The Scottish Government's aim is for "a strong and flourishing Scotland where all individuals are equally safe and respected, and where women and girls live free from all forms of violence and abuse - and the attitudes that help perpetuate it."
Equally Safe - Scotland's strategy for tackling violence against women and girls - promotes a shared understanding of the causes, risk factors and scale of gender based violence, including commercial sexual exploitation, and seeks to address the underlying attitudes that create the societal conditions for gender based violence.
Commercial sexual exploitation refers to a continuum of violence. Prostitution is just one act on this continuum. Different acts will require different responses to challenge men's demand. However, there will inevitably be common ground and shared learning to be found.
Prostitution, in particular, is an area where much of the harm may occur behind closed doors and is hidden from the public view. There has been a noticeable shift from on-street to indoor prostitution. The scale of indoor prostitution, which is now thought to comprise the vast majority of the market, is much less visible than on-street activity and therefore commonly acknowledged as even more difficult to estimate. Recorded crimes for prostitution in the last ten years have substantially decreased and yet the circumstances that we know may lead to involvement in prostitution remain very much present.
The European Parliament passed a resolution in 2014 which recognised that prostitution, forced prostitution and sexual exploitation are gendered issues, and violations of human dignity and human rights. Under the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the UK has agreed to take appropriate measures to "suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women". We must act upon these international obligations which recognise that sexual exploitation is completely unacceptable and inexcusable in 21st century Scotland.
We want to challenge men's demand for prostitution, work to reduce the harms associated with prostitution and support women to exit.
The launch of this consultation was delayed by the COVID-19 public health emergency as work focused, inevitably, on the immediate response and on protecting public safety. However, we know that the outbreak of COVID-19 and the essential lockdown measures have, regrettably, further raised the risk of harm to victims of gender-based violence. Women involved in prostitution experienced extreme hardship due to COVID-19. Stigma and the hidden nature of prostitution creates a barrier to engagement with mainstream services and we have worked across services to raise the profile of the barriers faced by women and to ensure they receive adequate support.
It is of vital importance that we engage with the people of Scotland to discuss our future approach to prostitution in this country. I acknowledge that there are people who hold a different opinion on the approach they believe should be taken in relation to prostitution, and we will not always agree. I would encourage those who both agree and disagree with the Scottish Government's position as outlined in Equally Safe to share their views. I see this consultation paper as an opportunity for us to hold that national discussion to inform future policy decisions about how we address this form of gendered violence, protect the human rights and dignity of women and improve outcomes for them.
I thank you in advance for taking the time to respond to this consultation.
Ash Denham MSP
Minister for Community Safety