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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 03 November 2021 [Draft]

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Legal Aid Solicitors (Action), Early Learning and Childcare, Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Prostitution Law Reform


Prostitution Law Reform

Before we begin the final item of business, I remind members of the Covid-related measures that are in place and that face coverings should be worn when moving around the chamber and the Holyrood campus.

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-01612, in the name of Elena Whitham, on A Model for Scotland, the campaign for prostitution law reform in Scotland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the launch by an alliance of frontline agencies of the campaign, A Model for Scotland, which looks for prostitution law reform in Scotland; believes that, although it has been officially recognised as a form of violence against women, it is currently legal to perpetrate and profit from prostitution; understands that 4% of men in Scotland reported having paid for sex in the past five years; notes that the women who are sexually exploited can face criminal sanctions for soliciting under Section 46 of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982, making it harder for them to leave the sex trade and access support; commends the joint work of the Scottish Government and COSLA in developing Equally Safe: Scotland's strategy to eradicate violence against women; notes the commitment to develop a model for Scotland, including in Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley, which challenges men’s demand for prostitution and supports women to exit sexual exploitation, but further notes the view that there is a large body of work still to be carried out to ensure that the burden of criminality shifts from the victims of sexual exploitation to those who perpetrate and profit from this abuse.


I am delighted to bring to the chamber this crucial debate on the urgent need to reform our laws on prostitution, and I thank colleagues from all sides of the chamber for their support. I pay tribute to the Minister for Community Safety, Ash Regan, for her strong leadership and unswerving commitment on the issue.

Prostitution is violence against women. As a former Women’s Aid worker and homelessness worker, I have supported women—often very young—who were trafficked from Ayrshire to Glasgow and subjected to the most traumatic sexual exploitation. I heard accounts by women who had been abused by their partners and made to perform sexual acts on their partner’s friends, often for his amusement and financial gain. The Scottish Government rightly recognises that in “Equally Safe: Scotland’s strategy for preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls”.

The Government is to be congratulated for its pledge—made in this Parliament, through the programme for government—to challenge men’s demand for prostitution in Scotland. Reducing men’s demand while supporting women to exit and recover after sexual exploitation must be the overriding objective of public policy on prostitution. It is clear, however, that that policy objective cannot be achieved without legislative reform, because Scotland’s prostitution laws are outdated and unjust. Men who exploit women by paying for sex enjoy impunity—online pimping is legal, while women who are exploited through prostitution can themselves face criminal sanctions for soliciting. We recognise that prostitution is violence against women, but our laws do not, and the consequences are all too real.

First, demand for prostitution is being enabled rather than deterred. Only 4 per cent of men in Scotland have paid for sex in the past five years, according to the latest figures, and it is demand from that minority of men that is driving the brutal prostitution trade in Scotland and the trafficking of women into it. Men who pay for sex are making a choice; they are not helplessly responding to uncontrollable sexual urges. Their choice to seek out and pay a person to perform sex acts on them is influenced by a range of factors, including the very small risk of criminal sanction. In 2018, a study by the University of Leicester asked more than 1,200 sex buyers, “Would you change your behaviour if a law was introduced that made it a crime to pay for sex?” More than half the respondents said that they would “definitely”, “probably” or “possibly” change their behaviour, yet right now, unless a man solicits a woman in a public place, there is no risk of criminal sanction for paying for sex in Scotland. A sex buyer knows that if he perpetrates that form of violence against women, the criminal justice system will be a passive bystander.

Another intolerable consequence of our outdated prostitution laws is that commercial pimping websites operate openly and legally, and they are fuelling sex trafficking across the country. Those highly lucrative websites make their money by hosting advertisements for prostitution—they are, in effect, the red-light district of the internet. Men who want to sexually exploit women can anonymously and freely peruse ads on those sites; select women from an online catalogue according to their own location and preferences; and order them as easily as they might order a takeaway.

