We must make it illegal for men to buy sex in fight against human trafficking - Michael Veitch

On 9 June an all too quiet parliamentary chamber heard a powerful speech by Bill Kidd, MSP for Glasgow Anniesland, who had secured parliamentary time to debate human trafficking associated with the crisis in Ukraine.

Michael Veitch, Parliamentary Officer, CARE for Scotland
Michael Veitch, Parliamentary Officer, CARE for Scotland

Mr Kidd told the chamber: “We are here to speak up for those who are vulnerable and those who have been exploited, and to use our positions of power and political influence to condemn the trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation…I want to compel my colleagues across this Parliament to shake off any form of passivity about the subject, because we have the power to do something about it. We can make Scotland hostile to predators who prey on the vulnerability of women and children by making it illegal for men to purchase sex.”

The Scottish Government deserves credit for recognising prostitution as violence against women. Yet under the law as it presently stands, this form of violence against women is completely legal, something that would be unthinkable in any other context. Scotland has worked hard to tackle human trafficking in recent years, however for as long as it remains legal to pay for sex, we are failing in our duty to tackle one of the principal drivers of trafficking at source.

The Ukraine crisis has only added fuel to the fire. It is sickening that extremely vulnerable women and children, displaced from their homeland by war, and in desperate need of a safe place, are at risk of exploitation by sex traffickers. Statistically, women are primarily trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation, a particular cause for concern given that most of those fleeing Ukraine are women and children.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe recently issued warnings, in the pages of this newspaper, that the threat posed to Ukrainian refugees by sex traffickers underlines the need for politicians across Europe to challenge demand for sex through legislation, reminding us that: “Countries that do not criminalise sex-buying experience higher rates of sex trafficking.” Claims by some that so-called ‘sex work’ laws in Scotland cause no harm to women have thus been exposed as an illusion.

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These are dark times, and few feel that darkness more than the those trapped in the murky world of being trafficked for the sexual pleasure of others. In Isaiah 9:2 we read that: “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light”. There is comfort in knowing that God is actively present even in the darkest recesses of our world, and that in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ, he literally entered into our broken world. And as Mr Kidd so ably urged his fellow parliamentarians, those granted the power to help those who are enslaved, must actively use it. Words are never enough.

If our politicians are looking for political inspiration to do so, let them consider William Wilberforce, the MP whose Christian faith inspired him to lead the fight against slavery in the Parliament of his day. His mentor was the clergyman John Newton, himself a former slave trader, best known for penning the hymn:

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.”

The essence of the Christian faith is that having come to see the hardness of our own hearts, we embrace the grace and forgiveness Jesus offers. He sacrificed himself to atone for our rebellion against God, and to those who believe, complete redemption has been granted. This is a source of absolute comfort and security, and also frees us to extend abundant grace to others.

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Michael Veitch, Parliamentary Officer, CARE for Scotland

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