Equally safe - challenging men's demand for prostitution: Scottish Government response

Our response to the findings of 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.

The Scottish Government's approach to tackling prostitution and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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 COVID-19 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 COVID-19 and from needing to accept riskier clients.

The Scottish Government's commitment to Equally Safe and the definition therein of VAWG is an established position in Scotland, backed by our international obligations, nonetheless, responses to the consultation felt that women were being disadvantaged by the current policy.

The consultation responses highlighted a spectrum of views on the Scottish Government's current approach with some responses partially agreeing with the approach but noting additional elements to be more effective in preventing violence against women and girls and others disagreeing with the approach in its entirety. Responses tended to focus on opposing approaches to deal with prostitution – a fully decriminalised model or the Nordic model and the content of the response was driven by whichever ideological stance was adopted by the responder. The views were either that the Scottish Government's policy needed to do more to tackle the root causes of violence against women and girls, recognise that prostitution was associated with entrenching women and girls' disadvantages and challenge harmful societal norms (these views were normally associated with proponents of the Nordic model) or with regards to prostitution specifically, current Scottish Government policy furthered harm to women (these views were normally associated with proponents of a decriminalisation model).

Despite these ideological divides, the analysis report does note some points of consensus across the consultation responses. For example, a consensus view is noted that prostitution can lead to harms against women and girls, but respondents have different views on where these harms originate and how to reduce them. There was also consensus that criminalisation and fines for those who sell sex make it more difficult to exit and should be removed. The need for the Scottish Government to further recognise and address the structural and systemic disadvantages experienced by women and girls was also a consensus viewpoint. Addressing poverty and improving the social welfare system as a way of lessening men's ability to coercively control women engaged in prostitution, as well as in other contexts, was also broadly agreed upon.

Doing nothing to the current policy approach therefore, was not an option favoured in the consultation responses and the Scottish Government will reflect further on the consultation responses as we continue our work to address men's demand and systemic inequality, work to reduce the harms associated with prostitution, and ensure women are supported.

The impact of COVID-19 provided tangible examples in some of the responses which demonstrated the vulnerability of women involved in prostitution and the precarious nature of the position they are in. Most respondents felt that the COVID-19 pandemic increased the risks to women engaged in prostitution and the harms they experienced, including contracting COVID-19, engaging in riskier practices (e.g. unprotected sex), and being less able to be selective about the clients they see, which may increase their risk of experiencing violence. There was consensus that the pandemic has adversely affected women involved in prostitution because of perceived or real barriers to accessing public support schemes intended to help mitigate the financial impact of the pandemic. Stigma and fear of criminalisation were cited as examples of barriers which prevented women accessing support or funding schemes. There was also consensus among respondents that many women involved in prostitution were already experiencing poverty, financial precarity, or housing insecurity before the pandemic, which has been exacerbated by no recourse to Government COVID-19 income support schemes.

The consultation responses have supplemented the available evidence base on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women involved in prostitution. The Scottish Government remains in regular discussion with support organisations to support measures designed to mitigate against the further harms caused by the economic impact of the pandemic and to help women access the help which is available during the ongoing situation. The risks highlighted about the dangers women have faced in the pandemic underline the need for continued measures to support women, including the provision of more specialised services in addition to pre-existing mainstream services.


Email: vawgconsultations@gov.scot

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