Prostitution in the United Kingdom

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"Tart cards" in phone boxes advertise the services of call girls in London (placing them in phone boxes is illegal, but they are very common.[1])

In the United Kingdom, prostitution itself (the exchange of sexual services for money) is legal,[2] but a number of related activities, including soliciting in a public place, kerb crawling, owning or managing a brothel, pimping and pandering, are crimes.

In England, Wales and in Northern Ireland it is an offence to pay for sex with a prostitute who has been “subjected to force” and this is a strict liability offence (clients can be prosecuted even if they did not know the prostitute was forced).

It is illegal to buy sex from a person younger than 18, although the age of consent for non-commercial sex is 16.

Extent[edit]

The total number of prostitutes is not known and is difficult to assess, but authorities and NGOs estimate that approximately 100,000 persons in the country are engaged in prostitution.[3] The personal circumstances of prostitutes are not clear and are, as elsewhere, the subject of political controversy.

The sex trade takes different forms, such as prostitution practiced in massage parlors, saunas, private flats, street prostitution and escort prostitution. The enforcement of the anti-prostitution laws is very lax.

In the late 2000s, a study compiled by the Poppy Project found brothels in all 33 London local authority areas. Westminster had the highest number with 71, compared with 8 in Southwark. For this study the researchers had posed as potential customers and had telephoned 921 brothels that had advertised in local newspapers. The researchers estimated that the brothels generated between £50m and £130m a year. Many brothels operated through legitimate businesses - licensed as saunas or massage parlours - though the vast majority were in private flats in residential areas. The report found 77 different ethnicities among the prostitutes, many from areas such as Eastern Europe and South-East Asia.[4] The study has been called "the most comprehensive study ever conducted into UK brothels" but its methodology has been criticized, and it has been rejected by sex workers' activists and academic studies.[5][6][7]

According to a 2009 study by TAMPEP, of all prostitutes in the UK, 41% were foreigners - however in London this percentage was 80%. The total number of migrant prostitutes was significantly lower than in other Western countries (such as Spain and Italy where the percentage of all migrant prostitutes was 90%). The migrant prostitutes came from: Central Europe 43%, Baltic 10%, Eastern Europe 7%, Balkan 4%, other EU countries 16%, Latin America 10%, Asia, 7%, Africa 2%, North America 1%. 35 different countries of origin were identified.[8]

Surveys indicate that fewer UK men use prostitutes than in other countries. Estimates of between 7%[9] and 8.8%[10] of men have used prostitutes at least once in the UK, compared to 15%-20% in the USA or 16% in France. The authors stress the difficulty of finding reliable data given the lack of prior research, differences in sample sizes, and possible underestimates due to the privacy concerns of survey respondents.[11]

Legal history[edit]

The Vagrancy Act 1824 criminalised prostitutes with a punishment of up to one month hard labour.[12] Between 1864 and 1886 the Contagious Diseases Acts served to subject prostitutes to compulsory checks for venereal disease, and imprisonment until cured. In 1885, the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 made numerous changes that affected prostitution, including criminalising the act of procuring girls for prostitution by administering drugs, intimidation or fraud; raising the age of consent to 16; and suppressing brothels.[13][14]

The Policing and Crime Act 2009 made amends to the laws on soliciting and loitering for the purposes of prostitution. The main changes are the shifting of focus from the prostitutes to the customers. Before 1 April 2010, it was illegal for a customer to kerb crawl/solicit only if this was done "persistently", or "in a manner likely to cause annoyance". Today, all forms of public solicitation by a customer are illegal, regardless of the manner in which the prostitute was solicited. In regard to prostitutes, before 1 April 2010, a prostitute was committing a crime by soliciting/loitering in a public place more than once in a period of one month. Today, he/she commits a crime if he/she does it more than once in a period of three months.

Former laws which have been replaced by the new offences created by the Policing and Crime Act 2009.

  • From 1959 to 1 April 2010,[15] it was an offence for a common prostitute to loiter or solicit in a street or public place for the purpose of prostitution: This offence was created by section 1(1) of the Street Offences Act 1959.
  • From 1985 to 1 April 2010[15] it was an offence for a person to solicit another person, or different persons, for the purpose of prostitution (which in this case means soliciting for the purpose of obtaining the other person's services as a prostitute) from a motor vehicle while it is in a street or public place, or in the immediate vicinity of a motor vehicle that he has just got out of or off, while he is in a street or public place, if he does so persistently, or in a manner likely to cause annoyance to the person, or to any of the persons, solicited, or likely to cause nuisance to other persons in the neighbourhood: This offence was created by section 1(1) of the Sexual Offences Act 1985 and was known as kerb-crawling.
  • From 1985 to 1 April 2010[15] it was an offence for a person to persistently solicit another person, or different persons, for the purpose of prostitution (which in this case means soliciting for the purpose of obtaining the other person's services as a prostitute): This offence was created by section 2(1) of the Sexual Offences Act 1985.

