Prostitution Contents

Conclusions and recommendations


1.This is the first inquiry that the Home Affairs Committee has ever held into prostitution. It was originally intended to be a short inquiry. However, the evidence made clear to us that the views on the legal approach to prostitution are strongly held and highly polarised. The different viewpoints often arise from moral values and people’s reactions are frequently emotive. The challenge of making a rational assessment of the advantages and disadvantages of the range of models is compounded by the lack of robust evidence, which arises at least in part from the covert nature of prostitution and the understandable unwillingness of those involved to identify themselves as sellers or buyers of sex. It should also be borne in mind that sex work is often linked to criminality, including trafficking, coercion, and illegal drugs. (Paragraph 10)

2.This report therefore represents our interim views on the different legislative approaches in other countries, the changes we believe need to be made now in England and Wales, and the options for legislative change which need further, closer and more thorough examination. We hope that this report will stimulate public debate about the important issues which prostitution raises. We intend to follow this interim report with a final report later in the Session. (Paragraph 11)

Prostitution in England and Wales

3.We support the Children Society’s recommendation that the Government develop guidance for the police and local authorities on how young people identified as being victims of, or at risk of, child sexual exploitation prior to turning 18 should be dealt with after they reach 18. This should include guidance to the police on how to respond to young adults who are found to be offering sexual services in the community or online, especially if they have been formerly known as young people at risk of child sexual exploitation, to ensure that they receive the support they need. (Paragraph 22)

4.We were dismayed to discover the poor quality of information available about the extent and nature of prostitution in England and Wales. Without a proper evidence base, the Government cannot make informed decisions about the effectiveness of current legislation and policies, and cannot target funding and support interventions effectively. (Paragraph 36)

5.Despite the obvious difficulties involved in finding out about an essentially covert industry, there appears to be an extensive range of useful research material available. However, findings from these studies are sometimes misinterpreted and applied too broadly across a diverse industry. In addition, factors such as greater internet use and increased migration have dramatically changed the way that the sex industry operates, and so some previously valid research will now be out of date. (Paragraph 37)

6.We recommend that the Home Office commissions an in-depth research study to help develop a better understanding of the current extent and nature of prostitution in England and Wales, and to draw together and put in context any recent relevant research. The research study should be conducted within the next 12-month period and there should be a report to Parliament by June 2017. It should aim to publish and explain reliable statistics which can be used to inform future legislative and policy decisions, and to discard any unreliable data. (Paragraph 38)

7.Trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation is an important and separate issue from prostitution between consenting adults. It is too early to make a proper assessment of the impact of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 on levels of trafficking, although the Crown Prosecution Service identified 248 victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation in the first three months of the Act’s operation, compared to 1,139 in 2014. It is clear that it is very difficult to identify victims, to gain their confidence and to put together the necessary evidence for successful prosecutions. However, it is essential that information on trafficking for sexual exploitation is collected and published regularly. The Government should also consider how changes to legislation and policies relating to the sex industry might better support the prevention of trafficking for sexual exploitation. (Paragraph 39)

Government priorities and policies on prostitution

8.We commend the police service for its focus on protecting sex workers, and for seeking to gain their assistance in targeting those who exploit them or commit other crimes. However, there is considerable variation in the policing approach to prostitution throughout the country, not all of which is consistent with national policy, as the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for prostitution and sex work, Assistant Chief Constable Nikki Holland, indicated to us. Moreover, police forces often have to choose whether to enforce offences for soliciting or brothel-keeping in order to reduce negative impacts on the local community, or to focus on building up the confidence and cooperation of sex workers in order to protect them from crime, and to help identify and convict criminals. While it is right that communities choose their policing priorities, it is not right that the police have to choose which laws to enforce and which to overlook. (Paragraph 57)

9.We are very concerned that, despite there being no clear evidence that it reduces demand for prostitution, the current practice of treating soliciting as an offence is having an adverse impact, in terms of preventing sex workers from seeking help to exit prostitution, exposing them to abuse and violence, and damaging other areas of their lives, such as access to health and welfare benefits. Having a criminal record for prostitution-related offences also often creates an unsurmountable barrier for sex workers wishing to exit prostitution and to move into regular work. It is wrong that sex workers, who are predominantly women, should be criminalised, and therefore stigmatised and penalised, in this way. The current law on brothel-keeping also means that some sex workers are often too afraid of prosecution to work together at the same premises and as a result often compromise their safety and put themselves at considerable risk by working alone. (Paragraph 58)

