Criminalising the Purchase of Sex, hiding or solving the problem?

Posted on March 26, 2013


By John McCarthy

Glasgow at night. Eloganphotography

PROSTITUTION, as the cliché goes, is the world’s oldest profession. Clichés aside, it is a fact that the trade underskirts society, ignored by the public at large, a silent world of suffering and exploitation.

To the keen eye, Glasgow has a lucrative sex trade for its few beneficiaries. Although the red light districts of Calton, Anderston and Glasgow Green are mostly devoid of loiterers due to police intolerance, the trade is flourishing, and more secretive than ever.

Backstreet establishments a stone’s throw from city landmarks such as the St Enoch Club, who declined to answer questions, offer ‘exotic massages’. Their website, decorated with fully naked woman and a disclaimer saying the content is unsuitable for anyone under 18-years-old, said: “Your massage can be with one lady or two, all of our ladies are extremly [sic] experienced and know exactly how to give a massage you won’t forget…” Also notable is the claim that “we also have black-ladies from early-20’s to mid-40’s [sic].”

Meanwhile, consumers can have women home-delivered through escort websites, a step up from the cumbersome rituals of finding phone numbers in phone boxes and public restrooms.

Glasgow has sex workers and it clearly has a clientele.

What to do?

Rhoda Grant MSP introduced the Criminalisation of the Purchase of Sex (Scotland) Bill to Scottish parliament last year to simplify the law, making it illegal to buy sex… but not to sell it.

There is an assumption that sex workers are vulnerable and forced into ‘work’, because of poverty or drug addiction or a lack of visa. No doubt, a stereotype, but like most stereotypes, holding some truth in reality.

A study of prostitution said that 63% of street sex workers mainly worked to pay for drugs. 71% of women these woman claimed to have experienced physical assault during their shifts and 63% had experienced rape. Finally, and most worryingly, 68% of these women were classified as sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder (1). There are also estimated to be 80,000 people involved in prostitution in the UK (2).

Ms Grant said:

“Current laws hold the prostitutes responsible for prostitution.  It takes no account of the damage to those who are prostituted; neither does it hold those who feed the trade responsible for their actions.”

“Prostitutes enter the trade through desperation… we need more resources to deal with the issues that drive people to this level of desperation and ensure that there are effective routes out for those involved.”

She added: “We really need to change the attitude of our society to make people realise the harm this causes.”

However, Dr Brooke Magnanti or ‘Belle de Jour’ believes that the bill will drive the trade further underground, inevitably causing more harm to sex

Brooke Magnanti gained acclaim for her saucy memoirs

workers, and said that the government is drawing policy from incorrect statistics to fuel to assert their ideological views.

Dr Magnanti said: “The Scottish government are highly in favour of criminalising the purchasers of sex, Sweden passed a similar law in 1999. However, this led to a government that was not interested in reaching out to members of the sex trade, the problem was swept from the streets under the carpet.

“Girls actually go to Sweden to make small fortunes. The law has in no way decreased demand, despite the fact it does not criminalise the seller, if your clients are criminals then you are not exactly going to be hanging out somewhere where people will find you, it drove people towards the criminal lifestyle rather than rescuing them.

She added: “I don’t ever think in my life that prostitution will ever be an acceptable occupation but people who are involved in sex work should be able to share their stories.”

Despite its critics, Ms Grant’s bill has sparked a debate, and the deadening silence that once blanketed the sex trade has been replaced with zealous furore. The dialogue will one day change Glasgow’s seedier streets for better… or worse.

[1] Farley, M (2003) Prostitution and Trafficking in Nine Countries: An update on Violence and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in the Journal of Trauma Practice.

[2] Home Office (2009)