Debates between Mr Gavin Shuker and Mr Paul Sweeney

There have been 1 exchanges between Mr Gavin Shuker and Mr Paul Sweeney

1 Wed 4th July 2018 Commercial Sexual Exploitation
Home Office
3 interactions (1,500 words)

Commercial Sexual Exploitation

Debate between Mr Gavin Shuker and Mr Paul Sweeney
Wednesday 4th July 2018

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Westminster Hall
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Home Office
Mr Shuker Hansard
4 Jul 2018, 2:35 p.m.

I could not agree more. I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point. There are all sorts of vulnerabilities that would cause someone who would not normally choose to go into the very violent and difficult world of prostitution to do that, but we must take responsibility for all those issues. Equally, prostitution is not a phenomenon driven by an over-supply of women—I am going to talk in gender terms, because this is a highly gendered phenomenon, although obviously we accept that a wide variety of people are involved. It is fundamentally caused not by an over-supply of people growing up wishing to go into prostitution, but by an over-supply of men who think that it is acceptable to purchase sex and to drive the scale of this trade.

Mr Paul Sweeney (Glasgow North East) (Lab/Co-op) Hansard
4 Jul 2018, 2:36 p.m.

I congratulate my hon. Friend—a fellow Co-operative Member—on the excellent case he is making on this terrible problem of exploitation in our society. Does he agree with me—I am looking at this particularly in terms of a Co-operative analysis of the economy—that many of the issues are driven by the insecure environments in which women find themselves? What we are talking about is the result of, in particular, poverty, addiction and coercion, but also of insecure work, zero-hours contracts and poor wages. All those things contribute to in-work poverty and are the reasons why women find themselves in those situations.

Mr Shuker Hansard
4 Jul 2018, 2:36 p.m.

Again, I completely agree. As I will go on to say, a comprehensive model of legal reform would be one in which women who sold sex were decriminalised and those who bought it were subject to criminal sanction, but programmes to boost exit and allow people to go into other, much more secure forms of work are also hugely important.

Today, the Crown Prosecution Service rightly recognises women’s involvement in prostitution as a form of sexual exploitation, yet under existing law women involved in street-based sexual exploitation are criminalised for loitering and soliciting, creating a barrier to exiting and rebuilding their lives. It is currently illegal to place a call card advertising prostitution in a phone box, yet apparently it is perfectly legal for companies to make millions of pounds by knowingly hosting prostitution adverts online. We have an Act to combat modern slavery—the Modern Slavery Act 2015—but it has a huge hole in it, because it fails to acknowledge that prostitution drives sex trafficking in the first place. We have a law that prohibits men from soliciting women for sex on the street, but it gives them the green light to walk into a brothel and sexually exploit them behind closed doors.

That is not good enough. As I said to the Minister here this morning, when she very kindly appeared before the Women and Equalities Committee, it has profound implications not just for women involved in prostitution, but for all women, because it perpetuates the myth that men have an absolute right to sex and therefore their sense of entitlement should overwhelm many others in society. The Minister for Women and Equalities, who is also a Secretary of State, put it best when she said earlier this year:

“You cannot help and support people, you cannot give them hope and a chance, you cannot promote human rights or the dignity of every human being—whilst paying them for sex, and whilst funding an industry that exploits them.”

I wholeheartedly agree.

The United Nations, which is having to confront sexual abuse and exploitation within its own ranks, has published a “Glossary on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse” for anyone who is not clear what that means. It states:

“‘Sexual exploitation’ is a broad term, which includes a number of acts…including ‘transactional sex’”.

Transactional sex is defined as:

“The exchange of money, employment, goods or services for sex”.

Offering someone money—or drugs, food or a place to stay—in exchange for them performing sex acts is abusive and exploitative. It is never acceptable. The aim of our law must be to end commercial sexual exploitation, not to “manage” it, not to regulate where it happens, not simply to pick up the pieces and not to prevent only the most heinous acts. Our responsibility as lawmakers is clear: it is to end sexual exploitation. And to end sexual exploitation, we have to end the demand.

