Our response to the APPG on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade “Shifting the Burden” Report

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade has just released the “Shifting the Burden” Report following a review of the current legal settlement on prostitution in England and Wales. The Inquiry received 413 submissions of evidence and Beyond the Streets was one of the organisations to submit a response.

Whilst we recognise that this report will not be welcome by all and there is an increased polarisation in desired approaches, we welcome the clear message that the law is not currently working within the UK. The report highlights that a majority do not view the current law to be effective and that it lacks consistency in safeguarding those involved in prostitution. This finding should lead to ongoing conversations and to each political party reviewing their stance on prostitution and developing policies that will address this failure. The recognition that the current law fails to protect those at risk of exploitation and fails to prosecute perpetrators of abuse should be taken seriously and steps should be made by government to prioritise a review and action.

Another clear theme from the APPG report is the level of violence and vulnerability that is associated with prostitution within the UK. Whilst there will be many different arguments as to why this is the case, the very fact that this violence and harm is so widespread would indicate that selling sex is not similar to other ‘services’ which are sold. In the same way that the trade in human organs led to the exploitation of the vulnerable, prostitution has been shown to lead to exploitation throughout the world. Although there is an argument that some will exercise choice and agency, for many women and children there are complex other factors ranging from grooming and trafficking through to desperate poverty. Any attempt to give the impression of a common story would fail in recognising the many voices and real-life experiences. The treatment of these women is often united by stories of violence, rape and harm no matter how or why someone started prostitution. In recognising this violence and proposing a review of the legislation there is an important step away from ‘prostitutes’ being seen as a nuisance and a ‘public decency’ issue.

A third key theme within the report is the need for routes out and assistance in helping people to exit prostitution. The report recognised the difficulties that many women face in finding the support required and this is expressed often by women who contact us. We welcome both the call for the government to conduct a financial assessment into the social cost of prostitution and the recommendation that government funding is made available to service providers that effectively assist those seeking to leave prostitution. We have had a long-term concern that adequate funding does not exist for support services and, for all the talk of reducing harm and exploitation, without the funding there is little intention to make a change. We would like to see a shift in the national conversation around prostitution so that attention toward and funding for direct support services equals the attention currently directed at the criminal justice framework.  Although much recent talk has been of cuts and austerity measures, adequate funding to ensure the provision of assistance necessary for women leaving prostitution must be a central measure of the needed changes. With the suggested intent of criminalising the buyers of sexual services, and thereby reducing prostitution within the UK, we must recognise that any legislative change must also take into account how we can work towards a fairer society. Legislation on prostitution alone will not be sufficient to address the violence and vulnerability that is associated with prostitution; rather we need to be prepared to address the wider societal issues that contribute to women’s vulnerability to prostitution, such as being paid below the living wage.

Posted by Beyond The Streets on 03/03/2014 at 07:03 AM

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