Nicola Sturgeon has been urged to introduce new legislation which would criminalise those who pay for sex, but not those who sell it.
Julie Bindel, author and global campaigner on eradicating violence against women, said the First Minister needed to be “truly progressive” and make the purchase of sex illegal, while at the same time decriminalising the women “being abused”.
Ms Bindel, in Edinburgh to address the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party group on commercial sexual exploitation, argues that “decriminalising sex work means decriminalising violence against women and children”.
Currently selling sex in Scotland is not illegal, but “brothel keeping” and “controlling prostitution for gain” are, and it is SNP policy to change prostitution laws to a model similar to that used in Scandinavian countries, where the buyers of sex are prosecuted rather than the women - many of whom, said Bindel, are trafficked from other countries.
However some campaigners believe that sex work should be completely decriminalised in Scotland as the best way of ensuring the safety of sex workers.
Ms Bindel said that “allowing the bodies of women to be sold as a commercial transaction” was equivalent to “the slave trade which we abolished 200 years ago.”
She said: “Nicola Sturgeon needs to be truly progressive on this, as she has been in so many other areas. The “woke” thing to do is to say “how naff” not to think that buying sex is a good thing, but I hope she can see that Scottish society and citizens deserve better than that, and that women are not vessels for men to masturbate into.”
Ms Bindel told how she had visited brothels, interviewing sex workers and the men who buy sex, in countries around the world. She pointed to New Zealand, Germany, Holland and Switzerland where, she said, policies of legalising prostitution were failing and had encouraged the trafficking of women from African and eastern European countries.
She said in Kiev “marriage agencies” proliferated “because if you can buy a woman for sex, why not as a bride?” adding: “This is a human rights issue and yet feminists like me are called “bigots” because prostitution is being dressed up as a sexual orientation or a sexual choice, when in fact it’s an abusive trade in women’s bodies.”
The Scottish Government published a plan to deliver its strategy on tackling and eradicating violence against women and girls two years ago and has established a Commercial Sexual Exploitation Multi-Agency Group, to support women to exit prostitution and address the issues which give rise to prostitution in the first place.
A spokesperson said the government was supporting “a range of measures and services which can help reduce the harms caused by prostitution.”