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Scottish Parliament bill proposes decriminalisation of prostitution

ByVictoria Belton

Nov 17, 2015

A sex-work law reform bill has been proposed in the Scottish Parliament to decriminalise prostitution in Scotland.

The bill aims to promote the safety and uphold the rights of people who sell sex in Scotland.

Proponents of the bill hope to follow in the footsteps of New Zealand, which decriminalised sex work in 2003 and has been touted as an example of decriminalisation creating safer working conditions for sex workers.

Leading the Scottish proposal is MSP Jean Urquhart. Urquhart has been working with sex-worker-led charity SCOT-PEP to shape new laws designed to benefit the affected community.

Proponents held a briefing on the proposal in Scottish Parliament last week, in an event attended by The StudentUrquhart, Stewart Cunningham, and Nadine Stott (co-chairs of SCOT-PEP), Catherine Healey (a representative from New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective) and Niki Adams (English Collective of Prostitutes), were a few of the nine speakers at the event.

Beginning the discussion, Urquhart said: “I think that if we want to live in a more progressive Scotland as we declare we do then its important that we take seriously all of the issues that are contained in the bill.”

Nadine Scott cited three major laws the bill aims to repeal: the soliciting law, which directly criminalises prostitutes who work on the street; the kerb crawling law, which criminalises those who solicit prostitutes while in a motor-vehicle; and the brothel keeping law, which declares that two or more prostitutes are working together in any premises constitutes a brothel and is a crime.

Scott remarked: “[The Soliciting Law] means that people can’t work with their friends. It means that people have to work in really hurried ways and avoid the police. It signifies to violent offenders that our society views street-based sex workers as disposable or as legitimate targets for violence.”

Scott also spoke about the impacts of the current kerb crawling law. She said: “When the kerb crawling law was first brought into Scotland in 2007 […] we knew from our own context that violent acts on street based sex-working women went up by ninety-five percent within the first six months of that law.”

Discussing the brothel-keeping law, Scott mentioned that the current conditions increase levels of violence against sex-workers because they are forced to work alone, and when workers have a manager they do not have any labour rights, so their managers cannot be held accountable for violent acts against them either.

Stewart Cunningham argued that the zero-tolerance policy applied by authorities to prostitution causes condom use to become less prominent, as police can use condoms as evidence against prostitutes in legal proceedings. Declines in condom-use lead to increases in STI transmissions, proponents point out.

Members of the panel added that many work in the sex industry to meet their most basic needs, such as paying for school and feeding their families.  Minimum wage and below jobs do not allow those individuals to sustain a decent livelihood without working in prostitution, the speakers argued.

Niki Adams mentioned benefit cuts that have come in the last five years in the UK as contributing to the current levels of prostitution.

She said: “One charity who had been giving out food parcels said, ‘we started to see women who were literally starving and they’re out there to feed themselves; often that’s because their benefits have been taken away from them for a couple of weeks.’

“If they have no one to turn to in an emergency, they have to find a way to get money, and that often means going out on the streets.”

Adams added: “The cuts to benefits [impact]…single mothers in particular. We estimate about eighty-five percent of sex-workers are women; many of those are mothers, many of those are single mothers.

“And the austerity cuts, seventy-five percent of the impact of the austerity cuts has been on women, and cuts to single mothers have been particularly targeted.”

“It’s really important to say who sex-workers are”, Adams continued.

“Criminalisation really does hide that. It hides that it’s your mother, sister, daughter, auntie, uncle […] and it hides what is influencing people’s decision to go into sex-work and what may be a barrier to those of us who want to leave from leaving prostitution.

“All of those things are very important if you’re trying to lay out policy and law.”

The reforms have been proposed but have yet to be voted on by the Scottish Parliament.

Image: Flickr: byronv2

By Victoria Belton

Victoria Belton is the current news editor of The Student and a fourth-year in Social Anthropology.

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