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.

Policy approaches for preventing violence against women and girls

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 a decriminalisation model as an option.

It is important to note that the consultation did not ask about changes to the criminal law, nevertheless respondents chose to provide their views on this. The analysis report reflects that in some instances, respondents had incorrectly described the consultation materials as including proposals for the criminalisation of the purchase of sex. This was not the case. However, within the responses there are respondents who have provided their views within the context of responding to a proposal to bring forward laws to criminalise the purchase of sex.

The consultation responses can mostly be divided into two opposing approaches to the criminal law in relation to prostitution: the Nordic model (which decriminalises the seller and criminalises the buyer, whilst putting in place support for those exploited) and a full decriminalisation model (decriminalise both the seller and the buyer). Proponents of either model believe that the model they prefer will reduce risk and harm to women involved in prostitution. It is noted that both respondents in favour of a decriminalisation model and the Nordic model feel that the table setting out policy approaches by EU Member States to Prostitution, which was provided in the consultation paper itself, does not accurately reflect the current policy approaches to prostitution internationally.

The responses to the consultation demonstrated a significant strength of feeling towards these two opposing approaches to reform the criminal law – there was no obvious middle ground. Equally, there was no clear consensus reached through the consultation process and strong arguments and research were cited in support of each model. Views appear to be entrenched on the issue of how the criminal law should be reformed and further consultation on proposals to change the criminal law would likely yield the same results, and will not achieve a consensus.

The Scottish Government is committed to developing a model which is bespoke to Scotland and tackles prostitution in line with our broader ambitions to be a progressive nation in relation to women's rights and addressing gender inequality. To inform this approach we will undertake a programme of work to consider how aspects of international approaches which seek to challenge men's demand for prostitution could be applied in Scotland. The consideration of a model for Scotland will be sensitive to the existing framework of the Equally Safe Strategy, as well as the unique legal and societal landscape in Scotland. Progressing this will be in line with our commitments to embed human rights and our international obligations including the incorporation of the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women into Scots Law. Designing a model for Scotland which will reduce stigma and criminalisation experienced by women involved in prostitution will be key and should encourage better access to services thus reducing harms experienced by women. In the design of a model for Scotland, the approach to the criminal law is only one aspect under consideration, it is vital to ensure that a package of measures is developed to underpin any changes which are brought forward. Ensuring that women are supported and that services are responsive to their needs is central to this work.


Email: vawgconsultations@gov.scot

Back to top