Campaigners Try Again to Criminalise Clients in Scotland

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Despite the recent failure of a previous attempt, a new campaign has launched in Scotland that hopes to criminalise the purchase of commercial sexual services. The “End Prostitution Now” campaign wants to put pressure on the Scottish Government to end demand, which they describe as the "root cause" of the country's "commercial sexual exploitation". They plan to utilise social media campaigns and to urge people to write to their representatives to ask them to support the proposal.

The campaign is being backed by Rhoda Grant MSP (Labour) who introduced the previous failed legislation in 2012, as well as the Scottish Trade Unions Congress. Grant has tabled an amendment to the Scottish Government’s Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Bill that would make the purchase of sexual services illegal so that Scotland, she said, does not “become a haven for sex traffickers moving out of Northern Ireland” where the Nordic Model recently became law.

She told The Herald: “I believe that the Scottish Government can and should introduce appropriate legislation to ban the purchase of sex, similar to Lord Morrow’s Act in Northern Ireland.”

A spokesperson for NSWP member group the Sex Worker Open University told Scottish Legal News: “All the evidence is that these laws harm sex workers – and harm the most marginalised of us the worst.

“Criminalising our clients and managers means that sex workers are more vulnerable to violence and exploitation, for example because when clients are criminalised, they give us less information about themselves – which means that someone seeking to perpetrate violence against us can contact us and arrange a meeting entirely anonymously: without giving us any identifying details with which to hold him to account should he turn abusive.

“It is for reasons like this that organisations like the World Health Organisation, Human Rights Watch and the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women are against the Swedish model, and instead support sex worker-led organisations in our call for ‘rights, not rescue’.”

Advocating for sex workers’ rights in Scotland “can sometimes feel like playing Whack-a-Mole”; wrote Jade O’Neil in an op-ed at Liberal Democrat Voice (the Liberal Democrat party supports decriminalisation) “every time we successfully argue against one campaign to make sex work more dangerous, another pops up almost immediately – perhaps having undergone a slight rebrand, but always essentially the same as the last.”

O’Neil goes on to write: “On Monday, End Prostitution Now’s spokesperson Jan Macleod (whose widely-discredited research on the matter has been described by academics as “violating fundamental principles of human research ethics”) appeared on Scotland Tonight to defend the proposals. When challenged on the dangers caused by the Nordic Model in practice, she claimed that Googling brought up mixed evidence and stated that it was difficult to know which sources to believe”.

It doesn’t, however, look like the campaign has much chance of success. The Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee said while the issue may be "worthy of further review", the Bill is not the "appropriate vehicle" for addressing it. The Committee stated they “will not support any amendments to include provisions criminalising the purchase of sex in the Bill at Stage 2”.

A Scottish Government spokesperson told the Herald:

"Clearly this is a complex issue though which requires careful consideration to ensure that any additional measures which may be required are necessary, practicable and sustainable. Any further proposed changes to the law in this area would need to be considered carefully to ensure they are practical in terms of enforcement and whether there is robust evidence to suggest that such proposals would reduce incidents of prostitution or trafficking."

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