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.

5. Key messages from the campaign responses

This chapter gives a summary of the responses from the three largest campaigns submitted to the consultation. The organisation Nordic Model Now! submitted a campaign in favour of the Nordic Model. Two campaigns were submitted in favour of decriminalisation, one from SCOT-PEP and another from an additional pro-decriminalisation organisation which was unnamed. Responses using these campaigns' text were submitted by respondents through both the Citizen Space portal and consultation email inbox. 930 Nordic Model Now! and 1909 SCOT-PEP responses were submitted via the consultation inbox directly through the tools used by the two campaigns. There were additional responses within the 1164 Citizen Space responses that either quoted or were informed by the campaign messages. There were responses from a third campaign from an unknown source within the Citizen Space responses. Our analysis in this chapter is not weighted by the volume or responses received by the various campaigns.

All campaigns agree that women involved in prostitution have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Both those in favour of decriminalisation and the Nordic Model think staff in mainstream and specialist services need to have the right skills and training to meet the needs of those involved in prostitution. There is also general agreement that there are multiple barriers to exiting prostitution and that support for those who wish to exit should address these underlying barriers. Respondents say that criminal records related to prostitution should be expunged to support exit and access to services.

All campaigns state that the Scottish Government's current approach is not sufficient to prevent violence against women involved in prostitution. However, campaigns have polarised ideas about the most effective policy approach to achieve this aim, with one campaign advocating for the Nordic Model, and two campaigns advocating for decriminalisation. All three campaigns draw on bodies of research and evidence in support of their views. Research cited in responses was not analysed for the purpose of this report. This consultation 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 the aforementioned lack of data.

5.1 Nordic Model Now! campaign

Nordic Model Now! (NMN) is a women's group based in the UK that campaigns for the abolition of prostitution. They submitted a campaign response to this consultation in favour of the Nordic Model. Nordic Model Now! campaign text can be viewed online and is summarised below.

Proponents of the Nordic Model in this campaign believe that prostitution is equivalent to violence against women and is inherently unsafe. Respondents believe that criminalising men who buy sex is the most effective way to reduce the scale of prostitution. This 'end demand' model is coupled with an emphasis on providing a robust package of support for women engaging in prostitution to exit.

"The Nordic Model is not simply a matter of making the purchase of sex a criminal offence and repealing legislation that targets those in prostitution. It must also include ring-fenced permanent funding for high quality services for all those involved in prostitution, including harm reduction services and individually tailored exiting services that are trauma informed and include housing, training, psycho-social support, child care, employment, benefit and legal advice, and help with escaping from pimps, etc. It also needs to clamp down on all forms of profiteering from another's prostitution, including pimping, and advertising and facilitation, whether online or offline" - Campaign text

NMN are broadly in agreement with the Equally Safe strategy, but do not think that the Scottish Government's current approach is sufficient to prevent violence against women and girls. NMN would like to see the Scottish Government replace the aim of reducing associated harms with prostitution with a more ambitious goal of eradicating prostitution and other forms of CSE by holding perpetrators to account. NMN also state that they support the Encompass Network's seven-element proposal for preventing and eradicating prostitution in Scotland.

NMN highlight that women in poverty have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. They observe that many women turn to prostitution due to financial difficulties, and that they have seen women turning to prostitution or online CSE for the first time during the pandemic to earn enough money to survive. NMN also noted a rise in risk for women involved in prostitution, including a rise in unprotected sex as a result of the closure of face-to-face services. NMN appeals to the Scottish Government to address women's poverty to ensure women do not have to resort to prostitution and online CSE.

NMN support the Nordic Model as the "only approach" which can reduce the amount of prostitution occurring and achieve the policy aim of preventing violence against women and girls. They highlight that this model must be combined with the holistic measures set out by the Encompass Network's seven element proposal for preventing and eradicating prostitution in Scotland. NMN emphasise that ring-fenced funding to support women involved in prostitution, and practical alternatives to employment must be provided alongside criminalisation of the purchase of sex.

