On Tuesday, the Scottish Government announced its Programme for Government where it sets out its legislative agenda for 2019/20.
With a keen interest in matters of public policy, at CARE we always pay careful attention to such announcements to try and identify any concerns or opportunities presented by the Programme.
One area where CARE has campaigned hard is the issue of prostitution law. For many years, we have worked to see the purchase of sex made illegal in Scotland, and in England and Wales as well.
At the moment, the only part of the UK where buying sex is a criminal offence is Northern Ireland. There are however a growing number of countries around the world where such an offence has been introduced.
Scottish Govt to consult on prostitution law
It was intriguing to see, buried in page 142 of the official Programme, that the Scottish Government is committed to exploring what more can be done to address prostitution in Scotland.
The two paragraphs of text said this:
“We are committed to exploring what more can be done to address prostitution in Scotland, recognising it as a form of violence against women.
We will consult on approaches to challenge men’s demand for prostitution, continue to support work to reduce the harms associated with commercial sexual exploitation and help women to exit prostitution.”
Some key questions
We welcome these commitments from the Scottish Government. At CARE we have argued extensively that prostitution is not a job like any other. The vast majority of people in prostitution are not there out of choice, but because of a range of other factors, such as abuse, coercion, exploitation and lack of finance.
The first key question is whether the Scottish Government is prepared for the challenge of attempting to criminalise the purchase of sex because there are those who are very much against any such move.
Then, secondly, what form will the commitment to help women exit prostitution take? Throwing a bit more money at this will not do. To truly help women exit prostitution, significant finance is needed to make sure support exists and remains in place for a long enough time period so no one is left short-changed.
What happens now?
We wait for the consultation to be announced and then what the Scottish Government’s response to the consultation will be. It would be fantastic if Scotland took this step of making buying sex illegal. It would strengthen its response to human trafficking, which is linked to a demand for paid sex and it would also send a powerful signal about the value of a person’s body.
At CARE, we believe people were created for purpose, not purchase. No-one should be in a position where they feel they have to sell their body for sex in order to make a living. The Scottish Government is making some positive noises. It remains to be seen if it has the courage to follow through.