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.
• 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
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.
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.
> 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)
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
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.’
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.
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.
The Swedish Sex Purchase Law (Nordic Model): evidence of its impact
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.