Equally safe - challenging men's demand for prostitution: consultation analysis

Analysis of responses to a public consultation seeking views on how best to challenge men’s demand for prostitution in Scotland, reducing the harms associated with prostitution and supporting women involved to exit.

1. Executive Summary

The Scottish Government undertook a public consultation exercise on challenging men's demand for prostitution, working to reduce the harms associated with prostitution and helping women to exit as part of an overall strategy to improve policy on violence against women and girls under the Equally Safe Strategy. There were 1164 public consultation responses from individuals, organisations and campaigns submitted or uploaded to Citizen Space. There were an additional 2839 responses emailed to the consultation email inbox by the 10th of December deadline directly from campaign tools from two campaigns. We also identified a third campaign from an unknown source present within the Citizen Space submissions.

Rocket Science UK Ltd was commissioned to complete a comprehensive and objective analysis of the responses. This report presents the key messages from the public consultation responses and explains the methodology that was used to analyse responses. Rocket Science developed an analysis framework using the qualitative analysis software NVivo and has presented the key messages by theme. The key messages from the consultation are summarised below.

Views on the Scottish Government's approach to tackling prostitution

  • Responses to views on the Scottish Government's approach are split with some partially agreeing with the approach and others disagreeing with the approach in its entirety. Responses that partially agree with the Scottish Government's approach approve of the Equally Safe strategy but tend to believe it could adopt additional elements to be more effective in preventing violence against women and girls. Responses that disagree feel that the Scottish Government's approach to prostitution increases the likelihood that women involved in prostitution will be exposed to harm or risk.

Observations of the impact of coronavirus on women involved in prostitution

  • There is broad consensus that the coronavirus pandemic has had a profoundly negative impact on women involved in prostitution mainly due to their perceived exclusion from most public financial support schemes. Respondents observe that the reduction in demand during this time puts women at increased risk both from coronavirus and from needing to accept riskier clients.

Policy approaches for preventing violence against women and girls

  • Of the policy approaches set out in the consultation, the two policy approaches respondents cite most frequently as preventing violence against women are Prohibitionism and Regulationism. A large majority of those selecting Prohibitionism from the options provided in the consultation (75%) referred to this as the Nordic Model and some of these respondents explicitly state that the Prohibitionism policy outlined in the consultation is missing important elements about support for women involved in prostitution that would make it more akin to the 'Nordic Model'. While decriminalisation was not an approach set out in the consultation, respondents also cited Decriminalisation as an option.

Education and changing attitudes

  • There is consensus that additional sex and relationship education in schools that emphasises consent, respect and healthy relationships would be beneficial. Respondents hold opposing views on age-appropriate education about prostitution, with some respondents believing that it is necessary to educate about the harms of prostitution, while others believe it is important to remove stigma around prostitution in order to increase respect for those involved in prostitution and differentiate between consensual and non-consensual activity.
  • Responses on the need to shift the attitudes of men in relation to the purchase of sex are polarised. A number of respondents believe that focussing on challenging or ending demand does not improve the lives of women involved in prostitution, which should instead be the focus of any initiatives in this area. Other respondents feel that criminalisation of men who purchase sex is the most effective tool for shifting men's attitudes.
  • Respondents commonly identify that men's attitudes towards prostitution are the result of wider societal issues such as misogyny and societal inequalities and that challenging these wider attitudes should be of primary concern. A rise in online pornography is often cited as an accompanying issue fuelling misogyny.

Support for women involved in prostitution

  • A number of respondents note the need for support for women involved in prostitution to be holistic, person-centred, and able to address the multiple, underlying needs of many women. Most frequently, respondents cited financial support, peer-led support, housing support, healthcare, including addiction support, and education, employment, and training as the key types of services needed.
  • Respondents regularly reported that stigma and criminalisation experienced by women involved in prostitution made them less likely to access services. Decriminalising all aspects of selling sex and improvement of training for frontline professionals were two commonly suggested strategies for improving access to services.
  • Respondents frequently emphasise that not all those involved in prostitution need or want to exit from prostitution, and that exiting should not be a condition to receive support.


Email: vawgconsultations@gov.scot

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