The COVID-19 pandemic has affected us all greatly. Abiding by level restrictions have, regrettably, further raised the risk of harm to vulnerable, marginalised groups, including women involved in prostitution – 'we are all in the same storm but not in the same boat'.
Unfortunately, the stigma and the hidden nature of prostitution often creates a barrier to engagement with mainstream and specialist support services for women involved in prostitution. In addition, there are perceptions that certain services are not available for women or that they are conditional on certain criteria being met. We have worked to raise the profile of the barriers faced by women and to ensure they receive adequate support especially during these unprecedented times but we need to do more.
Last year we took forward Scotland's first national consultation 'Equally Safe: Challenging Men's Demand for Prostitution, working to reduce the harms associated with prostitution and helping women to exit' to discuss our future approach to this vital issue within the context of how women and girls should be treated in an equal society. There was a high level of engagement with the consultation, from both individuals and organisations, with over 4,000 responses received.
I want to thank everyone who contributed to this consultation, the findings of which will help shape future engagement, service design and the development of a model to effectively tackle the demand for prostitution in Scotland.
The consultation findings indicated a strength of feeling on this issue covering many themes including the Scottish Government's current approach to prostitution. The impact of COVID-19 was highlighted as having a profoundly negative impact on women involved in prostitution, unmasking the unique difficulties they faced. A number of respondents called for the need for support to be holistic, person-centred, and capable of addressing multiple, underlying needs of women. Additionally, a common theme cited was the need to involve those with direct experience in the design of services.
As we continue our work to address systemic inequality and progress our commitments to embed human rights and incorporate the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women into Scots Law, we must ensure that the support needs of women remain central to our efforts.
It is therefore of vital importance that we continue our engagement with those with lived experience to shape services and design measures which will protect them from harm and provide the support they need, including helping them exit prostitution.
We are committed to developing the right model for Scotland to tackle this form of violence against women and girls, and consider how aspects of international approaches which seek to challenge men's demand for prostitution could best be applied in Scotland.
Women are at the centre of our plans for recovery as we emerge out of this pandemic. We do not underestimate the scale of the task nor the significance of the journey ahead of us. The consultation is the first step in a national conversation about prostitution in Scotland and part of a much broader discussion about the type of country we want to be and the harmful societal norms we need to confront to progress towards an equal society. I am personally grateful to everyone who took part in the consultation, especially the individuals who came forward to tell their stories and provide their views. I look forward to further engagement as we shape our approach to prostitution in Scotland to deliver on our manifesto commitment.
Ash Denham MSP
Minister for Community Safety
Scottish Government Response