Exploring available knowledge and evidence on prostitution in Scotland via practitioner-based interviews

Exploration of available knowledge and evidence on the scale and nature of prostitution in Scotland based on practitioner-based interviews.


The project was undertaken in tandem with research conducted by the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research ( SCCJR) which involved a desk-based review of published research and evidence on prostitution (with a particular focus on the extent and nature of the 'sex industry', impact on health and wellbeing, vulnerability and violence as well as access to resources). This is attached as an annex to this report and is intended to provide a contextual background to the Justice Analytical Services report.

The aim was to provide a summary of findings from work already conducted in Scotland, together with a view from people with current knowledge about this subject. It also aimed to identify key gaps in knowledge.

These two connected pieces of work were designed to provide context and understanding to another piece of work considering the evidence on the impact of the criminalisation of the purchase of sex in places where that has happened, also undertaken by the SCCJR.

Definitions, scope, language and terminology

For the purpose of this work 'prostitution' refers to the activity of buying and selling sex, including women and men, and from 'on-street' or indoor environments. The research focuses on the sale and purchase of sex, but does not include wider aspects of the commercial sex industry (such as lap-dancing and pornography) although a degree of overlap was highlighted by a number of respondents.

For terminology, people and organisations involved in this project used different language to refer to the people who sell sex, to emphasise or avoid certain implications. Some terms may be perceived to associate the sale of sex as being inherently exploitative, while other terms might be perceived to present prostitution as a legitimate form of employment. Different respondents therefore used some of the following language to describe the people who sell sex: "women and men involved in prostitution", "involved in selling sex", or "sex workers". Some respondents providing support and services adopted a pragmatic approach, in different situations using the language preferred by those involved, to maximise engagement and inclusion and avoid possible offence. In this report, in an attempt to use neutral language, and with reference to the terminology used within the report of the 2004 expert group on prostitution in Scotland, we have mainly used the term "women and men involved in prostitution" to refer to those who sell sex, apart from situations where the respondent is directly quoted, or where the context of the discussion depends on the use of specific language or terms.

Aims and Objectives

The aim of this research was to understand more about the scale and nature of prostitution in Scotland, support services currently available, links to organised crime and trafficking, the impact on local communities and the demand for prostitution. The purpose of which was to help inform any future policy development in this area. The specific questions considered by the research are detailed below:

1. Scale and nature of prostitution

  • How many women and men are currently estimated to be involved in prostitution Scotland-wide (and broken down by the 4 largest cities, Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow).
  • What is the current composition of the 'sex industry' in terms of the proportion of people involved in indoor and outdoor (street-based) prostitution and information on location?
  • Any information available on the profile of those involved in prostitution in terms of age, country of origin and personal circumstances and the pathways and circumstances of those who enter prostitution
  • An assessment of how robust the intelligence is regarding the indoor and outdoor markets.
  • Any assessment of change over time in terms of an increase or decrease in prostitution/demand for prostitution (and perceived reasons for any change).
  • Current priorities for policing/local authorities and community partners regarding prostitution.
  • The impact of involvement in prostitution on risk, health and wellbeing.

2. Support for women and men involved in prostitution and helping people to exit

  • Scale and nature of existing support services for those involved in prostitution and perceptions of gaps and additional services needed as well as any assessment of programmes and services that support people in exiting.

3. Organised Crime and trafficking

  • Evidence on women who have been trafficked (number and profile of victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation).
  • Links to organised crime - i.e. police intelligence or information about organised crime related to prostitution markets and the number and nature of these.

4. Impact of prostitution on local communities

  • What is the social impact on communities where prostitution takes place?

5. Demand

  • What is the scale and nature of the demand for prostitution services? (With a specific focus on the number of people who pay for sexual services, the demographics of clients and the reasons for paying for sex).
  • How do clients access prostitution (adverts web, newspapers or otherwise)?


Email: Justice Analytical Services

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