How to combat demand is not a big mystery. As with any other form of violence against women, it starts with the law sending a clear signal that exploiting someone by paying them for sex is never acceptable, and that those who do will be held to account. We have to shift the burden of criminality away from women who are exploited in the sex trade and place it where it belongs: on those who create the demand. The “end-demand” approach is often referred to as the Nordic model or the sex buyer law. This three-pronged strategy involves criminalising paying for sex, decriminalising selling sex, and providing support and exiting services for people exploited through the sex trade.

France, the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Iceland and Norway have all adopted end-demand legislation. The first country to do it—this is important—was Sweden, which in 1999 criminalised paying for sex and decriminalised selling it as part of a Government Bill to tackle violence against women. Mia de Faoite, a survivor of prostitution, has said of Sweden’s decision to introduce the law:

“Prostitution is, was and always will be an absolute affront to human dignity and I know that because I have lived and witnessed it. Sweden didn’t do a radical thing or a controversial thing. Sweden just did the right thing in the name of freedom, justice and equality.

Colleagues will speak about the clear and substantial evidence that end-demand legislation works, in Sweden and elsewhere. However, I want to make this point, to the Minister and to the Government: if neighbouring countries are adopting legislation that makes it harder for people to be trafficked and sexually exploited, we run the risk that it will become easier to do that in England and Wales—on our streets and behind closed doors in every community we represent—because there is such a clear basis on which money can be made. We cannot divorce ourselves from what is happening in this great move across much of western Europe.

It is sometimes claimed that making paying for sex a criminal offence would drive prostitution “underground” and make it inherently unsafe. First, it is not possible to make sexual exploitation safe. The moment the money goes on the side or the counter, someone is buying consent and that sex buyer believes that they have an absolute right or entitlement. Secondly, as a recent European Commission study on trafficking points out about that policy, there is

“a logical fallacy at its heart since some level of visibility is required.”

In other words, if I can leave this room today and purchase sex by finding someone’s details online, so can the police. If sex buyers can locate women in prostitution, so can the police and support services.

To quote Detective Superintendent Kajsa Wahlberg, Sweden’s national rapporteur on trafficking in human beings,

“prostitution activities are not and cannot be pushed underground. The profit of traffickers, procurers and other prostitution operators is obviously dependent on that men easily can access women who they wish to purchase for prostitution purposes. If law enforcement agencies want to find out where prostitution activities takes place, the police can.”

In Sweden they have been doing that for nearly 20 years. We can look at the evidence of what has happened in that country.

The second myth I want to address is that by fully decriminalising the sex trade—an argument advocated by some—including brothel-keeping and pimping, women are made safer. That could not be further from the truth. It legitimises and fuels demand. Demand is met by significantly increased levels of trafficking. A cross-sectional analysis of up to 150 countries found that trafficking flows are larger into countries where prostitution is legal. That seems logical. Similarly, an analysis of European countries found that sex trafficking was most prevalent in nations with legalised prostitution regimes. The researchers suggested that

“slacker prostitution laws make it more profitable to traffic persons to a country.”

Take the Netherlands, for example. Third-party profiteering was decriminalised there in 2000. Seven years later, the national police force estimated that between 50% and 90% of women in the country’s legal prostitution trade “work involuntarily”. An evaluation of the law in 2007, commissioned by the Dutch Parliament, found that pimping was still “a very common phenomenon” that

“does not seem to have decreased.”

Fieldwork researchers reported that a “great majority” of women in Amsterdam’s infamous window brothels,

“works with a so-called boyfriend or pimp.”

Let me makes this point: there are few women directly involved in selling sex who profit from it. There is undoubtedly a huge supply of money, estimated by some to be £5 billion or £6 billion of our economy, but that money is not finding its way into the pockets of women who are exploited through this trade; it ends up in the pockets of pimps, exploiters and those who benefit from trafficking.