Exclusive:Call for pimping website crackdown in Scotland to stop online sexual exploitation of women

Campaigners say prostitution laws need to be overhauled so men can no longer freely access women for sex online

Calls are being made for a crackdown on pimping websites in Scotland, which allow traffickers to move women all over the country.

Soliciting in public, kerb-crawling and brothel-keeping are illegal in Scotland, but running a pimping website or buying sex is not.

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The campaign group A Model for Scotland is calling for the laws on prostitution to be overhauled so men can no longer freely access women who are being exploited online, and buy them for sex.

Campaigners are calling for pimping websites to be banned in Scotland. Image: Dominic Lipinski/Press Association.Campaigners are calling for pimping websites to be banned in Scotland. Image: Dominic Lipinski/Press Association.
Campaigners are calling for pimping websites to be banned in Scotland. Image: Dominic Lipinski/Press Association.

While a lot of the legislation around internet access is reserved to Westminster, campaigners hope the Scottish Government is able to make profiting and enabling prostitution an offence north of the border.

Nina Humphries, one of the campaigners, said these “highly lucrative” websites were playing a pivotal role in the sexual exploitation of women in Scotland. She said: “These websites operate by charging fees to place adverts, and extra fees for enhancing the visibility of adverts, whilst men who pay for sex can access the phone numbers of women advertised in their area for free.

“The location of adverts can be easily changed, enabling sex traffickers to easily move women around the country, which enables them to tap multiple markets, isolate women from support, and evade police detection.”

Ms Humphries said the websites were making “enormous profits” and were making it “much easier” for sex buyers to easily find women to pay for sex.

She said: “It also makes it significantly easier, less risky and more profitable for sex traffickers and pimps to connect with sex buyers to advertise their victims in this ready-made marketplace, effectively lowering the bar to enter this form of criminal activity.”

It is estimated 75 per cent of sex trafficking victims in Scotland are now advertised online. Police Scotland have identified pimping websites as the “most significant enabler” of sexual exploitation.

A Model for Scotland said its campaigners had noticed a “significant increase” in prostitution adverts online in recent years.

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Ms Humphries said: “It is a myth that these websites make women safer. They openly display the phone numbers of women being advertised on the websites for any visitor to freely access, so sex buyers do not have to prove who they are.

“Many women have had no choice in being advertised online and don’t know where they have been advertised or which sex acts they have been listed as offering.

“Survivors of the sex trade have told us that so-called ‘safeguards’ on these websites are ineffective as there is no realistic way to verify that the woman in the advert is the same woman then sold to a sex buyer.”

One Scottish prostitution survivor told The Scotsman these websites meant pimps were trafficking and exploiting women without police detection.

Diane Martin said: “Punters are violent, pimps are violent and pimping websites, where the majority of women are trafficked, facilitate this violence by providing a ‘middleman’ role without any accountability. Their third-party status means they effectively operate as pimps with impunity in a transaction of what is essentially, unwanted sex.

“It’s all about profit and financial gain, but not for those subjected to it.”

A Model for Scotland is now calling on the Scottish Government to take the threat of pimping websites more seriously, saying the nation’s laws had failed to “keep pace with technological developments”.

Ms Humphries said: “Offline, it is illegal to place a prostitution advert in a phone box or to run a brothel, but online, pimping websites operate legally and make significant profits from commercial sexual exploitation.

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“It should be a criminal offence to enable or profit from the sexual exploitation of others online.

“The Scottish Government recognises prostitution as a form of violence against women and has developed a strategic approach to challenge men’s demand for prostitution and supporting the recovery and sustainable exit of those involved.

“However, pimping websites currently operate free from criminal sanction and men who pay for sex enjoy impunity, while women selling sex face penalties for soliciting.”

She said there was a “wealth of evidence” to suggest shifting the burden of criminality off the women selling sex and onto the men buying sex worked.

Ms Humphries added: “Governments are ultimately responsible for holding pimping websites to account, as these websites are not going to voluntarily stop facilitating sexual exploitation when it generates them such huge profits.”

Community safety minister Siobhian Brown said: “These sites are, of course, of major concern. The regulation of the internet and online service providers is reserved to Westminster, but we continue to liaise closely with the UK government and Ofcom on the implementation of the UK Online Safety Act 2023 and to press for stronger online protections for women and girls.

“We are also considering how we can further deter online sexual exploitation as part of the implementation of our strategic approach to challenging men’s demand for prostitution and through our new multi-agency group on commercial sexual exploitation, which will be meeting for the first time later this month.”



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