Current Legal status[edit]

England and Wales[edit]

Customers[edit]

(1) A person (A) commits an offence if—

(a) A makes or promises payment for the sexual services of a prostitute (B),
(b) a third person (C) has engaged in exploitative conduct of a kind likely to induce or encourage B to provide the sexual services for which A has made or promised payment, and
(c) C engaged in that conduct for or in the expectation of gain for C or another person (apart from A or B).

(2) The following are irrelevant—

(a) where in the world the sexual services are to be provided and whether those services are provided,
(b) whether A is, or ought to be, aware that C has engaged in exploitative conduct.

(3) C engages in exploitative conduct if—

(a) C uses force, threats (whether or not relating to violence) or any other form of coercion, or
(b) C practises any form of deception.

(4) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.

51A Soliciting.

(1) It is an offence for a person in a street or public place to solicit another (B) for the purpose of obtaining B's sexual services as a prostitute.
(2) The reference to a person in a street or public place includes a person in a vehicle in a street or public place.
(3) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.
(4) In this section “street” has the meaning given by section 1(4) of the Street Offences Act 1959.”

  • Paying for sexual services of a child (s.47). For this purpose, a "child" is a person under 18.

Prostitutes[edit]

  • working as a prostitute in private is not an offence, and neither is working as an outcall escort.

Third parties[edit]

  • Causing or inciting prostitution for gain (s.52)

52 Causing or inciting prostitution for gain[21]

(1) A person commits an offence if—

(a) he intentionally causes or incites another person to become a prostitute in any part of the world, and

(b) he does so for or in the expectation of gain for himself or a third person.

(2) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable—

(a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or both;

(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 7 years.

  • Controlling prostitution for gain (s.53). This prohibits pimping.

53 Controlling prostitution for gain[22]

(1) A person commits an offence if—

(a) he intentionally controls any of the activities of another person relating to that person’s prostitution in any part of the world, and

(b) he does so for or in the expectation of gain for himself or a third person.

(2) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable—

(a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or both;

(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 7 years.

  • It is an offence for a person to keep, or to manage, or act or assist in the management of, a brothel to which people resort for practices involving prostitution. This offence is created by section 33A of the Sexual Offences Act 1956, which was inserted by the Sexual Offences Act 2003.[23] Premises which are frequented by men for intercourse with only one woman are not a brothel,[24] and this is so whether she is a tenant or not.[25]

33A Keeping a brothel used for prostitution

(1) It is an offence for a person to keep, or to manage, or act or assist in the management of, a brothel to which people resort for practices involving prostitution (whether or not also for other practices).

In regard to child prostitution:

The following offences are created by the Sexual Offences Act 2003:

  • Causing or inciting child prostitution or pornography (s.48)
  • Controlling a child prostitute or a child involved in pornography (s.49)
  • Arranging or facilitating child prostitution or pornography (s.50)

Northern Ireland[edit]

Prostitution in Northern Ireland is legal as elsewhere in the United Kingdom, subject to a number of similar restraints. It is currently governed by the Sexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 2008. A private member's bill introduced in 2013, the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Further Provisions and Support for Victims) Bill, proposes inter alia to criminalise the purchase of sex. As of January 2014, the bill remains in committee.

Scotland[edit]

Since devolution in 1998 the Scottish Parliament has started to pursue an independent policy to prostitution which had been historically similar to England since the Act of Union.

Street prostitution is dealt with under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982, section 46(1). Kerb crawling, soliciting a prostitute for sex in a public place and loitering for the same purpose are also criminal under the Prostitution (Public Places) (Scotland) Act 2007. There was formerly no specific offence directed at clients in Scotland in contrast to the “kerb crawling” offence in England and Wales in the Sexual Offences Act 1985.

A Prostitution Tolerance Zones Bill was introduced into the Scottish Parliament but failed to become law. A number of attempts have been made to criminalise the purchase of sex but all have failed.