A groundbreaking inquiry by the Parliament’s cross-party group on commercial sexual exploitation found that those websites incentivise sexual trafficking and sexual exploitation in Scotland. They make their grotesque business of trafficking women into prostitution and advertising them to sex buyers substantially easier and quicker by centralising demand on a very small number of online platforms.

In addition, despite prostitution being recognised in our national strategy as a form of gender-based violence, our prostitution laws can make it harder for women to leave the sex trade and recover. Sanctioning and punishing women for their own exploitation is wholly counter to the policy objective of supporting women to exit prostitution. Those women can face enormous barriers to exiting the sex trade and rebuilding their life—those can be practical, physical or psychological, including the effects of trauma, and injuries sustained can be horrific and mental scars long-lasting. Financial difficulties, coercion by pimps and abusive partners and having a criminal record for soliciting can also put blockers on the road to recovery. As a society, we should offer victims support and not sanctions.

Diane Martin, a Scottish survivor of prostitution and trafficking who was awarded a CBE for her tireless work in supporting women to exit and recover from sexual exploitation, has said:

“I want to be part of a Scotland that completely rejects the idea that women and girls can be for sale, treated as commodities by men who believe this is their right and entitlement.”

I agree, and I am delighted to support the campaign that Diane is now chairing to end that entitlement: A Model for Scotland. It is an alliance of survivors, organisations and front-line services that is calling for a new progressive legal model to combat commercial sexual exploitation in Scotland. That model must do the following: decriminalise victims of sexual exploitation; provide comprehensive support and exiting services for victims; wipe previous convictions for soliciting from victims’ criminal records; criminalise paying for sex; and prohibit online pimping.

By shifting the burden of criminality off victims and on to those who perpetrate and profit from the abuse, those reforms will bring Scotland in line with the approach that is taken in Sweden, Iceland, Norway, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Israel, France and elsewhere. Spain also looks set to join that growing list, with the Spanish Prime Minister declaring earlier this month:

“We will advance by abolishing prostitution, which enslaves women.”

Two decades after Sweden shifted the burden of criminality in 1999, research there reveals that, since that approach was introduced, public attitudes on paying for sex have transformed, traffickers are being deterred and demand for prostitution has dropped. The most recent research on prevalence found that, from the base sex-buyer figure of 12.7 per cent in 1999, only 7.5 per cent of men now pay for sex, and of those, only 0.8 per cent had paid for sex in previous 12 months—the smallest proportion recorded in two decades, and the lowest in Europe.

Evidence from the United States also highlights the effectiveness of action against pimping websites. In 2018, those websites were criminalised in the US, and an analysis of the impact of that legislation one year later revealed that the prostitution advertising market had been significantly disrupted and demand had dropped. Commenting on the legislation, Valiant Richey, a special representative and co-ordinator for combating trafficking at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, told members of the Parliament:

“That bill passed and the market declined by eighty per cent in seventy-two hours ... I’m not aware of any anti-trafficking legislation anywhere in the history of the world that had such an impact on the market in such a short time.”

The Scottish Government has pledged to challenge men’s demand for prostitution and support women to exit, and it is now time to deliver on that pledge. We need a model for Scotland that shifts the criminality off victims and on to those who perpetrate and profit from sexual exploitation. It will be a model of which Scotland can be proud, and its adoption will mark a historic step forward in the battle for equality between women and men.


I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate, and I congratulate and thank Elena Whitham for bringing it to the chamber.

This is a complex issue that does not have one simple answer—indeed, there are many different views and opinions on how to address the matter of prostitution in our society. We need to be clear that criminalising the people who sell sex has not worked and will not work in the future. We need to undertake a review of the laws surrounding the issue, not only to protect vulnerable women but to prevent further violence against them. Those who sell sex should be able to seek help and support to exit prostitution without fear, and without the risk of facing criminal proceedings against them. No one should face the consequences of the law for trying to get out of the sex industry, and we must ensure that the legislation that the Parliament brings forward provides safe passage for anyone who wants to exit.

