All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade
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.
Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab)
Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade (APPG on Prostitution)
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) on securing this debate, on his long commitment to this topic and on the difference that he has made. I also congratulate the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), Baroness Butler-Sloss and the review team on the work that they have done on the report. They are tirelessly trying to make the changes that we so desperately need to see in this country.
I speak as chair of the all-party group on prostitution and the global sex trade. Currently, the Modern Slavery Act does not recognise the gendered nature of slavery and does not do enough to effectively tackle trafficking and modern slavery for sexual exploitation. The APPG was concerned that the terms of reference for the independent review were too narrow in scope as they did not allow the review team to explore the links between the laws regarding prostitution and trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation. That is why I welcome the commitment made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead in the foreword of the report to undertake,
“a scoping review into laws surrounding prostitution in England and Wales and the extent to which they help or hinder police action against trafficking for sexual exploitation.”
I am grateful that the right hon. Member for Basingstoke has reiterated that commitment here today. I know the modern slavery review team are passionate about getting that aspect out into the public domain.
Trafficking and coercion of individuals into the prostitution trade is one of the two most prevalent forms of modern slavery in the UK, and it disproportionately impacts on women. In 2018, 1,192 adult women were referred to the national referral mechanism for sexual exploitation. Only 269 were referred for being potential victims of labour exploitation. Police figures submitted to the all-party group on prostitution and the global sex trade in 2018 indicate the scale of sexual exploitation in this country. Between January 2016 and January 2018, Leicestershire police visited 156 brothels, encountering 421 women, 86% of whom were from Romania. Northumbria police visited 81 brothels between March 2016 and April 2018. Of the 259 women they encountered, 75% were from Romania. More than half of those brothels were recorded by police as being connected to other brothels, agencies or non-UK organised crime groups. Modern slavery for sexual exploitation is happening right here in the UK on an industrial scale. The impact on victims is devastating.
Research by the European Commission shows that victims experience sexual brutality that causes serious damage to health and wellbeing; vaginal injuries that lead to sexually transmitted infections and HIV; and high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. Victims live in fear of reprisals if they try to escape. The rates of re-trafficking of those who manage to exit are high. Evidence from the POPPY project revealed that victims were exploited for an average of eight to 20 months before they could get out. Most women were exploited every single day of the week, seeing on average 13 sex buyers a day. We can therefore extrapolate that the average victim can be raped anywhere from 2,798 to 6,828 times. It is slavery through prostitution in the UK, and it is happening on our watch.
The basic principles of supply and demand underpin the phenomenon of trafficking and modern slavery for sexual exploitation. Without demand from sex buyers, there would be no supply of women and girls through sexual exploitation. Demand for paid sex is context-dependent, and one factor that influences the higher level of demand is the legality of prostitution. Legality has been found to contribute to normalisation, which in turn contributes to demand. In short, trafficking and modern slavery is larger in countries where prostitution is legal.
Demand reduction legislation was first introduced in Sweden in 1999. Research there has revealed that demand for prostitution has significantly decreased since Sweden criminalised paying for sex. At present the Modern Slavery Act does not seek or function to suppress the demand from a minority of men who pay for sex—the very demand that drives and funds trafficking and modern slavery for sexual exploitation. Since our Modern Slavery Act came into force, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and France have all criminalised paying for sex in order to combat demand for sexual exploitation, while removing the criminal sanctions that penalise victims. Demand reduction legislation is also in place in Norway, Iceland and Ireland, which means that England, Wales and Scotland now have substantially more sex-buyer-friendly laws than many of our surrounding countries, making us an attractive destination for sex traffickers.
Prostitution laws should be urgently updated to reduce demand for sexual exploitation by criminalising the purchase of sex, while removing all criminal sanctions applied to victims of sexual exploitation and supporting them to exit. That is the key way to tackle modern slavery of women in the UK. Once again, I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead for securing this debate, and I look forward to working with the independent review team as they explore the links between prostitution laws and preventing modern slavery.
Modern Slavery Act: Independent Review – Hansard
19 June 2019, Volume 662
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)
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)
Gavin Shuker MP
Labour MP for Luton South and former 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.