had suffered from abuse or a difficult childhood and had turned to drugs as a coping mechanism, more “women suffering financial hardships” had been contacting prostitution support centres for help because they were struggling to pay their bills.
She fears more breadline women will be forced on to the game unless radical steps are taken to outlaw prostitution.
She said: “Changing attitudes towards the role of the buyer in the chain of the sex industry is crucial. No-one is saying it will bring an end to prostitution altogether, but it will make buyers see it is not a victimless action, and help to ensure people who are vulnerable and disadvantaged are protected from predators, criminals and traffickers.” She urged supporters to write to the Scottish Government over a proposal for a Bill to make it an offence to purchase sex.
Across Edinburgh’s red light district, women sell sex on the street for as little as £30. Some women falling into the poverty trap opt to ply their illicit trade this way, while others sell sex via brothels.
Anne Brown, chairperson of Angus Women’s Aid, claimed that, whatever way the sex is sold, there has also been a recent rise in the number of women being forced into prostitution by their partners.
She said: “More and more women are being forced into prostitution through domestic abuse. Nobody chooses to resort to prostitution. We have never worked with a woman who has seen it as a choice.”
MSP Rhoda Grant, who is currently consulting on the Bill, said: “Most of the evidence we have of those who say they are working as prostitutes out of choice are really there because of poverty. They say it’s of their own free will, but it’s not – it’s about survival. If demand fell then this wouldn’t be an avenue people would go down.”
A recent attempt to have the licences of twelve saunas in Edinburgh revoked was unsuccessful, with Cllr Gavin Barrie saying those who had objected had not provided enough evidence sex was for sale on the premises. However, many argue that the authorities are simply turning a blind eye.
The closing date for responses to the consultation on the criminalisation of the purchase of sex Bill is December 14.