Reform of prostitution laws[edit]

During recent years there has been long and widespread debate about the legal situation of prostitution in the UK, and, currently, the government appears to favour tough "anti-prostitution" laws. The debate centres around whether UK should follow the example of Netherlands, Germany or New Zealand and tolerate prostitution, or whether the country should make it illegal to pay for sex, like in Sweden, Norway and Iceland (a situation sometimes described as the Nordic model). In 2006, the government raised the possibility of loosening the prostitution laws and allowing small brothels in England and Wales. According to the present law, one prostitute may work from an indoor premises, but if there are two or more prostitutes the place is considered a brothel and it is an offence. Historically, local police forces have wavered between zero tolerance of prostitution and unofficial red light districts. The 2006 plans to allow "mini brothels" were abandoned, after fears that such establishments would bring pimps and drug dealers into residential areas. Instead, it was decided that prostitution should not be tolerated and the laws should become even stricter. Harriet Harman proposed that rather than permitting mini-brothels, the "demand side" of prostitution should be tackled by making it illegal to pay for sex.[26][27] Ministers pointed to Sweden, where purchasing sexual services is a criminal offence. The government's tougher approach towards prostitution began to make legislative progress in 2008, as Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced that paying for sex from a prostitute under the control of a pimp would become a criminal offence. Clients could also face rape charges for knowingly paying for sex from an illegally trafficked woman, and first-time offenders could face charges.[27] The Policing and Crime Act 2009 made it an offence to pay for the services of a prostitute "subjected to force" to implement that proposal. It also made other provisions in relation to prostitution.[16] In March 2014 an all-party parliamentary group in the House of Commons issued a report called "Shifting the Burden"[28] which recommended the introduction of Nordic model to England and Wales.[29]

Public opinion[edit]

A CATI survey conducted in January 2008 revealed the following answers:

Paying for sex exploits women and should be a criminal offence: 44% of the total respondents agree (65% of those aged 18–24 agree; 48% of all women agree, 39% of men agree)

Paying for sex exploits women but should not be a criminal offence: 21% of the total respondents agree

Paying for sex does not exploit women and should not be a criminal offence: 17% of the total respondents agree

Paying for sex does not exploit women but should be a criminal offence: 8% of the total respondents agree [30]

A Ipsos-Mori poll conducted in July and August 2008 showed that 61% of women and 42% of men thought that paying for sex was "unacceptable". 65% of women and 40% of men said selling sex was "unacceptable". Young people were the most opposed to prostitution: 64% of the youth said that paying for sex was "unacceptable" and 69% believed that selling sex was "unacceptable"; older people had more relaxed attitudes about prostitution (men over 55 were the most accepting of buying sex). 60% of all the people who were questioned would feel ashamed if they found out a family member was working as a prostitute. 43% thought it should be illegal to pay for sex, however 58% would support making it illegal to pay for sex if "it will help reduce the numbers of women and children being trafficked into the UK for sexual exploitation".[31][32][33][34]

Advocacy[edit]

Pro legalisation[edit]

Like many other countries, the UK has sex workers' rights groups, which argue that the best solution for the problems associated with prostitution is decriminalization. These groups have criticized the provisions from the Policing and Crime Act 2009.

The English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) founded in 1975, campaigns for the decriminalization of prostitution, sex workers’ right to recognition and safety, and financial alternatives so that no one is forced into prostitution by poverty; in addition the ECP provides information, help and support to individual prostitutes and others concerned with sex workers’ rights. One member, Nikki Adams, said that the government was overstating the extent of the trafficking problem, and that most prostitution was consensual.[27]

The UK based International Union of Sex Workers (IUSW), part of GMB Trade Union, campaigns for the labour rights of those who work in the sex industry.

Against legalisation[edit]

Legalised prostitution is opposed by people who argue that prostitution is inherently exploitative, and by many in the Government and the police. Apart from ethical issues, the main argument brought against the legalization of prostitution is that such a move would only result in an increase in human trafficking and crime. The common example offered by anti-prostitution activists is that of Netherlands, which currently has severe problems with human trafficking and crime, the mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen having said about legal prostitution in his city: "We’ve realized this is no longer about small-scale entrepreneurs, but that big crime organizations are involved here in trafficking women, drugs, killings and other criminal activities" and "We realize that this [legal prostitution] hasn’t worked, that trafficking in women continues. Women are now moved around more, making police work more difficult.”[35] Three British ministers, Vernon Coaker, Barbara Follett and Vera Baird, had visited the Netherlands to study their approach to the sex trade, and had come to the conclusion that their policy of legal prostitution was not effective, and had therefore ruled out the legalization of prostitution in the UK.[36]

Crimes against prostitutes[edit]

Murders[edit]

Ipswich serial murders[edit]

The Ipswich serial murders took place between 30 October and 10 December 2006, when the bodies of five murdered women were discovered at different locations near Ipswich, Suffolk, England. All the victims were prostitutes from the Ipswich area. Steve Wright was sentenced to life imprisonment - with recommendation of a whole life tariff - for the murders. The case received high media attention.