10.We therefore recommend that, at the earliest opportunity, the Home Office change existing legislation so that soliciting is no longer an offence and so that brothel-keeping provisions allow sex workers to share premises, without losing the ability to prosecute those who use brothels to control or exploit sex workers. There must be zero tolerance of the organised criminal exploitation of sex workers. The Home Office should also legislate for the deletion of previous convictions and cautions for prostitution from the record of sex workers by amending the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. In our final report, we will consider the purposes of the law on prostitution and what the research shows about how those purposes can best be fulfilled, including whether a different approach should be taken to on-street and off-street prostitution. (Paragraph 59)

The sex buyer law

11.The sex buyer law is a fundamentally different legislative approach to prostitution from that which is currently in place in England and Wales. It is based on the premise that prostitution is morally wrong and should therefore be illegal, whereas at present the law makes no such moral judgement. We acknowledge that the intention of many supporters of the sex buyer law is to protect sex workers, especially women, from the harm, violence and exploitation that can occur in the sex industry, but we also note that the sex buyer law makes no attempt to discriminate between prostitution which occurs between two consenting adults, and that which involves exploitation. Much of the rhetoric also denies sex workers the opportunity to speak for themselves and to make their own choices. (Paragraph 78)

12.We are not yet convinced that the sex buyer law would be effective in reducing demand or in improving the lives of sex workers, either in terms of the living conditions for those who continue to work in prostitution or the effectiveness of services to help them find new ways to earn a living. Evaluations of the impact of sex buyer laws are largely based on data about street prostitution, and therefore offer little insight into the large parts of the sex industry which take place in various indoor environments, and there are indications that the law can be misused to harass and victimise sex workers, who are the very people whom the law is seeking to protect. We are not yet persuaded that the sex buyer law is effective in reducing, rather than simply displacing, demand for prostitution, or in helping the police to tackle the crime and exploitation associated with the sex industry. (Paragraph 79)

13.The sex buyer law in Northern Ireland was only introduced in June 2015 and it was therefore too soon for its impact to be assessed in time to inform our inquiry. Similarly, France introduced a sex buyer law on 6 April 2016—only 10 weeks ago—and an evaluation of the impact of this change would provide very useful comparative information for assessing the likely implications in England and Wales. In our continuing inquiry, we will take further evidence on the impacts of the implementation of the sex buyer law in Northern Ireland and France so that a more robust evidence base can be established for assessing the potential impacts of introducing similar legislation in England and Wales, and our conclusions will be contained in our final report. (Paragraph 80)

Other legislative models

14.We received evidence that the model of decriminalisation implemented in New Zealand has worked successfully. Research suggests that it has resulted in a number of benefits, including a clear policy message, better conditions for sex workers, improved cooperation between sex workers and the police, and no detectable increase in the size of the sex industry or exploitation of sex workers. (Paragraph 100)

15.In our continuing inquiry, we will evaluate the extent to which elements of the New Zealand model might be implemented in England and Wales, the benefits which might derive from this, and the risks of negative consequences, such as an increase in associated crime or public nuisance, and our conclusions will be set out in our final report. (Paragraph 101)

16.All of the different approaches which we have examined have some advantages but none appears to offer a complete solution and none would be directly transferable to England and Wales in its entirety because the context in which it would be applied will always be different, particularly in terms of employment law and the social welfare support available, as well as the wider criminal justice system and policing. However, there may well be elements from the different models which could usefully be applied in England and Wales. At this stage, we are not recommending the adoption of any one of the three broad models of a sex buyer law, decriminalisation or legalisation, because the evidence base for any of these changes is not yet established. We will set out our views on this in our final report. In the meantime, we have made clear our strong view that the first step of changing the existing legislation on soliciting, and on brothel-keeping as it relates to sex workers sharing premises, should be taken by the Government as a matter of urgency. (Paragraph 102)

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

16 June 2016