Prostitution is a form of commercial sexual exploitation. Commercial sexual exploitation persists as a result of how women are viewed by society.
In 2014, the European Parliament passed a resolution recognising that prostitution, forced prostitution and sexual exploitation are gendered issues, and violations of human dignity and human rights.
As a member of the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) the UK has agreed to take appropriate measures to suppress exploitation through prostitution. Article 6 of CEDAW states "parties shall take all appropriate measures including legislation to suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women."
The Scottish Government's definition of gender based violence is clearly set out in Equally Safe, Scotland's strategy for preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls:
"Gender based violence is a function of gender inequality, and an abuse of male power and privilege. It takes the form of actions that result in physical, sexual and psychological harm or suffering to women and children, or affront to their human dignity, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life. It is men who predominantly carry out such violence, and women who are predominantly the victims of such violence. By referring to violence as 'gender based' this definition highlights the need to understand violence within the context of women's and girl's subordinate status in society. Such violence cannot be understood, therefore, in isolation from the norms, social structure and gender roles within the community, which greatly influence women's vulnerability to violence"
Equally Safe Priority 4 states the Scottish Government's priority to ensure men desist from all forms of violence against women and girls and perpetrators of such violence receive a robust and effective response. This violence includes the violence perpetrated by men in relation to acts of commercial sexual exploitation, of which prostitution is one aspect.
The Scottish Government commissioned research, published in 2017, to consider the reliability of international evidence regarding the criminalisation of the purchase of sex, and to explore the available knowledge and evidence of prostitution in Scotland.
The research found that there is a lack of robust data on men and women engaged in prostitution in Scotland and the decline in on-street prostitution and growth in indoor prostitution organised by mobile phone and online technology has made estimating numbers more difficult, as it is now less visible.
The research did conclude, however, that in countries where purchasing sex has been criminalised, there appears to be a continued but decreased demand for prostitution.
It is important that the Scottish Government develops policy in line with international best practice and where research is limited, it learns from the different approaches which have been adopted elsewhere, and what the impacts have been on challenging men's demand, reducing harms for women and supporting them to exit.
This consultation is written through the lens of Equally Safe and clearly adopts the definition of gender based violence adopted therein.
What do we mean by prostitution?
In this consultation paper "prostitution" refers to the activity of buying and selling sex, including women and men, and from "on-street" or indoor environments. The consultation paper focusses mainly on women, reflecting on prostitution as a form of gender based violence, the mainstay of support provision and the majority of those police come into contact with. The consultation paper focuses on the sale and purchase of sex, but does not include wider aspects of commercial sexual exploitation (such as lap-dancing, intimate camming or pornography).
Why do we need to challenge men's demand?
Fundamentally, masculinity and femininity are part of the underlying social construct of gender that contributes to the continuing prevalence of violence against women and girls in society. The Scottish Government condemns all forms of violence and abuse, whilst recognising that particular forms of violence are disproportionately experienced by one gender and require a strong strategic focus. Men have a critical role in challenging violence, including reducing demand for prostitution, breaking down gender norms and in helping to ensure greater gender equality in society - they are also entitled to support when they experience violence and abuse, including commercial sexual exploitation.
Why are we focussing on women involved in prostitution?
A gendered analysis does not exclude men, but rather recognises that women and girls are disproportionately affected by particular forms of violence that they experience because they are women and girls. Men also engage in prostitution as the party selling sex. We are also aware that people who are transgender engage in prostitution. As previously stated, the focus of this consultation is on women involved in prostitution, reflecting the focus of support provision in Scotland and the majority of those police come into contact with. Any findings from this consultation and subsequent work would be hoped to benefit anyone involved in prostitution and society's understanding of this issue as a whole.
What are the harms associated with prostitution?
Scotland's approach to tackling violence against women and girls is drawn from the UN definition which directly links this violence to gender inequality:
"… the term "violence against women" means any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life."
Those interviewed for research conducted by the Scottish Government in 2017 highlighted "a range of risks and adverse impacts associated with prostitution in the short and longer term in relation to general and mental health, safety and wellbeing and sexual health."
How do we support women to exit prostitution?
The needs of women seeking to exit prostitution can be complex and varied.
From the 2017 Scottish Government Research and JAS 2020 VAWG Report, the main reasons given as barriers to women exiting prostitution, as reported by support services, were financial reasons and a lack of choice, with poverty being the main driver. The lack of alternatives with a similar perceived earning potential as prostitution can make the cycle for women particularly difficult to break.
An extended period of involvement in prostitution was also cited during research, as a barrier to exit. Exiting would involve leaving networks and friendships and resulting in a possible feeling of isolation.
A longer term approach is adopted by many support services, acknowledging the complex journeys and intersectional challenges women face when exiting prostitution, including the possibility of returning to prostitution at times of financial hardship or relapses into drug dependency.
Evidence of success offered by third sector support organisations included giving women the opportunities to make informed choices, improvements in safety, quality of life more generally, and to increase options available, enabling them to eventually move out of prostitution.
What is in the scope of this consultation?
This consultation will focus on adult women involved in on-street and off-street prostitution.
Out of Scope
This paper will not address those who do not identify as women who are involved in prostitution. See the section "Why are we focussing on women involved in prostitution?"
This paper will not address child sexual exploitation. This is an area of focus with a complex landscape, currently best served by the multi-agency National Child Sexual Exploitation Group. The group was established to oversee the implementation of actions within the national action plan to prevent child sexual exploitation.
This paper will not directly address human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation. This is an area which is currently addressed by the Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy and in May 2020, the first statutory review of the Strategy was published. While the review concluded that the Strategy remains fit for purpose in the short term, a commitment to develop a revised Strategy was set out.
This paper will not address other areas of commercial sexual exploitation.
Purpose of this paper
1. This consultation paper takes forward the Programme for Government commitment to consult on approaches to challenging men's demand for prostitution in Scotland.
2. This paper, acknowledges the limitations of available data and current research, which is often polarised and regardless of position can be difficult to accept as representative of all women involved in prostitution due to aforementioned lack of data. This paper invites views from a wide range of readers including key stakeholders, statutory partners, those who work in the sector to challenge men's demand for prostitution, support women and those who may have lived experience to help inform the development of this policy and provide contributions which will help decisions to be made between alternative policy proposals.
3. Information on the Scottish Government consultation process and details on how to respond to this consultation is set out in Annex A.
4. A list of consultation questions in Annex B.