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.

5. Demand

One of the aims of this report was to provide a better understanding of data and perceptions of the scale and nature of demand for prostitution services, the volume of transactions, the number of people who pay for sex, their personal backgrounds and their reasons for doing this.

The organisations we spoke to had little information of this subject, and were not able to provide definitive information on these main questions.

Police data does not help to provide an account of demand. In the view of some of the police officers we spoke to, the focus of previous 'kerb crawling' legislation is predominantly on aspects of demand that may have antisocial behaviour consequences, rather than the aspects of demand (for example online customers) who are simply wanting to pay for sex from and in private settings - where there is in theory less antisocial behaviour. Analysis of the profiles and backgrounds of offenders therefore potentially introduces a skewed element and does not tell us about the wider group of people who pay for sex.

This evidence gap was particularly notable within the setting of indoor prostitution. In previous times the police, health and support services would come into more regular contact with 'kerb crawlers' and the buyers of street prostitution, and had some knowledge and perceptions based on these encounters. The move to prostitution in indoor settings has however led to less visibility of the purchasers of sex, and potentially a new profile of consumers, who no longer necessarily have to go to red-light areas, and can arrange meetings in more private and discreet settings, from smartphone apps, and the internet. Some police recognised that this may have expanded the customer base, because technology may have made purchasing sex much more accessible and available for people outwith the traditional areas: 'everybody knew where the on‑street activity took place and it was largely in cities and even within those cities well everybody knew where to go. It's a completely different profile now. You could pretty much locate somebody working within either your own community; your own town or the neighbouring town pretty readily.'

Information on the scale of demand may potentially be implied from estimates of the number of people involved in supply and the police estimates of around 1800 people advertising the sale of sex online in Scotland [102] . As already discussed however, these estimates are based solely on the business activity on certain websites. Although some of these represent the most well-known websites, they are not the only ways for arranging transactions and therefore it is a limited information source and potentially misleading. These estimates also provide only rough numbers, and they do not enable estimations of the number of people who may use these services, or establish any more information about their backgrounds or their reasons for purchasing sex. These questions would require further research.

Some of the people who were interviewed in the course of this research had come into contact with consumers of sex through their work. Although there were some perceptions of the group - its diversity (regular customers versus one-offs, stag parties, transient demand in certain areas like Aberdeen oil conferences), different possible reasons for paying for sex, harmful aspects including a subset of buyers who are drawn to vulnerabilities and abuse - there was no information provided to draw satisfactory conclusions or make generalisations on these questions.

Apart from the evidence on the nature of the immediate demand for prostitution in Scotland, there were perceptions among some interviewees about the longer-term social causes of the demand. These included the perceived normalisation of prostitution in certain parts of culture ( e.g. 'lad culture', stag parties, pornography), the sexualisation of women in the mainstream media. Some interviewees also highlighted perceived structural gender inequality in society that creates the conditions that lead to the economic and sexual exploitation of women and vulnerable and disempowered members of society, including young people, people from 'looked after' backgrounds, and people from deprived economic backgrounds and immigrant communities.


Email: Justice Analytical Services

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