Prostitution, whether by force or by circumstance, can be overcome only by having a more equal society. Access to adequate income and living standards, and an ability to provide for oneself and one’s family, is fundamental to ensuring that there are other options aside from prostitution. No one should ever need to sell their body in order to feed their children or heat their home. We must also challenge the attitude of men with regard to the purchase of sex. Internationally, there are countries that have different systems, and which are seeking to educate men while not criminalising the sex workers. We should seek to work with those countries to find a system that works for the people of Scotland.

We should be working with those who have direct, lived experience of prostitution to ensure that Scotland has a system that works for them and with them, to protect them from harm. The public consultation, which reported back in July, was an important first step on the journey to improve the legislation on sex work.

Women are being exposed to extreme risk every day in the sex industry, while male buyers remain unchallenged and their actions go without consequence. We need a Scottish system that seeks to recognise the outstanding gender inequalities in our society, to provide everyone with an adequate income to live on and to support those who wish to exit the sex industry.

I urge Parliament to think outside the box. Let us find the solutions that benefit and protect, so that in the future no one is forced, for any reason, to be part of the sex industry.


It is a great privilege to participate in the debate. Let us start with the basics: this is a men’s problem, not a women’s problem. I am happy to say that.

Violence against women and girls specifically has no place in modern Scottish culture. We talk a lot about it in Parliament in the work that we do in the chamber and in committees, but here is an opportunity for us to move that conversation on from words into action. In the previous parliamentary session, we worked across parties on the historic Redress for Survivors (Historical Child Abuse in Care) (Scotland) Act 2021, seeking to right some of the wrongs of the past, so we have a good track record of working together on issues such as this. We can take a similar collaborative approach on the topic of today’s debate.

I thank the people who have provided us with briefings from the various campaigns for the debate, including A Model for Scotland, Speak Out Survivors, Rape Crisis Scotland and UK Feminista, all of which have been in touch with me in the past few days. I am pleased to have had calls with some of them individually, not least because of my role as a member of the Criminal Justice Committee and as my party’s justice spokesperson.

Those campaigners are seeking a move away from the status quo. They are loud and clear with us as lawmakers that they want to see the law in Scotland changed from prosecuting the sale of sex and replaced with criminalising the purchase of sex. That is commonly known as the Nordic model, but the model that we have in Scotland is also very different to that of others of our friends and neighbours, such as the Republic of Ireland, Iceland and even Canada. They take a very different approach.

Whatever we do and whatever changes we make to the law, our actions must be informed by those with lived experienced. Their stories have been eye opening and upsetting. They are largely women who have been trafficked, beaten up, raped, abused and coerced. Basically, they have been exploited. I found one account in the briefings particularly distressing. I will quote from it, because it puts issue into context:

“I became involved in prostitution in my early twenties, courtesy of my then ‘boyfriend’; I now use the word pimp ... I often threw up at the anticipation and couldn’t have done it sober ... I developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I got flashbacks and nightmares ... I sold myself to fund my habit ... It was a vicious cycle.”

As Elena Whitham mentioned in her opening comments, some 3.6 per cent of men in the United Kingdom are reported to have paid for sex in the past five years, which is down from 12.7 per cent in 1996. That is a huge improvement and a large step forward, but it is still 3.6 per cent of men, and that is still a lot of people. It still allows for serious organised crime to exploit people on an industrial scale.

When I lived in London, I first encountered survivors of male prostitution in the LGBT community. There were many charities around to support them. The underlying trigger for them had often been drug addiction, homelessness, and, essentially, the desperation for cash. I commend the work of the LGBT Foundation, as well as the Men’s Room in Manchester, which has been doing great work. We know that, irrespective of whether the person is a man or a woman, the trafficking, the mental and physical abuse, the trauma—psychological and physical—that are involved in prostitution are things that we need to something about.

