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.

4. Impact on Local Communities

This section includes information from research participants from their data, observations or perceptions of different types of negative 'community impact', arising from prostitution activity.

This includes information about the harm that prostitution may cause to individuals and communities. This might be for example, an increased fear or worry about crime arising from the presence or perceived presence of prostitution activities, environmental damage such as condoms or drugs' litter in public locations where sex takes place, people or cars 'hanging around', noise nuisance, and people 'coming and going' into common entrances to premises where prostitution takes place.

Police crime and complaint data

The main source of information for community impact is from the information recorded by the police about crimes, or when they come across disturbances or expressions of antisocial behaviour when they are on patrol, or else when members of the public make contact with them to complain about a perceived crime or antisocial behaviour problem. This may not capture the true scale of complaints however, as not all may be have been recorded consistently in these databases, and other complaints may have been made to local authorities, noise teams or community wardens. Other sources of information on this question included the support organisations who were familiar with prostitution and its effects.

Police crime statistics can provide a partial, though limited, indicator of community impact. In the four case study locations, there are relatively few charges related to prostitution compared to previous time periods and there has been a 49% decline in prostitution charges in Scotland, in 2014-15 compared to 2004-05. Although this report notes that prostitution increasingly takes place in less visible and public settings, these statistics are equivalent to approximately one charge per day for the whole of Scotland and may suggest that prostitution has a lower impact on communities in Scotland than it has ever had historically. Police statistics are limited to information that the police have become aware of, and recorded, and may therefore be skewed by other factors.

As well as statistics about crimes, the police also keep statistics on the number of calls received from the public on complaints, or incidents that they have noticed whilst they have been on patrol, that may provide insight into disturbances from indoor prostitution at residential locations, as well as on-street settings. These calls are not always consistently recorded across all locations, and calls about incidents related to indoor prostitution are usually not isolated in recording databases from general complaint calls, and therefore the numbers may under-state the level of complaints related to prostitution.

Information from Glasgow illustrates an example of the levels of complaint. In Glasgow, comparisons between 2010 and 2015 show that there are a small and declining number of public complaints about prostitution. In 2010, there were 79 complaints about people selling prostitution services, compared to 49 complaints in 2015. There is a slightly different trend in complaints about the purchasers of sex. In 2010, there were 19 complaints about this, which rose to 45 complaints in 2015.
It is possible that there are public complaints in different locations, or within different communities but it is not possible to establish these local trends within the statistics.

The same trend was found in Edinburgh where the police in 2010 recorded over 300 incidents in 2010, to just 53 in in 2015. The police said that these overwhelmingly related to a single area of the city, and available information suggests that these were mainly connected to incidents in public areas.

Police spoke about how prostitution used to have a higher profile as a subject of public concern and there were greater expectations that they would run operations to address the disturbances to the community caused by it. Because of changes in the nature of prostitution, and reductions in on-street markets, public concerns are perceived to have reduced, and policing approaches now tend to be more reactive and lower profile.

The police in some locations however noted an effect from the growth in indoor prostitution outside the traditional locations, towards many more communities and potential antisocial behaviour attached with it. They also mentioned continued problems with 'footfall' in some of the more traditional and established 'indoor' locations, or with cars driving around, and there was an awareness among some police that prostitution was perceived to connected to community problems, and considerable disturbance in some places. Others spoke about problems with 'party flats' - where for example, somebody rents out a flat for a week or 2 weeks and then there is a steady stream of people going back and forward constantly and complaints from members of the public. These might be used for prostitution but complaints may not be recorded in that way.

Perceptions of support services

From the perspective of other support service organisations, community impact is not a main focus. Their work is much more often concerned with providing support to the people involved in the sale of sex.

Some research participants however spoke in more general terms about the idea of 'community impact' related to prostitution and how this concept might be understood and discussed.

Community anxieties about prostitution happening within communities may be connected to perceptions that clients may be potentially dangerous or risky people, or that prostitution markets are associated with crime and antisocial behaviour. One organisation however suggested that the concerns of 'community harm' may be overstated and an example of a 'moral panic' - a phenomenon that receives levels of social concern out of proportion to its actual risk. In this organisation's experience, people involved in indoor prostitution typically operate discreetly, for their safety and to avoid interactions with the police. Also, people involved in prostitution often work in or near the areas where they live, and there is therefore no reason to expect that they would have any less respect for their neighbours and communities than anyone else.

This organisation spoke about occasions when it had received requests from elected representatives for advice on how to deal with prostitution related activity within their communities, and perceptions of prostitution as a potential threat to other people within the community. Within requests like this, this organisation perceives a stigma attached to prostitution that might not reflect a very detailed understanding of the reality of it, the people involved, or its risk of harm to other people in the locations where it takes place.

Although evidence suggests that there is possibly a reduced impact on communities, related to the reduction in prostitution in public settings, it is a limitation of existing data that there are no available indications of the strength of community feeling and reference to crimes and complaints data does not indicate the scale of distress that might have been caused within each incident. Also, changes in the nature of prostitution, from off-street to greater numbers of people working indoor settings may have increased the number of communities that have been affected. Evidence from all locations suggested that, although they may be fewer than in the past, there are still examples of public concern about the impact of prostitution in certain locations.


Email: Justice Analytical Services

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