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Tue, 26 January 2021

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To stop sexual exploitation, we should criminalise paying for sex

To stop sexual exploitation, we should criminalise paying for sex

Our lax laws on sexual exploitation allow commercial pimping websites to operate free from criminal sanction, writes Diana Johnson MP. | PA Images

4 min read

To dismantle the business model of sex trafficking, we have to tackle the demand that drives sexual exploitation and stop the ruthless individuals who facilitate it

Right now, sex trafficking is too easy and too profitable. Our lax laws on sexual exploitation allow commercial pimping websites to operate free from criminal sanction.

These websites help sex traffickers advertise their victims to sex buyers across the country. Being able to target advertising at men who pay for sex is, of course, central to the business model of sex trafficking. Pimping websites could barely make it any easier.

The ‘advertiser’ on a pimping website simply fills out an online form and pays either to publish the advert or boost its prominence on the site. The sex buyer, meanwhile, can browse this online catalogue of women for free and, while remaining completely anonymous, simply call the mobile number provided in the advert to ‘place his order’. A few highly lucrative pimping websites dominate this marketplace, centralising and concentrating the UK’s customer base online, ready for sex traffickers to tap.

One police force reported to my parliamentary group that a trafficker they caught had spent £25,000 advertising his victims on a pimping website. Once alerted to this man spending large sums of money placing prostitution adverts, the website company responded not by calling the police, but by giving the man his own account manager.

Above all else, what sex traffickers rely on to keep profits flowing is demand. Just 3.6% of men in the UK have paid for sex in the past five years, but it is these men who commit the thousands of rapes perpetrated against victims of trafficking every year in this country, and it is their money that lines the pockets of sex traffickers.

Here’s what one sex buyer wrote on a website dedicated to men’s reviews of women they have paid for sex: “This is a classic case of ‘the pretty ones don’t have to work hard’. …She’s Polish, and her English is not good... I was reminded of the Smiths’ song ‘Girlfriend in a Coma’... All the while she seemed completely disinterested and mechanical… I finally decided to fuck her… All the while, she kept her face turned to one side.” He paid £100 to do that to her.

To dismantle the business model of sex trafficking, we have to tackle the demand that drives sexual exploitation and stop the ruthless individuals who facilitate it.

The UK needs to criminalise paying for sex because it is the demand that fuels the exploitation that is the sex industry

My Sexual Exploitation Bill would deter demand by criminalising paying for sex. It would prevent pimping websites from fuelling trafficking by prohibiting enabling or profiting from another person’s prostitution. Crucially, my bill would also decriminalise victims of sexual exploitation by removing sanctions for soliciting, and instead give victims the support services they need to rebuild their lives. 

By adopting my bill, our strengthened sexual exploitation laws would be in line with those of Northern Ireland, Ireland, France, Sweden, Norway, Israel and Iceland – all countries that have adopted demand reduction legislation to stop sex trafficking and sexual exploitation. 

Sweden was the first country to adopt demand reduction legislation in 1999, providing over two decades of evidence of its effectiveness in reducing demand, changing public attitudes and deterring sex traffickers. Surveys conducted in 1996 and 2008 found that the proportion of men in Sweden who reported paying for sex reduced from 13% to 8%.

Diane Martin CBE, a survivor of sex trafficking and prostitution, insists “the UK needs to criminalise paying for sex because it is the demand that fuels the exploitation that is the sex industry. Without demand from sex buyers, there would be no supply of vulnerable women and girls to be exploited in prostitution.” Exactly.

England and Wales must no longer be a soft touch for sex traffickers. I urge the Home Secretary to back my Sexual Exploitation Bill.

 

Diana Johnson is the Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull North.

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