Preventing Involvement

Targeting the most vulnerable

While street prostitution would appear to be a significant problem predominantly in parts of three of the four main cities, many of the women involved may live, or originally have lived, in other local authority areas. In the long term, if an impact is to be made on reducing the numbers of women in street prostitution in Scotland, as well as challenging the demand for prostitution, it is vital that steps are taken to prevent women becoming involved in prostitution. Achieving this will require all local authorities to tackle both the immediate factors that lead to involvement in street prostitution and the more deep-rooted underlying causes.

Overwhelmingly, those who become involved in street prostitution have a history of neglect, poverty, physical or sexual abuse as a child, schooling difficulties and substance abuse problems. These problems are not confined to Scotland's four main cities. T he vast majority of women who are involved in street prostitution have problems with drug or alcohol misuse, and the majority will cite this as their main reason for being involved [1]. Other underlying factors can also play an important part in influencing women's entry into street prostitution. These include:

  • untreated mental illness;
  • breakdown and experience of being looked after outwith the family;
  • experience of sexual, psychological and physical abuse;
  • under-achievement at school and a lack of employment skills;
  • experience of unemployment;
  • experience of homelessness or insecure housing;
  • financial exclusion and debt problems [2].

In summary, factors that could collectively be described as social exclusion are strongly associated with involvement in prostitution. Work intended to prevent entry into prostitution should be focused on those who are at most risk.

Protecting Children

A significant proportion of those involved in street prostitution were first abused through prostitution as children. Using children or young people for the purposes of prostitution is child abuse and children and young people under the age of 18 found involved in street prostitution should be treated as victims of abuse. The Protection of Children and Prevention of Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2005 [3] makes it an offence to pay for sex with a young person up to the age of 18 and those who use, abuse, coerce or control young people for the purpose of prostitution will face serious criminal charges and be liable for registration on the sex offenders register.

Specific attention should be given to young people who are leaving local authority care [4]. Many of those in local authority care will have experienced family breakdown and some are likely to have been the victims of physical or sexual abuse before being taken into care. These factors are known to increase the likelihood of future involvement in prostitution. There is evidence that care homes are targeted by individuals who 'groom' vulnerable young people, coercing or luring them into prostitution [5]. Clear advice must be available to care home staff on the risks, and staff should be encouraged to report suspicious activity such as the presence of adult men associating with children in the care home, to the police.

It is important that all those who work with young people who may be vulnerable to becoming involved in prostitution are aware of the risk factors, and the signs which may indicate that a particular young person is involved, or at markedly increased risk of becoming involved. Schools, social workers and health professionals - teachers, school nurses, Emergency medicine staff, GPs, sexual health clinics and teenage pregnancy services - will often be best placed to recognise risk factors. They need information and guidance to enable them to do so and to respond appropriately. The charity Barnardos have produced material relating to sexual exploitation of young people which may be helpful. Many of these can be downloaded from their website:

Good practice example:

Fighting Against Child Exploitation (FACE), a Dundee based service provided by Barnardos, have produced a DVD and resource pack called 'Nae Danger', which was written and produced by a group of young people who have been victims of sexual exploitation and is intended to help other children and young people understand the risks, keep themselves safe and avoid becoming involved themselves. The pack is intended for use by schools and other agencies working with young people [6].

Good practice example

Glasgow City Council have produced a notification procedure for use by all agencies who have contact with young people, in respect of vulnerable children and young people. The procedure is intended to provide practical support for children and young people who are identified as vulnerable and at risk of significant harm and brings all the agencies with a responsibility for protecting children together to ensure that information is shared between agencies and that services for such children are effectively co-ordinated. The procedure makes specific reference to children and young people at risk of being sexually exploited.

Children who have run away from home or from care are also known to be particularly vulnerable to becoming involved in prostitution. Research has shown that one in nine children in Scotland ran away or were forced to leave home before the age of 16, and this is a Scotland-wide problem. Children who have been excluded form mainstream school may also be at increased risk. This can have implications for the long-term outcomes for youngsters, including increased levels of homelessness, social exclusion and unemployment. Consequently, all local authorities should consider what can be done to prevent vulnerable young people from being abused through prostitution.

The Executive issued guidance to local Child Protection Committees in July 2003 [7] on young runaways and sexual exploitation through prostitution which required the development of local multi-agency protocols to respond effectively to such situations. The guidance also provides a list of potential indicators of involvement in sexual exploitation to be included in a professional's wider assessment of a young person's circumstances and determination of the help and support they might need.

The Executive has also committed to a 3 year child protection reform programme which has published the Children's Charter and the Framework for Standards [8] for all agencies in relation to protecting children and young people. The underlying principle is that children and young people get the help they need when they need it. As part of the programme, the role and remit of local Child Protection Committees (CPCs) has also been reviewed and revised guidance was issued in February 2005 [9]. Amongst other things, this requires each CPC to develop, implement and regularly review a communications strategy that includes the following elements:

  • Raising awareness of child protection issues within communities, including children and young people;
  • Promoting the work of agencies in protecting children to the public at large; and
  • Providing information about where members of the public can go if they have concerns about a child and what could happen.

CPCs are also responsible for promoting, commissioning and assuring the quality and delivery of inter-agency training amongst those working with children and families.

Given the link between poor educational achievement, truancy or exclusion from mainstream education and a whole range of negative outcomes, including involvement in prostitution, it is also important that local education authorities and individual schools give particular consideration to how they deal with the most challenging and difficult young people. Specifically, a focus on overcoming school resistance or schooling difficulties, and ensuring that those who have been excluded from school continue to receive full-time education should be priorities.

Assisting adults vulnerable to entry into street prostitution

While drug misuse, the influence of a partner/pimp and a history of having been abused are common routes into street prostitution, for some, poverty and financial problems are a significant reason for becoming or remaining involved. Ensuring that people facing significant financial hardship are aware of the advice and assistance which is available is therefore important.

Money advice is targeted at those with debt problems and people who need help to prevent their financial situation getting out of control. The Scottish Executive provides financial support to local authorities to fund free, confidential, impartial and independent money advice services via their own advice outlets, Citizens Advice Bureaux and other agencies. A full list is available at

Those who are homeless are also at particular risk of becoming involved in street prostitution. In the longer term, it is important to tackle homelessness itself, but there are steps which can be taken to reduce the vulnerability of homeless women to involvement in street prostitution. When housing vulnerable women and families, local authorities should take care to ensure that they have access to relevant support and services. Women living in homeless hostels are known to be at particular risk, and are known to be targeted by 'pimps' and exploiters so it is important that the staff working in these hostels are trained to recognise such risks and to have policies in place to deal with them. Where vulnerable women are to be accommodated in private lets it will be particularly important that landlords are fully vetted and deemed to be appropriate. Local authorities should try to ensure that, in providing emergency or temporary housing to vulnerable young women, such accommodation is located away from any area where street prostitution takes place.

[1] McKegany & Barnard (1996) found that 63% of women interviewed who were involved in street prostitution said their main reason for being involved was to pay for drugs. The actual figure may be higher as 93% reported having used illegal drugs in the previous 6 months.

[2] O'Neill & Campbell (2002) found that in a survey of 45 women, 24% said they had first become involved in prostitution to pay debts, and 13% said they had done so to pay for food and accommodation.


[4] Cusick et al (2003) found in a study of 125 men and women involved in prostitution aged 16 and over in London, the West Midlands and the Home Counties that 42% reported having been "looked after".

[5] See "Scratching the surface - What we know about the abuse of and sexual exploitation of young people by adults targeting residential and supported accommodation units"

[6] For further information, contact Barnardos, 3 Fleuchar St, Dundee, DD2 2LQ.

[7] Vulnerable Children and Young People Guidance Pack, Young Runaways and Sexual Exploitation Through Prostitution, Scottish Executive, July 2003

[8] Protecting Children and Young People: the Charter; Protecting Children and Young People: Framework for Standards, both Scottish Executive, March 2004 and

[9] Protecting Children and Young People: Child Protection Committees, Scottish Executive 2005.