Prostitution: Why sex-buyers should be criminalised – Mia de Faoite

I welcome the consultation process by the Scottish Government on how to tackle the demand for prostitution. I was involved in prostitution in Ireland for six years and as a result of my lived experience I feel very strongly that legislation must tackle demand.

Prostitution is a multi-million-pound criminal enterprise

After exiting I campaigned for Ireland to adopt what is known as the Nordic Model or Sex Buyer Law, where the purchase of sex is criminalised but selling sex is decriminalised. I wanted the female body formally removed from the market.

I campaigned for the law in Ireland because there was nothing I experienced nor witnessed that could ever be justified. Prostitution is what most people imagine it to be: violent and dangerous. In the six years that I was involved, I endured a gang rape and three separate rapes, including being raped twice on the same night, plus countless humiliations and numerous physical assaults. There is no other “industry” where that level of violence would be tolerated.

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I am lucky to have escaped prostitution, as so many do not. I made a promise to the women I left behind that if I ever got out, I would do all that I could to end the suffering. I kept that promise. After I and others fought for the law change, in March 2017 the Republic of Ireland became the sixth nation in Europe to enact a sex buyer law. The main reason this law works is because it brings what sex buyers do in the dark into who they are in the day. I know these men very well, I spent six years in their company. The risk of prosecution is something most will not be prepared to take.

There is an argument that criminalising the sex buyer will make it more dangerous for women involved in prostitution. This is not the case. Firstly, I want to state very clearly that prostitution itself is inherently violent and can never be made safe. As a woman in prostitution you will always be on your own with the buyer, so it is up to him and only him as to how things are going to play out. The police in the Republic of Ireland have stated that since the enactment of the sex buyer law there has been no increase in the level of reported violence against prostituted persons and that relationships between the police and the women have improved.

There are some who will say that it will drive prostitution underground – but that is a logical fallacy. The error in the reasoning of that argument is that prostitution cannot exist underground. It is the only vice that can’t, because unlike the trade in drugs or guns – which only survive underground as it is criminals dealing with criminals – prostitution differs in that it needs the sex buyers, who may not be otherwise be involved in criminality. For that reason, it will always need a face, it will always need a place to advertise from because it must be seen by the buyers in order to survive. This is a multi-million-pound criminal enterprise, but we must remember that every penny the gangs make from the exploitation of vulnerable women and girls comes from the pockets of sex-buying members of the public.

The traffickers and pimps are currently winning in Europe. Trading in women and children’s bodies is on a larger scale now than it ever has been in history. The only countries in Europe who are making a substantial impact in the fight against modern day slavery are the ones who have acknowledged and faced the cause: the demand. Because when logic and reasoning (moral or otherwise) is put to one side you are doomed to fail from the start.

I believe it is now time under the leadership of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and community safety minister Ash Denham – who is a strong and vital voice for the sexually exploited in Scotland – to enact a sex buyer law as Ireland has done. Prostitution is an affront to human dignity and sex trafficking is a heinous crime. They have no place in a humane society.

Mia de Faoite LLM is a survivor activist and independent policy adviser

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