When asked which measures would help shift the attitudes of men relating to the purchase of sex, NMN comment that the "only things that would significantly impact their own lives would be likely to change their behaviour, such as being added to the sex offender registry, being outed as a sex buyer in public, or a criminal penalty". They cite the reduction in demand associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and the implementation of the Nordic Model in Sweden and France as evidence for this. NMN emphasise that the word prostitution, rather than sex work, should be used in educational settings, and that there should be a focus on educating young people about the harms of prostitution. They believe teachers require support and training on delivering education about prostitution and other forms of CSE.

NMN do not think women should be subjected to compulsory questions about involvement in prostitution when accessing services. They say that there is a lack of understanding among mainstream services that prostitution is traumatising, and that staff in mainstream and specialist services need to have the right skills to meet the needs of those involved in prostitution. They also advocate for an increase in women-only services.

NMN identify poverty, addiction, being under the control of a "pimp" or trafficker and homelessness as immediate barriers to exiting prostitution that need to be addressed by services. Criminal records for soliciting should be expunged, and prevention work focussed on women leaving prisons, the care system and abusive relationships should be funded. NMN cite examples from Ipswich, England, Israel and France of successful programmes supporting women to exit prostitution. Research evaluating the initiative supporting women to exit prostitution in Ipswich, which broadly corresponds to the Nordic Model approach deemed the strategy successful, highlighting that the collaborative approach of criminal justice, social, health and voluntary agencies was the key to its success. NMN campaign for the provision of harm reduction facilities across all main cities in Scotland, with exiting services available, but not mandatory. Centres should have proactive workers who travel out to areas outside of cities.

Finally, NMN emphasise that passing Nordic Model style legislation is not sufficient to prevent VAWG and reduce involvement in prostitution, as evidenced by Northern Ireland. They advocate for a joined-up approach, "championed at the highest level in all institutions".

5.2 SCOT-PEP campaign

SCOT-PEP are a peer-led charity that "advocate for the safety, rights and health of everyone who sells sex in Scotland". SCOT-PEP submitted the largest pro-decriminalisation campaign to the consultation. SCOT-PEP's full campaign text can be viewed online and is summarised below. SCOT-PEP, along with other respondents supporting decriminalisation, use the term 'sex work' rather 'prostitution'. This is reflected here in the campaign summary.

SCOT-PEP say that the Scottish Government's approach to prostitution drives violence against women. They highlight that criminalising brothel keeping means sex workers must operate alone, that criminalising outdoor soliciting results in rushed screening processes and working in isolation. They argue that fines associated with criminalisation trap women in prostitution. SCOT-PEP also disagree with the Scottish Government's definition of prostitution as violence against women and girls, stating that this is stigmatising, and leads to sex-worker led organisations being unable to access funding.

Respondents from this campaign believe that decriminalisation is the best approach to prostitution and to violence against women and tended to see the criminalisation of any element of prostitution as measurably worsening the lives of women involved. For example, they believe that reducing demand by criminalising the purchase of sex makes women less likely to be able to afford to be selective about the type of clients they accept, decreasing their personal safety and safer sex practices. These respondents see decriminalisation and expunging convictions as an important part of reducing the stigma women involved in prostitution face in being able to access mainstream forms of support and to exit prostitution.

SCOT-PEP emphasises that the pandemic has hit sex workers, and particularly migrant sex workers, particularly hard. They note that sex workers typically have limited savings and were excluded from government financial support such as the Self Employment Income Support Scheme. Lockdown led to reduced demand for sex work, and SCOT-PEP identifies a link between this reduced demand and increased risk, with sex workers unable to turn away dangerous clients. SCOT-PEP appeal to the Scottish Government to consider that increased harm is a function of reduced demand when considering enacting policies to target demand. SCOT-PEP champion sex-worker led services that provide financial support to sex workers through hardship funds and call on the Scottish Government to fund these organisations, to provide "money and tangible support".

SCOT-PEP support decriminalisation as the policy approach that best prevents violence against women who sell sex. They detail that this entails removing laws criminalising soliciting, kerb-crawling and brothel keeping and changes in housing law to prevent eviction of sex workers and a moratorium on immigration enforcement targeting migrant sex workers. SCOT-PEP state that decriminalisation is supported by the WHO, UNAIDS and international NGOs such as Amnesty International.

