Scots prostitution laws miss the point

An MSP called Rhoda Grant has put up a bill that will make paying for sex a criminal offence I read today.  You could be forgiven if you thought that this was already a crime, because we generally speak as though it were.  But, in fact the offences relating to prostitution do not outlaw the oldest profession in the world but they do attack some of the more visible aspects of the sex trade.

For example, if a woman (or a man for that matter) were to accept money in return for sex then no crime is committed.  If she accepted money for sex where somebody else is also selling sex then that's a brothel.  If she is hanging about on the street looking for kerb crawlers then offences are committed by both the purchaser and the seller of sex.

So, if you were to put an ad on an internet site offering call girl (or gigolo) services off of your own back and the transaction took place entirely in private where nobody else was working then neither party is likely to be committing a criminal offence.  Although, if the sex worker has a partner then he may be committing the offence of living off immoral earnings... slightly odd twist.

I understand that Ms Grant wants the new law to help crack down on "serious criminal activity associated with prostitution".  Now let's think about this for a minute.  What are the offences associated with prostitution?  They are things like, human trafficking, drugs, guns and violence.  Let's assume that the new law imposed 12 months imprisonment for offences relating to prostitution... something, which I find extraordinarily unlikely as the sentence is likely to be a fine at most.  Well, the sentences for the serious criminal activities are all much higher than the prostitution so they won't deter the serious criminals.

Will this law deter the girls and women in the sex trade?  I have no doubt that there is at least one woman who got into the sex game through a love of sex.  But, for the other 99.99% it is not so much a choice but a situation in which they find themselves either through a lack of money leading to a decision to whore or, more commonly, a complex interaction with some sort of gang (for want of a better word) that leads to drug use and a spiral into prostitution then ultimately coercion to remain on the game from the pimps and dealers.  Will the woman with no choice be deterred?  Um... I'm going to guess not.

So, we come on to the men who use prostitutes.  Will they be deterred from visiting sex workers?  I suggest that the men who visit prostitutes generally fall into two categories.  First, are single men and second are men in a relationship (either married or long-term).  Now, the second group have everything to lose if they are caught and the police send a letter home to the missus, which they do.  Yet, these men still do it.  If the risk of losing their wife, home and contact with their kids isn't sufficient then the low level punishment dolled out by a court isn't going to deter them.  What of the first group?  Are they lonely or lads out looking for a laugh?  Either way I suspect that few will be put off a trip to the local call girl.

I have made this point several times in previous blog entries and I make it again for the benefit of any politicians reading this.  The answer to societies ills is not the passing of yet more draconian laws.  The answer often lies in using the laws that you already have.  It is already illegal to force somebody into prostitution.  Guns, generally, are illegal.  Dealing drugs is illegal.  These are offences that carry very very heavy sentences.  Dedicate more resources to enforcing the laws you have rather than passing more laws that won't help anybody and which you probably won't enforce anyway.

Here's a thought.  If you want to reduce serious criminal activity associated with prostitution then why not legalise the sex trade?  At a stroke the workers will cease to need to hide underground and fear arrest for earning their living.  Thus they will emerge from the shadows and from the power of the pimps who traffic women for sex and use the income to buy drugs to sell on and who require guns to prevent other dealers stealing their drugs.

Why would a man go to an underground brothel where the girls are likely to have been trafficked if there are legal, clean and licensed facilities available?

On a side note, I had a client accused of kerb crawling a few years ago.  A girl waved him down and asked if he wanted some "business".  He said, "yes, of course" and was then arrested.  The police refused to accept that flagging down a black cab in London, asking if he wanted business and then arresting him was a bit off.  Fortunately, the magistrates were having none of that nonsense and dismissed the case.


  1. Everything you have said here makes sense to me and the scene you have laid out works well in other European countries. There are also benefits to the NHS as it will I suspect reduce the risk of STD’s and so save them money. It will reduce the risks of woman being abducted and murdered. Raped thus saving the police time, it would also mean that people in that trade would be more willing to talk to police about problems and in the event that someone goes missing the investigation will be easier due to the flow of information not being stifled for fear of breaching other laws.

    2 for 2 I am impressed with your latest two posts

  2. Good post. There are many reasons why criminalization would be a bad idea:

    -consenting adults should not be told what they can and can't do with their own bodies in their own privacy
    -prohibition doesn't always work (have laws stopped people smoking weed?)
    -prostitution is going to happen anyway legal or not, criminalization of a product/service leads to it being pushed underground
    -UK prisons are overcrowded and we do not need to clog up the system sentencing adults who engaged in consensual sex. We should be looking at ways to keep people out of prison, not put more people in prison.
    -criminalization will lead to more stigma therefore sex workers will be respected even less
    -Sex workers and clients will be less likely to be regularly tested for STIs if it is illegal
    -A law criminalizing prostitution will not prevent prostitutes from being assaulted or murdered. If someone does not care about the consequences of murder he is obviously not going to care about the consequences of breaking any other law.
    -prostitution is possibly safer now than it has been in the past thanks to the internet. Sex workers can "screen" clients who make a booking and can make the choice on whether to accept the booking. There are feedback systems and forums used to warn sex workers about abusive clients to avoid.
    -statistics on trafficking can be inaccurate and even intentionally exaggerated:

    1. Thanks.

      "-consenting adults should not be told what they can and can't do with their own bodies in their own privacy"

      Ahh raising memories of the conflict between R v Brown and R v Wilson (I'm sure I remember the names correctly) where Brown and his friends were not allowed to sandpaper each others testicles (presumably because they were gay) but it was perfectly okay for Mr Wilson to brand his initials on Mrs Wilson's backside (presumably either because they were straight or the appeal court still thought her to be his chattel).


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