Bradford murders[edit]

In Bradford, in 2010, Stephen Shaun Griffiths, 40, was arrested on 24 May and subsequently charged with killing the three prostitutes.[37] On 21 December 2010 Griffiths was convicted of all three murders after pleading guilty. He was given a life sentence.[38]

David Cameron, the new Conservative prime minister, said the murders were a "terrible shock". He said the decriminalization of prostitution should be "looked at again", but he also added that: "I don't think we should jump to conclusions on this - there are all sorts of problems that decriminalisation would bring." Later, aides close to Cameron strongly insisted he was not suggesting prostitution should be legalised and was more concerned with addressing the social problems surrounding it such as encouraging agencies to work together to help women off the streets or to combat drug addiction.[39] Cameron has also called for tougher action on kerb-crawling and drug abuse.[39][40] The debate as to whether a change in the law would protect prostitutes continues.[41]

Human trafficking[edit]

There has been a growing awareness of human trafficking, in particular the trafficking of women and underage girls into the UK for forced prostitution. A particular high profile case resulted in the conviction of five Albanians who trafficked a 16 year old Lithuanian girl and forced her to have sex with as many as 10 men a day.[42]

Cases of sex trafficking in England and Wales are dealt with under the Sexual Offences Act 2003. This act deviates from the International definition of trafficking (from the UN Protocol) in that it does not require that a person is trafficked for sex against their will or with the use of coercion or force. Simply arranging or facilitating the arrival in the United Kingdom of another person for the purpose of prostitution is considered human trafficking. [23]

Section 57 (Trafficking into the UK for sexual exploitation) of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 reads:[43]

(1) A person commits an offence if he intentionally arranges or facilitates the arrival in the United Kingdom of another person (B) and either—

(a) he intends to do anything to or in respect of B, after B’s arrival but in any part of the world, which if done will involve the commission of a relevant offence, or
(b) he believes that another person is likely to do something to or in respect of B, after B’s arrival but in any part of the world, which if done will involve the commission of a relevant offence.''

Offences relating to trafficking within and out of the UK are contained in sections 58 and 59 of the Act. These offences apply in England and Wales and Northern Ireland, with section 22 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003 providing similar offences for Scotland .[44]

The UK government signed The Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings in March 2007, and ratified it in December 2008 .[45]

Internationally, the most common destinations for victims of human trafficking are Thailand, Japan, Israel, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Turkey and the United States, according to a report by the UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime).[46]

