Return of the Bill to criminalise the purchase of sex

Marlyn Glen

8 June 2012

Notice has been served of the intention to re-introduce a Bill into the Scottish Parliament which returns to the unfinished business of making the purchase of sex a criminal offence.

Rhoda Grant intends to re-introduce the Criminalisation of the Purchase of Sex (Scotland) Bill , initially piloted by Trish Godman in the previous session, but which fell at the dissolution of Parliament.  ( link )

Two years ago, I sought along with colleagues to introduce new sections into the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act of 2009 to make it illegal both to engage in and to advertise paid-for sexual activity, with the intention to make it an offence to buy sex using any form of payment, including payment in kind and presents.

This was voted down by the Parliament.

The following week, a government report from Sweden, examining the effect of a law introduced there in 1999, which made the buying of sex a criminal offence, had declared it  had been a success, having helped to reduce the level of prostitution on the streets in Swedish cities by half.

The law in Sweden made the purchase of sex a criminal offence, decreeing that  "purchasing a sexual service on one single occasion is sufficient for criminal liability," whether by money or alcohol or drugs.

The report noted that the ban “ has had the intended effect and is an important instrument in preventing and combating prostitution and human trafficking for sexual purposes.”

If we believe that one of identifying marks of a democratic society is sex equality then the fundamental conditions from which prostitution and human trafficking arise must be removed.

Women and young girls are not commodities to be sold in accordance with the principles of the free market economy.

Real equality is incompatible with the “re-branding “ of sexual exploitation as a commercial transaction.

Very many vulnerable women are forced into engaging in prostitution through poverty, drugs, and male violence and not through any consideration of it as a chosen professional career path.

If we acknowledge that the exercise of violence and repression by men towards women subordinates women, then it is understood why the Bill does not propose to criminalise the person engaged in prostitution.

The word “Feminist” has a straightforward impartial meaning in this country.

“Feminist” and “feministas” are also epithets, words of reproach used  sometimes in this country by those who feel threatened by women simply asking for their rights, such as ending prostitution.

By contrast, in the Better Nation blog, Lena Wångren and Domonic Hinde illustrate what the word “feminist” means  in Sweden.

They say,

“Rather than having to defend your feminism, in Sweden you might have to defend why you do not identify as one. “

 “In the UK, the term ‘feminist’ is often considered a derogatory label, falsely seen as implying an ideology in which women should be posited above men. (We have yet to meet one single feminist who identifies their politics in terms of women’s supposed superiority.)

“In Sweden however, the term feminist is taken for what it is – a struggle for gender equality, through which people of all genders will benefit.

“Furthermore, while in the UK we sometimes see a biologically essentialist claim to feminism -the idea that ‘only women can be feminists’-, in Sweden there is no requirement to identifying as a feminist beyond a support for the aims of the same rights for all, male or female. 

“And feminism is indeed for everyone.

“In Sweden, a robust feminist politics has created equal parental leave (one and a half years in total, to be divided between the parents irrespective of their sex), affordable and pedagogical nurseries with highly educated staff, political representation of women which has steadily increased since the early twentieth century (the ratio in the Swedish Parliament is currently 45 percent women and 55 percent men).

The number of women MSPs in the Scottish Parliament now totals 45 out of 129, or 34 per cent of its elected members.

If you believe that pathways out of the dangers of prostitution are required , not criminalisation, and if you believe that prostitution is degrading and has no place in a progressive society, then support Rhoda in her efforts to pass this Bill into law.


Below is the text of Marlyn’s speech in the Scottish Parliament, 30th. June 2010, seeking to make the purchase of sex a criminal offence.


Marlyn Glen : I acknowledge and pay tribute to the work that Trish Godman has done on the issues that are addressed in the amendments in the group, which seek to introduce new sections into the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 under which it would be illegal both to engage in and to advertise paid-for sexual activity. The penalty for so doing would be
"A fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale".

Margo MacDonald: Will the member give way?

Marlyn Glen: I would like to get started.
Basically, the first new section would make it an offence to buy sex using any form of payment, including payment in kind and presents.
The amendments are an attempt to recognise and deal with the exploitation, violence and abuse that are a reality for the majority of individuals—female and male—who sell sex. The amendments focus on the buyer of sex, acknowledge the harm of prostitution, challenge its acceptance and recognise the analysis of prostitution as being on the spectrum of violence against women. This Government accepts that analysis, as did the previous Government.

Margo MacDonald: Will the member now give way?

Marlyn Glen: I would like to move on.

Margo MacDonald: Will you define "sexual activity"?

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Order.

Marlyn Glen: Thank you, Presiding Officer.
For too long, interventions have focused solely on the women who are engaged in prostitution—in the main, it is women—and not on demand.

It is high time that we started to work together to control the demand for paid-for sex and take further the provisions that we introduced in the previous session to tackle so-called kerb crawling.

The legislation in that regard provides a deterrent that works.

Members know that from examples in our constituencies where it has been used to excellent effect.

We now need a further deterrent to curb the demand for buying sex.

In particular, work must be done before the commencement of construction work for the Commonwealth games.

The amendments are not directed at women working in prostitution, but the dangers of commercial sexual exploitation cannot be ignored.

Routes out of prostitution must continue to be recognised and supported.

At stage 2, concern was expressed about driving prostitution indoors and underground, but organisations such as the trafficking awareness-raising alliance have no difficulty finding and supporting women now, whatever their circumstances. I am confident that TARA and other, similar organisations will adapt and continue their services in new circumstances.

The bill is extremely wide ranging. I thank the members of and clerks to the Justice Committee for the work that they have put into it.

However, I suggest that agreeing to amendments 6 and 7 would make a massive difference to the lives of many women, mainly young people, who could be helped to make different choices in their lives.

If we take a lead, we can challenge the acceptance of and address the demand for paid-for sex.


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