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Ethics – Tackling prostitution

April 2016

In March, the Home Affairs Committee held its first hearing as part of an inquiry into the law on prostitution. One of the proposals under consideration is changing the law to criminalise the purchase of sexual services, in order to reduce demand for prostitution. 

More than 200 responses were sent in during the government’s period of consultation on its proposals. During the committee meeting, Kat Banyard, co-director of UK Feminista and spokesperson for the End Demand campaign; Alan Caton OBE, independent chairman of the Islington and Bedfordshire Safeguarding Children Boards; and assistant chief constable Nikki Holland, National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for prostitution and sex work, presented their views.

After the meeting, Dan Boucher, director of parliamentary affairs for Christian charity CARE, told BBC Radio 5 Live that the UK needs a law that respects the vulnerable majority who are not in prostitution out of choice.

He said, ‘For the majority concerned, it is a profoundly exploitative experience and we need to decide if we are going to frame legislation primarily out of regard for the vulnerable and often exploited majority, or for a minority who say that they are happy being in prostitution’.

One of the main arguments used against criminalising demand is the idea that it would force prostitution underground. According to this argument, this would then make the profession even more dangerous.

However, Mr Boucher said the evidence from countries like Sweden, where the purchase of sex is currently illegal shows the evidence does not support this claim. In England and Wales the current law attempts to reduce demand, by making it illegal to buy sex from someone who has been coerced.

However, this offence has proved difficult to enforce, because it requires proof of coercion, as well as proof of an attempt to purchase sex.


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