The major sources of trafficked persons include Thailand, China, Nigeria, Albania, Bulgaria, Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine.[46]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Caroline Archer, Tart Cards: Londons Illicit Advertising Art (Mark Batty Publisher, 2003).
  2. ^ Casciani, Dominic (19 November 2008). "Q&A: UK Prostitution Laws". BBC News. Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  3. ^ "2009 Human Rights Report: United Kingdom". State.gov. 2010-03-11. Retrieved 2013-02-10. 
  4. ^ "Brothel industry is 'spreading'". BBC News. 4 September 2008. 
  5. ^ "Big Brothel research 'seriously flawed'". The Guardian. 3 October 2008. 
  6. ^ "Big Brothel – a report that isn’t all it seems to be | Petra Boynton PhD". Drpetra.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-02-10. 
  7. ^ "It is time to accept prostitution – say the British public". International Union of Sex Workers. 2010-10-05. Retrieved 2013-02-10. 
  8. ^ http://tampep.eu/documents/TAMPEP%202009%20European%20Mapping%20Report.pdf
  9. ^ Månsson, Sven-Axel. "Men’s practices in prostitution and their implications for social work". Retrieved 26 January 2013. 
  10. ^ Ward, H; C H Mercer, K Wellings, K Fenton, B Erens, A Copas, A M Johnson (2005). "Who pays for sex? An analysis of the increasing prevalence of female commercial sex contacts among men in Britain". Sex Transm Infect 81: 467–471. doi:10.1136/sti.2005.014985. PMC 1745068. PMID 16326848. Retrieved 26 January 2013. 
  11. ^ "Percentage of Men (by Country) Who Paid for Sex at Least Once: The Johns Chart". Procon.org "Providing resources for critical thinking and to educate without bias" (Charity). Retrieved 26 January 2013. 
  12. ^ "...every common prostitute wandering in the public streets...and behaving in a riotous or indecent manner...shall be deemed an idle and disorderly person.""An Act for the Punishment of idle and disorderly Persons, and Rogues and Vagabonds, in that Part of Great Britain called England". Page 698. Point III. Retrieved 26 January 2013. 
  13. ^ "Regulation of Prostitution (Historical)". Warwick University PPT. 
  14. ^ Payne, Jennifer. "The Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 and Sexual Assault on Minors". 1998. Archived from the original on 2009-10-28. Retrieved 26 January 2013. 
  15. ^ a b c "The Policing and Crime Act 2009 (Commencement No. 4) Order 2010". Legislation.gov.uk. 2010-04-01. Retrieved 2013-02-10. 
  16. ^ a b "Policing and Crime | UK | Anti-trafficking | Exploitation | Sex Industry | The Naked Anthropologist". Nodo50.org. 2010-04-06. Retrieved 2013-02-10. 
  17. ^ The Policing and Crime Act 2009 (Commencement No. 4) Order 2010 (S.I. 2010/507 (C. 37)), article 5
  18. ^ Applied by section 51(2)
  19. ^ Applied by section 54(2)
  20. ^ Applied by that section
  21. ^ "Sexual Offences Act 2003". Legislation.gov.uk. Retrieved 2013-02-10. 
  22. ^ "Sexual Offences Act 2003". Legislation.gov.uk. Retrieved 2013-02-10. 
  23. ^ a b "The Sexual Offences Act 2003". Legislation.gov.uk. Retrieved 2013-02-10. 
  24. ^ Singleton v Ellison (1895) 1 QB 607, Mattison v Johnson (1916) 85 LJKB 741
  25. ^ Caldwell v Leech (1913) 109 LT 188
  26. ^ "UK 'should outlaw paying for sex'". BBC News. 20 December 2007. Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  27. ^ a b c "Prostitute users face clampdown". BBC News. 2008-11-19. Retrieved 2008-11-19. 
  28. ^ "Shifting the Burden". All-Party Parliamentary Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade. March 2014. 
  29. ^ Hannah Osborne (3 March 2014). "Nordic Model of Prostitution in England & Wales Called for By MP Gavin Shuker in Report". International Business Times. 
  30. ^ "Sex & Exploitation Survey". ICM Research. 20 January 2008. 
  31. ^ Wintour, Patrick (4 September 2008). "Harman: poll shows public support for ban on buying sex". The Guardian (London). 
  32. ^ "Poll | Public's views on prostitution". Ipsos MORI. Retrieved 2013-02-10. 
  33. ^ http://www.ipsos-mori.com/Assets/Docs/Polls/poll-prostitution-topline-june.pdf
  34. ^ http://www.ipsos-mori.com/Assets/Docs/Polls/poll-prostitution-topline-august.pdf
  35. ^ Simons, Marlise (2008-02-24). "Amsterdam Tries Upscale Fix for Red-Light District Crime". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-04. 
  36. ^ Coates, Sam (20 November 2008). "Britain not ready for outright ban on men paying for sex". The Times (London). 
  37. ^ "Stephen Griffiths charged with murder of three prostitutes". The Daily Telegraph (London). 27 May 2010. 
  38. ^ "Crossbow Cannibal given life term for Bradford murders". BBC. 21 December 2010. Retrieved 9 January 2011. 
  39. ^ a b k/news/uknews/crime/7780068/David-Cameron-calls-for-laws-on-legalising-prostitution-to-be-looked-at.html
  40. ^ "PM urges prostitution law rethink". BBC News. 29 May 2010. 
  41. ^ "Acpo calls for debate over prostitution laws". BBC News. 28 December 2010. 
  42. ^ Buckley, Martha (2005-11-28). "Baltic girls forced into sex slavery". bbc.co.uk (BBC News). 
  43. ^ The Sexual Offences Act 2003,section 57
  44. ^ The Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003, section 22
  45. ^ "Update to the UK Action Plan on Tackling Human Trafficking". Crimereduction.homeoffice.gov.uk. Retrieved 2013-02-10. 
  46. ^ a b "UN highlights human trafficking". BBC News. 26 March 2007. Retrieved 22 May 2010. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]