Gavin Shuker: Organised sexual exploitation is a national scandal. It must be stopped
A minority of UK men who pay to sexually access women’s bodies are driving this form of modern-day slavery. To end the exploitation and trafficking we must criminalise paying for sex, writes Gavin Shuker, the chair of the APPG on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade
Right now, Britain is losing in the fight against sex trafficking. An inquiry by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade has revealed that the sexual exploitation of women in ‘pop-up’ brothels by organised crime groups is taking place on an industrial scale across England and Wales. A revolving door of vulnerable women, predominantly from Eastern Europe, are being supplied by trafficking gangs into residential properties and hotels in order to be sexually exploited by UK men.
During the course of the APPG’s inquiry, we took evidence from half of all police forces in England and Wales – accompanying officers on brothel visits, speaking with police leaders, as well as taking evidence from those that sell sex - to build up the most comprehensive contemporary picture of the nature of off-street prostitution in this country.
The findings make for chilling reading - and demand urgent action by Government. The UK is currently a low-risk destination for organised crime groups seeking to sexually exploit vulnerable women. A handful of prostitution procurement websites enable this trade, making sizeable profits and directly benefitting from the exploitation of others. Rental landlords, online booking companies, and hotel sites indirectly profit from the practice as exploiters take advantage of poor safeguards to hire new sites for prostitution. But it is the minority of UK men who pay to sexually access women’s bodies who are driving this form of modern-day slavery.
The pattern of commercial sexual exploitation in this country is changing, but the challenge to lawmakers remains the same as it ever was - to take action to reduce the scale and impact of prostitution and end demand for the trafficking of women into and around the United Kingdom. Our report - Behind closed doors: organised sexual exploitation in England and Wales - provides practical solutions, building on two previous reports by the APPG on Prostitution that looked at the right legal settlement on prostitution, and on how to implement an effective sex buyer law.
What is clear is that to end sex trafficking the Government must combat demand for it by criminalising paying for sex. A study of 6,000 UK men found 3.6 per cent report having paid for sex in the past five years. It is the money from this minority of men that lines the pockets of traffickers. Without their demand, there would be no ‘supply’ of women into this ruthless trade. Detective Constable Julie Currie, from the Met Police’s Modern Slavery and Kidnap Unit, told the inquiry: “In the vast majority of cases males paying for sex will give no thought to where the woman has come from or what circumstances have led her into prostitution.”
France, Sweden, Iceland, Norway, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have all criminalised paying for sex and decriminalised selling sex in recognition that it is demand that drives prostitution and sex trafficking. The most recent study on sex buying in Sweden, the first country to adopt this ‘end demand’ approach, found 0.8 per cent of men in Sweden had paid for sex in the previous 12 months - the smallest proportion recorded in two decades and the lowest level in Europe.
Prostitution procurements websites that organised crime groups use to advertise women to sex buyers must also be targeted, with the owners and operators of these sites held legally accountable for facilitating and profiting from sexual exploitation. The Joint Slavery and Trafficking Analysis Centre - a multi-agency intelligence unit established by policing, HMG and the National Crime Agency - told us: “Adult services websites represent the most significant enabler of sexual exploitation in the UK.”
The scale on which organised sexual exploitation is taking place in this country is a national scandal. It can – and must - be stopped.
Gavin Shuker is Labour MP for Luton South and chair of the APPG on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade