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.


Semi-structured qualitative interviews (individual and small group) were conducted with a range of professionals who have knowledge and expertise in dealing with prostitution, to gather and assess evidence available to answer the key research questions. This included police, local authority, NHS and third sector contacts (providing support and key services to those involved in prostitution). In addition, a number of interviews were conducted with organisations which campaign for legislative change/raise awareness in relation to prostitution.

Interviews conducted with respondents from Police Scotland involved a range of specialisms, including prostitute liaison officers, as well as leads on human trafficking and violence against women. NHS interviews included strategic leads and clinicians who specialise in public/sexual health. Local Authority contacts included social workers and those involved in the provision of support services as well as those with a more strategic remit in terms of developing services to reduce violence against women. Interviews were also conducted with third sector support/charitable organisations involved in the provision of support to those involved in prostitution. Views and evidence were also sought from feminist voluntary organisation, the Women's Support Project [2] , as well as campaigning and networking organisations Scotpep [3] , Sex Worker Open University [4] , and Umbrella Lane [5] . The mainstay of the research was conducted between October 2015 and January 2016. In addition, updates were sought from key service providers and police in late 2016.

The focus on professional interviews/service providers who regularly engage with women and men involved in prostitution mean the findings are subject to a number of limitations. There were no interviews with women and men currently or previously involved in prostitution. The main focus of the project was understanding the scale and nature of prostitution in Scotland, with a particular focus on the four cities and research was therefore focussed on the main data sources for considering these questions, which was found to provide a partial picture, partly due to the inherent difficulties in researching prostitution but also due to variation in approaches to evidence gathering and record keeping across different service providers. In addition a number of service providers acknowledged that they may only deal with a small section of the overall population of those involved in prostitution in the local area. Challenging timescales and practical and ethical difficulties inherent in conducting research with those involved in prostitution meant that it was not possible to interview people involved in prostitution within the short space of time.

Accurate estimates of the nature and extent of prostitution are difficult. This is partly due to the hidden, quasi-legal and stigmatised nature of prostitution. However, the recent growth in off-street prostitution and the decrease in street based activity has made estimating numbers more difficult, as it is now less visible. While advertisements on the internet ( i.e. through websites which are specifically for advertising the sale of sex or on escort agencies), provide some indication of scale, there are inherent difficulties with an open-source approach, due to duplication of profiles and accuracy of descriptions ( i.e. nationalities may be different to those cited). Furthermore, many who sell sex and have moved off-street may not necessarily advertise online (often operating instead via mobile phone).

A further layer of difficulty is encountered in providing estimates of the numbers of people trafficked for the purposes of Commercial Sexual Exploitation ( CSE), due to its illicit and hidden nature.

Bearing in mind these limitations and the challenges involved in researching prostitution, the following section provides a summary of key findings from the analysis and collation of existing evidence and views, based on interviews with professionals/service providers who regularly engage with women and men involved in prostitution. It also identifies a number of gaps in knowledge.


Email: Justice Analytical Services

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