Of course, as times change, so does the law. The old-fashioned ideas of what constitutes prostitution—of postcards in phone boxes and women walking the streets—are outdated, because they have been replaced by new digital and modern ways of allowing the activity to flourish. Much of the activity has moved online, and we know of examples where there has been a crackdown on that. For example, in the US there is the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2018, which has—to an extent—worked. However, we all know that, realistically, for every one website, app or community group that we shut down, another one will pop up just as quickly, because the scale of the revenues involved in organised crime is insane.

Opinion on this issue is divided—I want to put that on the record in today’s debate. We received representations from Dr Anastacia Ryan of the sex workers advocacy project, Umbrella Lane, who is against the Nordic model. She says that when we criminalise the purchase of sex, all we do is drive the industry further underground. I know that that is not a universal view and that it is perhaps a controversial view for some, but it makes it clear that, whatever we do next, anyone who has a voice and a view must be afforded the opportunity to share it, and we must listen.

I welcome comments that the minister has previously made on the issue. We are making progress, and I know that there is a desire to work on a cross-party basis to make it happen. Conservative members will work constructively on any proposals that are brought forward. I know that there is an appetite in Parliament to address the issue and get it right. Scotland has the opportunity to be world leading in that respect.


I thank Elena Whitham for bringing the debate to the chamber. There seem to be a few members’ business debates this week that male MSPs might feel wary about taking part in. However, I will certainly give it a go, and I very much agree with Jamie Greene that this is a men’s issue.

In summary, I agree very much with the motion concerning commercial sexual exploitation. Next to no action has been taken against men over the years, despite the fact that it is almost always men who are purchasing and abusing and that, if anyone has been subject to criminal charges, it has been the victims, who are normally women but who of course can occasionally also be men.

The argument always comes up that some women are choosing sex work as a valid career choice. I recognise that, as we have sought to encourage increased equality for women over the years, it might be a natural reaction for some to see this issue as one of increased choices for women. Therefore, they would say, there should be no criminalisation for anyone.

I do not deny that some women may be making free choices to sell sex. However, it seems clear that the norm is that women are the victims and are subject to physical, sexual, and mental abuse. If anyone has seen the film “I, Daniel Blake”, they will know that it deals very powerfully with the failings of the Department for Work and Pensions and the need for food banks. However, it also shows a woman who has been failed by the system: a woman who is not eating—I find this quite difficult to say—so that her kids can have food and who ends up, through extreme financial pressures, being driven into prostitution. That was not her choice or something that she wanted to do. She was forced into that by a lack of support, which I suggest is a much more typical situation. It might be a partner coercing someone, it might be a drug habit, or it might be the result of trafficking from another country. Whichever way you look at it, that woman in dire need is the victim and should be protected by our systems and our law.

I think that I first became aware of all this when I was a Glasgow councillor between 1998 and 2008. The issue of routes out of prostitution was pretty high on the agenda, and I attended a number of meetings where we heard about the Nordic model and how other countries were criminalising the purchase of sex. Women were clearly the victims in the vast majority of cases, with only a tiny minority freely choosing to sell sex. I pay tribute to Labour councillor Jim Coleman and to others in Glasgow City Council and Strathclyde Police, as it was at that time, all of whom were convinced that that was the right line to take. Since coming to the Scottish Parliament and again hearing from survivors of prostitution, it has become much clearer to me that women, and some men, are the victims in this, while the abusers are almost always men.

There were some good briefings for today’s debate, for which I thank the Encompass Network, CARE and others. Encompass, in particular, made the point that, although not every woman in the sex trade has been trafficked, almost all trafficked women in Europe are in the sex trade.

Scotland has done well and this Parliament has been strong in challenging human trafficking and modern slavery. Surely now is the time to continue that good work by passing legislation to criminalise the purchase of sex. I thank Elena Whitham, Rhoda Grant and the minister for putting their heads above the parapet on what has not always been a popular issue. I hope that the tide is now turning, as it has done elsewhere, and that we will see progress soon.


I, too, thank Elena Whitham for securing this important debate. We must criminalise online pimping and paying for sex, while decriminalising victims and providing them with holistic support.

