United Kingdom
Prostitution

Prostitution policy: Legalised

Prostituted persons: 60.000 – 80.000

In England and Wales, the sale and purchase of sexual services between consenting adults is legal. It is estimated that there are between 60,000 and 80,000 sex workers in the UK, the majority women, working either on the streets, or more commonly now in a variety of indoor environments. It is estimated (based on a small sample) that around 11% of British men aged 16–74 have paid for sex on at least one occasion (which equates to about 2.3 million individuals).
Various activities related to prostitution, such as soliciting, kerb crawling, brothel-keeping and various forms of exploitation, are illegal. These activities are controlled through legal provisions which have been implemented over a period of decades, through several different laws, with a view to protecting vulnerable people from exploitation and reducing the negative impacts of prostitution on local communities.

Prostitution UK

• Around 11% of British men aged 16–74 have paid for sex on at least one occasion, which equates to 2.3 million individuals.
• The number of sex workers in the UK is estimated to be around 72,800 with about 32,000 working in London.
• Sex workers have an average of 25 clients per week paying an average of £78 per visit.
• In 2014–15, there were 456 prosecutions of sex workers for loitering and soliciting.
• An estimated 152 sex workers were murdered between 1990 and 2015. 49% of sex workers (in one survey) said that they were worried about their safety.
• There were 1,139 victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation in 2014, and 248 in April to June 2015 (following implementation of the Modern Slavery Act 2015).

The main legislation relating to prostitution is contained in the following Acts:
• Sexual Offences Act 2003
• Policing and Crime Act 2009
• Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 (in relation to placing of advertisements relating to prostitution)
• Modern Slavery Act 2015 (in relation to trafficking for sexual exploitation)
• Serious Crime Act 2015 (in relation to sexual exploitation of children)

Note: One of the challenges in examining prostitution is the absence of robust data.
The “facts” set out below have been submitted to the Committee in evidence but should be treated with caution and are open to dispute. Terminology is also disputed, with some opposition to the description “sex workers”. Our use of the term in this report is a neutral one and refers to female, male or transgender adults who receive money in exchange for sexual services.
> Prostitution: Third Report of Session 2016–17

CPS Crown Prosecution Service logo

Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)

Prostitution is addressed as sexual exploitation within the overall CPS Violence Against Women (VAW) strategy because of its gendered nature. As with other VAW crimes, a multi-agency approach is needed to enable women involved in prostitution to develop routes out of prostitution, and to provide the most appropriate support.
> Prostitution and Exploitation of Prostitution

APPG on Prostitution

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade (APPG on Prostitution) brings together parliamentarians from across the political spectrum to work for an end to commercial sexual exploitation.
The APPG holds consultations, commissions research and undertakes inquiries into the sex trade in order to make recommendations for Government action.
> appgprostitution.uk

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade recognise prostitution as VAWG (APPG, 2014) and advocate for the Nordic Model to be adopted in England and Wales.

Reports

> Behind Closed Doors – Organised sexual exploitation in England and Wales (2018)
> How to implement the Sex Buyer Law in the UK (2016)
> Shifting the Burden – Inquiry to assess the operation of the current legal settlement on prostitution in England and Wales (2014)

Gavin Shuker MP
Labour MP for Luton South and chair of the APPG on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade
> Organised sexual exploitation is a national scandal. It must be stopped (21 May 2018)
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.

Speeches from the parliamentary debate -‘Tackling demand for commercial sexual exploitation’ (4 July 2018)- can be watched here:
> Tackling demand for commercial sexual exploitation (4 July 2018)

Sarah Champion MP
Labour MP Sarah Champion held a 90-minute hearing on ‘addressing demand for commercial sexual exploitation’.
> Watch video
> Sarah Champion: Don’t Legitimise Violence Against Women – Adopt The Nordic Model (4 July 2018)

Sarah Champion MP

Prostitution in (and out of) policy on violence against women and girls in the UK

Coy, M. (2017), Journal of Gender-Based Violence, vol 1 no 1, 117–26
DOI: doi.org/10.1332/239868017X14896674831478

Women’s Equality Party

An end to trafficking and sexual exploitation
Violence against women and girls is a global problem and calls for international co-operation as well as local solutions – in particular on defeating the cross-border crime of sex trafficking. The UK should adopt and implement all international treaties focused on eliminating violence against women and girls, including the Istanbul Convention, and be a leading force internationally to persuade other countries do the same.