"Fear of arrest drives violence against sex workers as perpetrators know that these workers are likely to be working in isolated ways and unlikely to feel able to report them." - Campaign text

SCOT-PEP cite research demonstrating that criminalisation increases harm to sex workers, including examples from implementation of the Nordic Model in France and Ireland. For example, following the introduction of the Nordic Model in France in 2016, Médicins du Monde found that "the law [criminalising clients] has had a detrimental effect on sex workers safety, health and overall living conditions". They also cite research showing that criminalisation is opposed by a majority of sex workers and sex worker led organisations.

When asked what measures would help to shift attitudes of men in relation to the purchase of sex, SCOT-PEP focus instead on drawing attention to sex workers' material conditions. They see focusing on men's attitudes as a "harmful distraction". They also note that criminalisation of sex workers shapes negative attitudes against them. SCOT-PEP think more needs to be done to tackle homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools, and that the education system should not contribute to stigma against sex workers.

SCOT-PEP assert that decriminalisation provides the best possible context for sex workers to access healthcare, and that criminalisation of clients obstructs access to healthcare and support services. They suggest that services should focus on each individual's self-determined needs, encompassing both emotional and material support, including housing and addiction services. SCOT-PEP state that peer-led support leads to increased access to services. In order to support sex workers who wish to exit, services should provide holistic support, with goals set by the individual, without exit being forced on individuals. SCOT-PEP cite evidence that client criminalisation increases stigma and does not help people to exit. To address the needs of women who sell sex across the whole of Scotland, SCOT-PEP think the Scottish Government should fund peer-led services that accept sex work as work, with a greater level of funding allocated to women's services in general. They note that by defining all sex work as violence, it becomes difficult for sex workers to seek support when they experience specific instances of violence at work.

5.3 Additional pro-decriminalisation campaign

An additional pro-decriminalisation campaign was submitted to the consultation that did not reference an organisational source. This campaign also refers to prostitution as sex-work and so is referred to this in the campaign summary in this section.

This campaign disagrees with the Scottish Government's approach to tackling prostitution, as respondents do not feel that a focus on challenging or ending demand will in fact lead to the abolition of sex work or have a positive impact on the lives of sex workers. The campaign believe that the proposed approach will increase violence for sex workers, as sex workers may be forced to accept riskier clients.

The campaign feels that the impact of coronavirus on in-person or full-service sex workers has been "devastating", with many forced to continue to work due to the lack of support provided to sex workers by the government.

The campaign's preferred policy approach for preventing violence against women and girls is complete decriminalisation (not criminalising any aspects of selling or purchasing sex). Regulationism, as described in the consultation, comes closest to their preferred approach, but they do not believe that the government should implement any medical controls on women involved in sex work. The campaign does not support a focus on shifting men's attitudes to purchasing sex, and state that decriminalisation will improve rights and safety for both groups.

In response to questions about promoting education about consent and healthy relationships in schools, the campaign thinks that sex education in schools should be improved, including reaching out to external partners such as sex educators and sex workers to help improve teaching in this area.

The campaign identifies removing the stigma around sex work as the first step to providing effective support for sex workers. Combating stigma includes training for healthcare, mental health, and law enforcement professionals so that they respond effectively to sex workers and do not make them feel unsafe. The campaign emphasises that exiting should not be forced upon sex workers, and that sex work should be able to be a legitimate occupation for those who willingly choose it.

"Sex work must be recognised nationwide as a genuine career path. Banks should be prohibited from discrimination against sex workers. HMRC should accept prostitution as a means of income without workers having to sugar coat it. Funding and helplines need to be implemented. And finally, sex workers should be allowed to live together for safety without it being seen as a brothel." - Campaign text

The campaign suggests a range of support services for supporting sex workers whether or not they wish to exit, including safe housing, benefits, mental health support, addiction support, 24/7 helplines, and support centres and networks. Overall, the campaign believes that decriminalisation offers the best way forward for providing better services and safety for sex workers.


Email: vawgconsultations@gov.scot

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