I want to confront some of the myths that are being peddled to urge policy makers to do nothing. Take the claim that criminalising paying for sex would simply make the problem worse because it would drive prostitution underground. Prostitution relies on men being able to locate women to exploit. Therefore, if those men can locate the women, so can support services and the police. The “underground” myth is illogical.

Then there is the claim that criminalising paying for sex would make it more dangerous because women would have less time to assess a potential sex buyer. That claim makes no sense in the case of street prostitution, where sex buyers are already criminalised. The claim also suggests that it is possible for a woman to assess how dangerous a man is simply by looking at him; she cannot. That was all too tragically illustrated by the case of Steve Wright, who murdered five women in Ipswich. Wright was a regular sex buyer and was known to women, locally. One woman described him as “an average, normal punter”. Alan Caton OBE, the chief superintendent who reformed policing of prostitution in Ipswich following the murders, recently wrote:

“too many still accept that as a society we should be a bystander to this form of violence against women—because of threats of what men may do if we try to stop them. It’s straight out of the perpetrator’s playbook.”

What unites the myths that are circulated to oppose criminalising online pimping and paying for sex is the same underlying message: “Do not intervene and do not try to prevent it. Just accept it and be a bystander.” It is time for Parliament to stop being a bystander.

Vested interests will oppose any attempt to shift the burden of criminality off victims and on to perpetrators, because that would undermine their ability to profit from sexual exploitation. There will also be groups that lobby for those interests, such as the Global Network of Sex Work Projects , which is based in Edinburgh. For years, that group has led an international campaign to remove all criminal laws relating to prostitution and to oppose attempts to criminalise paying for sex. In 2015, the group’s vice-president was exposed as a sex trafficker and jailed for 15 years. The organisation continues to lobby the Scottish Government not to criminalise paying for sex.

Then there is Umbrella Lane, which is also based in Scotland and which is regularly quoted in the media opposing calls to shift the burden of criminality off victims and on to those who perpetrate and profit from sexual exploitation. What is not usually mentioned, however, is that Umbrella Lane has previously accepted funding from Vivastreet, which is one of the UK’s biggest pimping websites. That site has repeatedly advertised victims of trafficking and it stands to lose substantial profits if Scotland outlaws its operations. Escort Scotland, which is another pimping website, also told the cross-party group on commercial sexual exploitation that it had provided funding to Umbrella Lane. I have no doubt that those organisations will try to frame their support as an act of corporate social responsibility, but let us be absolutely clear about what is happening: those commercial pimping operations are funding groups that lobby in their interests.

It is time for the Parliament to come together and stand against the vested interests of the sex industry and to stop being bystanders. It is time for a legal model to end commercial sexual exploitation in Scotland.


I thank Elena Whitham for bringing this important debate. I welcome our Parliament looking at the reform of prostitution in Scotland. It is unacceptable that in 2021 there is still so much to do to tackle violence against women and girls. Let us be clear: prostitution is an extreme form of violence, which is carried out primarily against women.

Prostitution is something that society, and not just Government, needs to address. Attitudes need to change. The old trope that prostitution is the oldest profession reflects the subordinate position that women have always held in society and their exploitation by men. Women and girls are forced into prostitution through inequality and not choice. As the Scottish Government’s consultation notes,

“many women engage in prostitution because of poverty”

and difficulty entering employment.

Addressing poverty and improving the social welfare system are undoubtedly a core part of any attempt to lessen men’s ability to coercively control women who are engaged in prostitution. Disadvantages that are experienced by women and girls are societal issues that cannot be addressed by this area of policy alone. Our nation prides itself on being fair and progressive, so while we have these very important conversations about how to reform our prostitution laws, we must not lose sight of the bigger picture, which is that this is also about the overall effort to improve the lives of women.

Whenever prostitution is discussed, the role that is played by the clients is disregarded, protected and minimised. The current prostitution law fails to deter the perpetrators of this form of gender-based violence, nor does it hold them to account.

In some Forth Valley communities, on-street prostitution is practically non-existent, but off-street prostitution is reported. Properties—often short-term lets—are reported by concerned residents for suspicious activity. Forth Valley police carry out what they call SHAW—support, health and wellbeing—visits, during which they offer support and assistance to any women who they think could be being coerced or pressurised into prostitution or could be a victim of sex trafficking. The phrase “hiding in plain sight” is often used. The highly lucrative pimping websites that operate openly in Scotland have been found not only to facilitate but to incentivise sex trafficking.

We in Parliament must show leadership and commitment to the women of this country that we will address every contributing factor that is making this world unfair, unsafe and unjust for women. We can learn from the Nordic model, which in essence makes the act of buying sex illegal and shifts sanctions on to the buyers, who are primarily men. We can also learn from New Zealand’s decriminalisation approach. Our focus must be on finding a model that seeks to protect women’s safety, offers them an exit and promotes their rights, while also tackling inequality as the root cause.

At the heart of this effort, we must listen to the women who have lived experience, and I very much agree with Jamie Greene’s comments in that regard. We must also work on challenging men’s and boys’ attitudes and behaviours towards women. The culture of violence against women starts with the sexual comments that go unchallenged, the gropings that are laughed off and the constant harassment that means that women cannot enjoy a simple night out in peace. We have a duty to imagine and build a world without prostitution, to transform society and to see real equality between men and women.


I also thank Elena Whitham for bringing forward the motion for debate. The motion rightly highlights the essential injustice that sex workers face under the current legal framework. They face criminal sanctions for soliciting, under section 46 of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982. The threat of criminal sanctions deters many sex workers from seeking support, including support to leave sex work altogether. That is an untenable position, which is why we must remove the burden of criminality from sex workers.

To explain why that is the case, I will highlight some of the consequences of criminalisation. It prevents sex workers from accessing essential healthcare services, impacting on their health. Concerns about the link between criminalisation and poor health among sex workers are shared by international bodies including the World Health Organization and UNAIDS—the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS. The World Health Organization found that female sex workers were up to 30 times more likely to be living with HIV than other women of reproductive age.

Human Rights Watch has found that criminalisation makes sex workers more prone to violence, including assault and rape. That is because criminalisation stigmatises sex workers, reducing their likelihood of seeking police help and increasing their use of unsafe locations for work. Human Rights Watch surveyed South African sex workers who said that they were less likely to report crimes to the police because of the illegality of sex work. That, in turn, left them at risk of suffering violence that they then did not report to the police.

We can break that vicious cycle by taking a decriminalisation approach. That does not mean abolishing laws that protect sex workers from exploitation, human trafficking and violence; it means removing the laws and policies that criminalise the selling and buying of sexual services. Decriminalisation is supported by a broad range of organisations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women and is increasingly backed by evidence from international bodies including the World Health Organization and UN agencies. The World Health Organization estimates that decriminalisation could lead to an almost 50 per cent reduction in new HIV infections in sex workers over 10 years.

Decriminalisation alone is not enough. We must also tackle the underlying material issues that often drive people into sex work in the first place. For some, it is a lack of employment or educational opportunities; for others, it is rising living costs including those of rent, food and heating. Some sex workers have chronic conditions or disabilities and turn to sex work because of inadequate social security provision. Until there is a concerted effort to improve material conditions, we will see people turning to sex work.

Continuing the criminalisation of sex workers will not help individuals to leave sex work. The evidence shows that it will not reduce violence against sex workers. Criminalisation serves as a barrier to sex workers accessing essential services such as healthcare. We need a new approach, which is why I believe that we should pursue decriminalisation.

I will conclude by sharing a worker’s testimony that I received. Kim, who is an Edinburgh-based migrant worker, said this in response to the proposal to criminalise buyers:

“We are just out of a whole year of Covid, which showed that taking our clients away does not magically deliver us into a new life free from exploitation, but rather makes us poor and hungry and heavily dependent on the few clients that are left.”


