Sex workers hold vigil demanding government scrap moves to criminalise purchase of sex

Sex workers are protesting outside Holyrood today to demand moves to criminalise purchase of sex should be scrapped, warning it will cause harm to women.

Tuesday, 24th November 2020, 8:06 pm
Flags outside the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood

Scotpep, an Edinburgh based worker led charity has blasted proposals from the Scottish Government that could lead to men being banned from buying sex.

Ministers are inviting views on challenging men's demand for prostitution and helping women exit sex work in Scotland under it’s ‘Equally Safe’ consultation launched in September.

But workers have branded it a ‘rapists charter’ that will force workers to take greater risks.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Using the slogan ‘Not Equal, Not Safe’, workers are gathering with candles and red roses on International Day to End Violence Against Women to warn that the Government is ignoring workers and evidence from other countries where the change has led to increased violence against workers.

It comes after charities told the Evening News last month of a “massive explosion” of people getting into sex work, with many forced to accept whatever work they can get no matter how risky due to fears of being identified through track and trace in safer spaces like hotels or saunas.

Kat, an organiser with Edinburgh-based charity Scotpep said: “In Scotland soliciting, kerb-crawling and brothel-keeping laws criminalise women for working on the street. This already forces them to work in hidden places and to rush through their safety checks with clients, forcing women who work indoors to work alone or risk arrest.”

"Now the Scottish Government is proposing to bring in additional criminalisation which has been shown all over the world to increase violence against sex workers. Sex workers need full decriminalisation along the lines of New Zealand – not the criminalisation of clients.”

Campaigners in Ireland have reported that crime against sex workers almost doubled in the two years after they criminalised the purchase of sex in March 2017.

Jake Jones, community support worker at Umbrella Lane said: “We agree violence needs to be addressed. But the fact is criminalisation will not stop demand. What it will do is put off the generally safer, good clients who treat workers with respect. The clients who don’t care about workers safety will continue to use services. And the chances of them doing more harm to workers is much higher. That is informed by society’s view of a sex worker.

“Two women can’t work together under current laws. But some feel safer working together, yet we’ve heard of some women who have been assaulted who were told by Police not to report it because they could be investigated. What we need is further decriminalisation to make people safe.”

“It’s not just clients pose a risk to workers. In Sweden a survey showed over thirty per cent of workers had experienced sexual violence from the Police. If sex work is criminalised, workers have nowhere else to go.”

“For those who are exploited in sex work, the best way to help them is in a decriminalised environment where they can access services and healthcare.”

Umbrella Lane claims the Government proposals ignore real-life experience of workers, including LGBT and migrants. The charity which represents over 500 workers has launched an ad campaign calling for sex workers to have the same rights to safety as people in other jobs.

Jake said: “We are taking back our voice. We refuse to accept that all sex work is exploitation. I think what this consultation does is dehumanise people, all kinds of sex workers and their needs and reasons for doing what they do. There are workers who are single mums, gay men, trans workers, people with disabilities. The bottom line is no matter how or why people got into sex work, they should be supported to do it safely.

Young Scots for Independence, the youth wing of the SNP, has branded the consultation proposals “ill-founded and dangerous ideology which will have catastrophic repercussions for workers across the country.”

Labour MSP Rhoda Grant previously lodged a bill to criminalise the purchase of sex but it did not pass.

A Scottish government spokesperson said: “This is Scotland’s first national consultation on prostitution to discuss our future approach to this important issue within the context of how women and girls should be treated in an equal society. We want to hear the views of everyone with an interest or insight into the issues, especially from the women directly involved, and welcome the efforts of organisations to encourage those with lived experience to engage in this process.”

“The consultation does not commit to any particular course of action and asks broad questions on challenging the demand for prostitution, reducing the harms associated with it and supporting those involved to exit.”

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.