The End Prostitution Now movement, launched today, says the move would decriminalise victims of sexual exploitation and protect vulnerable prostitutes.
The campaign, which includes the Women’s Support Project and the Glasgow Violence Against Women Partnership (GVAWP), is urging the public, MSPs, charities and public bodies to press for the change.
Councillor James Coleman, GVAWP chair, said: “End Prostitution Now aims to engage with as many people as possible from all walks of life to make them aware of the horrific realities of prostitution and compel them to take action to help eradicate the serious harm it causes.
“Men’s demand for sexual access to women’s bodies is the ultimate cause of prostitution and all the misery it causes the world over.
“We believe the solution is threefold. The End Prostitution Now strategy aims to secure legislation in Scotland which criminalises the buyers of sex, decriminalises those exploited by prostitution and provides support and services to help people involved to exit prostitution safely.”
Labour MSP Rhoda Grant has submitted amendments seeking to ban the purchase of sex in the Scottish Government’s Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Bill currently making its way through the Scottish Parliament.
Northern Ireland recently became the first part of the UK to make buying sexual services a criminal offence after a Bill was brought forward by Democratic Unionist Party peer Lord Morrow.
Ms Grant, who attempted to introduce similar legislation in 2012, said: “I fear that if Scotland does not follow suit, it could become a haven for sex traffickers moving out of Northern Ireland and into a more hospitable environment in Scotland.
“It is not only important to address the criminalisation of the purchase of sex, but to also provide substantial support and assistance through exiting services, and therefore become a positive part of the solution.
“Prostitution is a form of exploitation which only causes harm, and I wholeheartedly support the End Prostitution Now campaign and its aims.”
The general principles of the Bill have already been backed by MSPs as well as the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee.
As part of its scrutiny of the legislation, the committee considered whether criminalising the buying of sex should be included.
After hearing from witnesses on both sides of the argument, members concluded that the legislation was not the right vehicle for addressing the issue.
End Prostitution Now also includes the organisations Zero Tolerance, Encompass, Community Safety Glasgow, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and the Scottish Trade Union Congress.
Liz Curran from the Women’s Support Project said: “The vast, but often silent, majority of women in prostitution are there through utter desperation, poverty and a lack of positive, alternative choices.
“Many will exhibit ‘survival behaviour’ - which can result in drug use or other criminal activities, for example - just to help them cope with the unbearable way in which they are treated by the men who pay to have sex with them.
“The public needs to be aware of the realities which drive women into prostitution and towards such damaging survival behaviour - the End Prostitution Now campaign will play an extremely important role in raising this awareness and empowering the public to take their own action against it.”