I too thank Elena Whitham for securing the debate and for her many years of campaigning on this issue. The emotion with which she delivered her speech was palpable. I pay tribute to the important work that was done during the previous session of Parliament by the cross-party group on commercial sexual exploitation, led by Rhoda Grant MSP and my good friend Ruth Maguire MSP.

Ms Maguire would be speaking in the debate if she were here. I have no doubt that, when she comes back, she will get wired straight into resuming her work on the issue. That work challenges often very powerful people and has the safety of some of the most marginalised women at its heart.

The work of the CPG has led in no small part to proposed law reforms in the area. Its report on sexual exploitation advertising websites, published earlier this year, is an important piece of work that shines a light on how websites have increased sex trafficking and how they allow those who profit from sex trafficking to evade prosecution. Those who profit are most often organised crime groups and, as Rhoda Grant detailed in her speech, their insinuation into superficially benign lobby groups is pernicious. Advertisements on pimping sites might look like they are from the women, but they are more likely to have been posted by their pimps.

As members would expect, the report is a challenging read, as it pulls back the curtain on some of the worst crimes against women that are happening right under our noses in Scotland. I am in firm agreement with Rhoda Grant when she says in the introduction to the report that

“we need to tackle the exploiters and protect and empower those they exploit.”

The women who are exploited—those who are pimped out—should not be sanctioned by the law for soliciting. That means repealing section 46 of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982. Criminalising them for soliciting is not helping the women, whom many of us consider to be victims. We should go after the people who exploit those women. I agree with the recommendation in the CPG’s report that we should introduce laws that sanction those who enable and profit from the prostitution of other people, as the countries that Elena Whitham mentioned have done.

In 2018, the Home Office estimated that a trafficked individual is held by the people who run their life for nine months. It also estimated that such an individual would experience an average of 795 counts of rape and assault during that time. That type of modern slavery is most prevalent in countries that have loosened laws on buying and profiting from prostitution—the so-called legalising of prostitution.

Germany springs to mind. Expert studies have shown that, by normalising prostitution, the German state has contributed to an enormous increase in demand and an influx in trafficked women—from eastern Europe in particular—who earn barely enough money to cover their enforced rental of brothel rooms. Their existence has been likened to that of battery hens, never seeing daylight.

I urge members to read the speech of Dr Ingeborg Kraus to the Italian Parliament on the impact of the changes in German law that were made in 2002. Mercedes Villalba talked about the decriminalisation of the buyer but I say to her with the greatest of respect that that would contribute to something akin to what has happened in Germany and I am totally against that.

As I said in the members’ business debate on the subject in the previous session of the Parliament, the myth of prostitution as a career choice helps only those who exploit women. Those organisations also perpetrate the myth that prostitution makes sex work safer, as women do not have to walk the streets. It is a myth, too, that punters are vetted. In fact, all agency is taken away from women. Access to the women’s bodies is controlled by their pimps, who market them in any way that they see fit, with the exploited women having no say in what they are forced to do or the men with whom they do it.

Our focus must be on protecting exploited women. That means criminalising traffickers and the people who exploit women. I applaud calls to extend that to the buyers, who are just as guilty of exploitation as the people who traffic and pimp.


I thank Elena Whitham for lodging the motion. It is fitting that we discuss this important issue ahead of the annual United Nations 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, which take place later this month. Elena Whitham gave an excellent speech. One sentence from it stood out particularly—when she mentioned sanctioning and criminalising women for their own exploitation. That is an important point.

I was pleased to attend the alliance’s launch in September and am grateful to it for providing a platform to discuss what model is right for Scotland to challenge men’s demand for prostitution, keep safe those who sell and ensure that support remains an integral part of the design.

I thank all members who have contributed to the debate. Rhoda Grant made some powerful points and Gillian Martin gave an excellent speech.

I am committed to working with members across the chamber and with stakeholders on tackling prostitution in the context of how women and girls should be viewed in an equal society. Our current programme for government commits to that action. We have now begun work to develop our own model for Scotland to effectively tackle and challenge men’s demand for prostitution.

The Scottish model will be underpinned by principles that are in line with our aspirations to embed equality and human rights in Scotland, and support our efforts to tackle men’s violence against women. It will meet our international obligations, including our commitments to incorporate into Scots law the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women.

Our key aim is to reduce the stigma and criminalisation that are experienced by women and encourage better access to integrated and specialised services. In the consultation that the Government ran recently, a number of respondents noted the need for support for the women involved to be holistic, person centred and capable of addressing the multiple underlying needs that many women have. As such, we have committed to engaging with those who have direct or lived experience in order to shape services and design measures that will protect them from harm and provide them with the support that they need, including help to exit prostitution, if they so wish. Jamie Greene and Jackie Dunbar raised that point.

By the end of this month, we will be seeking to procure experts to better understand current support service provision and the needs of service users who are engaged in, or have lived experience of, prostitution in Scotland, to better inform future service design.

We will also convene a short-life working group with key stakeholders on the development of the fundamental principles of our model for Scotland. Arrangements to begin that engagement are already in hand, and we hope to hold the first meeting of the group in the next few weeks.

I understand the desire for more information on the shape of the criminal aspects of our model, but I think that everyone will understand that we must take time to get it right. The model must operate effectively not only to hold those who buy sex to account, but to deter them from purchasing sex, because such behaviour has no place in a modern Scotland.

I appreciate what the minister says, but she will also accept that a range of views have been expressed in the chamber, and probably outwith it, today. We know that legislation takes time, but let us not beat about the bush. On the way home from the Parliament this evening, I will walk past three so-called saunas in Edinburgh city centre. We all know what is going on behind closed doors. Is there anything that the Government can do now to address the issue?

We are constantly working to address the issue. About six weeks ago, I had a meeting with Police Scotland, and I raised that exact issue. I hope that Police Scotland will come back to me with a bit more information on its approach.

To inform our approach, we are undertaking a programme of work to look at international successes that have challenged men’s demand for prostitution. We want to build on the experience of what has gone before and understand how we can apply it in Scotland. It is vital to ensure that any changes that are introduced in law are balanced with the necessary package of measures that will ensure that women are supported and their needs met by the services that are available.

I will quote Diane Martin, who has been working in this area for 20 years. My quote is similar to that used by Elena Whitham earlier. Diane Martin said:

“I want to see the Sex Buyer Law introduced ... because it is the demand that fuels the exploitation that is the sex industry.”

She also said:

“I want it to be near impossible for organised crime, pimps and punters to operate here”,


“I want to be part of a society that rejects the idea that people are for sale”.

I agree with Diane Martin.

Prostitution cannot be considered in isolation, and there are many aspects that we need to look at, including online advertising—a number of speakers have mentioned that, and I note the excellent work that the CPG did on it—substance misuse, human trafficking and increased economic hardship, which may make women more at risk of prostitution. We are alive to all those issues and will be working on them.

Sometimes when I talk to people about prostitution, I think that they wonder why there is an emphasis on challenging demand—they think that there are more important things that we could be doing. That is because, for a lot of people, prostitution is hidden and not out in the open, confronting people with its reality. Often, it is in the shadows. Even so, I believe that prostitution harms the individual and impacts on society’s view of all women. After all, the misogynistic attitudes of sex buyers are well documented. How women are viewed and treated, and men’s violence against women, are connected. My vision is of a Scotland where all women and girls are treated with respect, not one where we turn a blind eye to abuse, violence and trafficking.

A few years ago, I met a young woman who had been prostituted but had exited prostitution by the time I met her. She told me about finishing her studies and embarking on a professional career—she had entered prostitution when she was still a girl. She also told me that something really had to be done about the punters, because they are the ones who are driving it. She then looked at me and said, “Actually, I’m really surprised that you’re here. I didn’t think that the Government cared about people like me.” Well, we do care.

Meeting closed at 17:51.