Traffickers and pimps operate and make a profit from exploiting women because there is demand for the sexual services their victims provide. Without that demand, there would be no reason to abuse women in this way.

WE will make the case for a managed process to end demand for the sex trade in the UK, by legislation that first establishes and funds necessary support and exiting services and then moves on to criminalise the purchase of sex after one to two years to remove the demand.

However, WE also recognise that this issue divides individuals, organisations and political parties across the UK. There needs to be a national debate that raises awareness of the realities of the sex trade, so that anyone buying sex understands the likelihood that women who sell sex may well have been trafficked, forced or abused, and understands how the expectation that women and girls can be bought and sold feeds into wider misogyny. The status quo cannot prevail.
> End Violence Against Women

Sophie Walker
Leader of the Women’s Equality party
> Let’s criminalise the men buying sex, and spare the women they exploit (21 May 2018)
A new report lays bare the brutal realities of life for sex workers in Britain. The law must now change to protect them.

Fiona Bruce MP
Conservative Party MP for Congleton and Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission.
> It’s time for the Conservative party to treat prostitution as the violence against women it truly is (10 July 2018)
‘This is the famously ill-tempered and polarised battle over the legal settlement around prostitution. On one side of the argument are those who believe the burden of criminality should be shifted away from women who are prostituted – and it is mainly women – to those who pay for sex. On the other – those who believe prostitution should be entirely decriminalised, which they believe would make it safer for those who ‘choose’ to make money this way.’

Toby Helm
The Guardian, Observer’s political editor
> Outlaw prostitution websites to protect enslaved and trafficked women, say MPs (30 Jun 2018 )
Online advertisements accessible in the UK are at the heart of a sex industry with organised crime links.

Kat Banyard
Author of Pimp State: Sex, Money and the Future of Equality (Faber & Faber)
> We must stop abuse by criminalising punters (30 Jun 2018 )
The UK must follow France and make the purchase of sex illegal while decriminalising its sale, says activist and author Kat Banyard.

Decriminalise sex workers, says Home Affairs Committee

1 July 2016
The Home Affairs Committee publishes an interim report on prostitution, saying that soliciting by sex workers, and sex workers sharing premises, should be decriminalised.

> Government Response to prostitution report published
> Decriminalise sex workers, says Home Affairs Committee

The Swedish Sex Purchase Law (Nordic Model): evidence of its impact

July 2016
Nordic Model Information Network – Maddy Coy, Helen Pringle and Meagan Tyler
The fundamental premise of the Nordic approach is that the prostitution system is part of and is built on inequality, primarily that between women and men, since it rests on women’s more limited options for economic independence and men’s perceived entitlement to women’s sexualised bodies. Lack of meaningful options to make a decent living, experiences of childhood and adult abuse, coercion and substance misuse are common features in the lives of women in the prostitution system. Prostitution, in turn, reinforces intersecting inequalities of race/ethnicity, class, nationality, sexuality and other markers of social hierarchies as well as gender. The Nordic model, then, is more than a law against paying for sex; it is an approach for more broadly dismantling inequality and promoting equality.
> NMIN briefing on Sweden (PDF)


Amnesty International’s Empty Promises: Decriminalization, Prostituted Women, and Sex Trafficking

Geist, Darren (2016), Dignity: A Journal on Sexual Exploitation and Violence.
DOI: doi.org/10.23860/dignity.2016.01.01.06