A NEW law to finally make prostitution illegal in Scotland is to be put before the Scottish parliament this week in a bid to clamp down on the trade and disrupt sex trafficking.
Labour MSP Rhoda Grant wants to see a bill fast-tracked through Holyrood, claiming it will reduce demand for prostitution by criminalising those who buy sex. Kerb crawling, running brothels and soliciting for prostitution are all outlawed in Scotland but it is still legal for an adult to pay another adult for sex without any offence being committed.
The SNP Government says it will give “careful consideration” to the new proposals after similar plans were rejected two years ago. Former Labour MSP Trish Godman’s proposals in the Criminal Justice and Licensing bill were turned down by ministers who feared it would make the problem less visible to the authorities.
A members’ bill was then lodged by Godman which attracted more than 100 responses from campaign groups, academics and councils, before running out of parliamentary time.
Grant, a Highland and Islands list MSP, is essentially taking over the Godman proposals, and will tell Holyrood’s justice committee this week that there is no need to go through the lengthy consultation process that usually accompanies new bills again.
“My proposals will make the purchase of sex illegal in Scotland with the aim of reducing the demand for prostitution,” she said in a submission to the committee.
“In addition, by strengthening the existing legislative framework against purchasers, Scotland should become an unattractive market for prostitution and therefore other associated serious criminal activities, such as people trafficking for sexual exploitation, would be disrupted.”
The original bill was widely supported as a means of reducing demand for prostitution.
However, it met with concerns from the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS), which warned that it could drive prostitution off the street and into areas where it is harder to identify vulnerable women and enforce the law. Assistant Chief Constable Iain Livingstone told MSPs on the justice committee he was not looking for “additional powers” in this area.
New kerb crawling legislation was introduced in 2007 and more than 200 people across Scotland have been convicted since it came into force. It also became an offence for someone to solicit for the purposes of prostitution.
The latest plans have won the support of groups who want the purchaser – rather than the seller – to be criminalised.
“The main reasons for this were tackling demand, acknowledgement that prostitutes were the victims of abuse and that the proposed bill would bring indoor prostitution in line with legislation covering street prostitution,” Grant added.
The MSP said the proposals could be passed rapidly through the parliamentary process as the previous consultation meant there was no need to repeat this.
“Practical, operational, legal, equality and financial considerations have been explored to a sufficient degree to test, develop and refine my specific proposal and enable me to proceed towards the development of a bill,” she adds. “I have continued to liaise with organisations on this topic.
“Views expressed to me so far, as part of my on-going engagement with a number of bodies, the public and others with an interest in this proposal, confirm that the views expressed during the formal consultation process have not changed.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Prostitution damages the individuals caught up in selling sex and the communities involved. It is a complex issue which requires careful consideration to ensure that any additional measures which may be required to be put in place are necessary, practicable and sustainable.“
However, the Scottish Government recognised that criminal law alone will not be sufficient to tackle the complex problem of prostitution and had made clear that legislation and enforcement are just part of the solution.
“We will give careful consideration to any bill which Rhoda Grant brings forward on this matter,” the spokesperson added.
Grant was instrumental in the creation of new laws introduced two years ago which banned stalking. Offenders now face being jailed for up to five years after amendments secured by the MSP. This includes attempting to contact a victim by post, telephone, email or text message, as well as loitering near their home or workplace.
It meant that a definition of stalking was set out in law for the first time, allowing police to act “quickly and decisively” to protect victims from this kind of behaviour.
VIEWS ON THE BILL
AGAINST - SENGA MacDONALD
Drugs Action has been helping women involved in prostitution for over 18 years in the north-east of Scotland. From our experience, criminalising the selling and purchasing of sex may push women involved underground, away from health and welfare services.
Grampian Police have improved relationships with women through Operation Begonia using a more “victim based” approach in place of an enforcement approach. Legislation could undo this work if the police are expected to take on a greater enforcement role.
Furthermore, a legislative approach does not reflect the diversity within prostitution – from the most vulnerable who are forced into it to the other end of the scale where women are in control as independent escorts.
Reducing sexual exploitation can be achieved through changing attitudes to prostitution and also through easy to access, timely support to young people at risk. Legislation risks further marginalisation and creates barriers to support for vulnerable women.
• Senga MacDonald is general manager with Drugs Action in Aberdeen
FOR - JAN MACLEOD
The vast majority of women involved in prostitution in Scotland have little choice so these new laws will be positive in helping to choke off demand.
The key aspect of criminalising demand is to change attitudes by sending out the message that exploitation of the vulnerable is not acceptable. Poverty, homelessness, addictions and trauma and mental health issues can drive women to prostitution which is all too often exploited through men’s demand for sex. The Women’s Support Project believes the focus must be on the demand – mainly men who assume the right to pay for sex.
Prostitution is a market, and if there were no buyers, there wouldn’t be a marketplace. Prostitution is harmful in terms of the damage to women’s mental health, self-esteem and sexuality. Women (and men) involved in prostitution tend to use alcohol or drugs to dissociate, so they can carry out the unwanted sex acts.
There is also the impact on communities, especially where street prostitution takes place.
Prostitution, like all forms of violence against women, constitutes a barrier to gender equality, which any legislative approach should seek to remove.
• Jan Macleod is Senior Development Officer at the Women’s Support Project, Glasgow