'Zero tolerance' in Glasgow's bid to stamp out prostitution

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Glasgow, with its zero-tolerance stance, I'm afraid has the worst record of all in coping with the numbers of street prostitutes

PROSTITUTION will be eradicated in Scotland's biggest city as part of a radical and controversial bid to clean up Glasgow's streets and protect women.

Senior council officials and police said they were adopting a zero tolerance approach to buying sex to stop Glasgow becoming "the Bangkok of the north".

But politicians and groups representing sex workers said the policy was doomed to failure and would put more women at risk.

Last year the law in Scotland was changed to outlaw kerb-crawling. Previously the law criminalised those selling sex on the streets. The change meant the scrapping of long-running tolerance zones in Aberdeen and Edinburgh.

But Glasgow, after reviewing its policy on prostitution, has decided to lobby the Scottish Government for another change to the law that would criminalise anyone buying sex. At the same time, council workers are trying to persuade sex workers to abandon their trade.

Depute leader Jim Coleman said: "We applaud and plan to emulate the Swedish approach. For the best of reasons, many residents believe that if you regulate prostitution you make women safe. But as soon as you discover the violence and exploitation endured by women every day, it cannot possibly be condoned."

Ann Wilson, the city's head of strategic management for community safety services, confirmed that the council's goal was the elimination of prostitution in Glasgow. "Sexual exploitation is completely unacceptable, so we're doing what we can to address and tackle the demand.

"It is a myth that prostitution is the oldest profession and that it will always be with us. We are in this for the long haul, but do not underestimate the challenge it represents.

"No country or city has managed to get rid of the problem, but countries such as Sweden have begun to see an impact. They have seen no growth in prostitution and a significant reduction in trafficking."

Bridget Curran, of the council's social work services department, claimed its Base 75 drop-in service was making progress in convincing women to leave prostitution. She said: "There have been remarkable successes, such as women going on to university and securing challenging jobs."

Strathclyde Police acting assistant chief constable John Pollock confirmed the force would take an ultra-tough line on vice, asking: "Do we really want to be known as the Bangkok of the northern hemisphere?"

He added: "What kind of values do we wish to promote in our society? We are committed to denying those who profit from this exploitation."

Strathclyde Police said no-one was available to comment further on their prostitution strategy. Nine prostitutes have been killed and several others seriously injured in Glasgow over the past 17 years.

However, Independent MSP Margo MacDonald was frustrated by the Glasgow authority's stance, which she believes will simply drive prostitution underground.

She said: "I get so angry when I hear people who really haven't properly researched the subject say blithely 'Let's follow the Swedish model'.

"The people in Glasgow who are promoting this sort of approach really should have the humility to ask why it is in Edinburgh the number of people working as street prostitutes have dropped, in Aberdeen it's stable and in Dundee it's stable.

"Glasgow, with its zero- tolerance stance, I'm afraid has the worst record of all in coping with the numbers of street prostitutes and they continue to rise."

The Lothians MSP felt that the idea of eliminating prostitution was unrealistic. "It is likely to be ineffective from the point of view of the general public, from the point of view of the prostitutes and from the point of view of anyone affected by prostitution."

She claimed that there was much less chance of chance of tackling drug abuse and trafficking of women when the police did not know where sex workers were.

The Scottish Prostitutes Education Project (ScotPEP), a charity which gives support and advice to sex workers, claimed that zero-tolerance policies, like those espoused by Glasgow, would be counter productive and would actually put women at greater risk.

A spokeswoman said: "Studies show that criminalisation and clampdowns on kerb-crawlers merely cause sex workers to work longer hours in greater isolation, leaving them more vulnerable to attack – as well as reducing their access to essential services."

ScotPEP has released figures showing that the number of attacks on prostitutes has doubled since 2006.

Glasgow's approach is not shared by Edinburgh or Aberdeen, despite recent changes in the law. Both cities have taken a more pragmatic, harm-reduction approach to prostitution in recent years.

The capital currently has around 13 saunas, effectively legalised brothels, operating under licence from the city council. In Aberdeen, Quay Services, a Scottish Government-funded body, has been texting health and safety advice to sex workers who have been dispersed from the harbour area by the legal changes.

The body, which is supported by Aberdeen City Council, encourages women to work from flats in pairs rather than on the streets, where they are more vulnerable.

Pollock's remarks about Bangkok, meanwhile, have upset Thais in Scotland, who also pointed out their capital city is in the northern hemisphere.

Vicky Khunapramot, who runs a business importing art from Bangkok to Scotland, said: "Thai people will definitely be offended by the idea that the only thing people associate with Bangkok is prostitution.

"He should have chosen his words more carefully. You can make a point about problems in Glasgow without having to drag another country's reputation through the mud."