Criminalisation of sex work

SCOT-PEP continues to oppose the criminalisation of sex work in any form. We are deeply concerned by repeated, concerted attempts to criminalise sex work at both the local and national level, including efforts to discontinue the granting of entertainment licenses to saunas in the City of Edinburgh and legislation to criminalise the purchase of sex across Scotland.

As the law stands at the moment, sex work is not illegal in Scotland. It is not a crime to choose to be a sex worker or to sell sexual services freely. This freedom is under threat. Radical feminists, arguing that all sex work is "commercial sexual exploitation" and as such is a form of violence against women, have been gaining ground in Scotland. In the United States, the "prohibitionist" feminists have links with Christian fundamentalist groups, united in their conviction that it is acceptable to deny a woman's right to self-determination on moral and ideological grounds.


In April 2010 MSP Trish Godman attempted to insert an amendment into the Criminal Justice and Licensing Bill (Scotland), creating a new offence of "engaging in a paid-for sexual activity". She was defeated. In November 2010, she launched a public consultation on a draft bill, the Criminalisation of the Purchase and Sale of Sex (Scotland) Bill, which was blatantly skewed towards forcing respondants to vote in favour of criminalising the purchase of sex over criminalising the sale of sex.  Now Rhoda Grant MSP has taken over where Trish left off and has been consulting on proposed legislation to criminalise the purchase of sex - you can read much more about that campaign here


We are not alone in criticising the criminalisation of sex work. Michel Sidibé, in his first speech as the new Executive Director of UNAIDS, announced that “Punitive laws that discriminate against men who have sex with men, sex workers, injecting drug users, migrants and people living with HIV must be removed from the statute books, country by country.” The UNAIDS Advisory Group on HIV and Sex Work has stated that “States should move away from criminalising sex work or activities associated with it. Decriminalisation of sex work should include removing criminal penalties for purchase and sale of sex, management of sex workers and brothels, and other activities related to sex work.” 


Sweden is often held up as a model of criminalisation "good practice", in which criminalisation of the purchase of sex has led to the disappearance of street sex work and the elimination of trafficking and organised crime, yet in 2010, ten years after criminalisation, the Swedish National Police Board stated in a press release that ‘Serious organized crime, including prostitution and trafficking, has increased in strength, power and complexity during the past decade.' (Rikspolisstyrelsen 2010).


“We want to save you (and if you don't appreciate it you will be punished!)” - A Swedish sex worker speaks out about the criminalisation of clients in her country.


The International Union of Sex Workers campaigns against the criminalisation of clients in England & Wales. 


If you want to join any of our campaigns, please voice [at] scot-pep [dot] org [dot] uk (subject: Campaigning%20E-Group) (contact us).