British men who use prostitutes while abroad on stag parties should be prosecuted in the UK under new laws that make paying for sex illegal, according to a report backed by a senior MP.
Sex tourists and businessmen who pay for prostitutes on expense accounts would also be criminalised under the proposals in the Sex Buyer Law report published today.
The report, commissioned for the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Prostitution by the campaigning group End Demand, says payment for sex in the UK should be made illegal and recommends Parliament “strongly considers” extending the offence to payments abroad.
Although the APPG has yet to formally respond to the report, the idea already has the support of its chairman, Gavin Shuker, Labour MP for Luton South.
“Speaking personally, I think the idea has merit for one simple reason: many people’s first experience of buying sex takes place abroad,” he said.
Research published by the British Medical Journal in 2014 found that among the 11 per cent of men in Britain aged 16 to 74 who have paid for sex, the majority (63 per cent) reported buying sex outside of the UK, mainly in Europe.
Case study: ‘We had english men over for the ryder cup’
Mia De Faoite was drawn into working as a prostitute in Dublin between 2005 and 2010 as a result of her heroin addiction.
When I stepped out there for the first time I had no idea what it would take from me,” she says. “It stripped every bit of dignity from me I ever had.”
She experienced regular violence, including gang rape. “But even the ones who aren’t violent don’t treat you as they would other women. You are there to be used.”
A change in the law to criminalise buying sex and decriminalise selling it would send a “massive psychological message” to the women in her position, she says, and would have made it easier for her to seek help.
“It’s saying society has decided that what is being done to you is not acceptable.”
Ms De Faoite firmly believes that the law must apply at home and abroad to stop sex tourism.
“We had Americans and English men over for the Ryder Cup and the horseracing. Taxi drivers would sometimes bring them.”
When Northern Ireland criminalised buying sex last June, there was a rise in sales of women and girls in border counties of the Republic of Ireland, she added.
Diane Martin, one of the authors of the Sex Buyer Law report, herself a former prostitute, said that other research has shown men are more likely to buy sex where countries’ laws and culture encourage its purchase.
“Stag parties visiting Amsterdam and men confronted with a ‘lunchtime deal’ on offer from a mega-brothel in Germany get the message that buying sex is normal,” she said.
Paying for sex is currently legal in the UK, although some particular aspects surrounding prostitution – such as soliciting and kerb crawling – are illegal.
Norway passed a ban on buying sex at home and abroad in 2008. The purchase of sex has also been illegal in Sweden since 1999, although the law there does not cover use of prostitutes overseas.
The APPG has been calling for adoption of the “Nordic model”, which criminalises buying sex while decriminalising its sale, since 2014, when it published a report highlighting the scale of violence against women in the sex industry.
The MPs then asked End Demand, which campaigns to end commercial sexual exploitation, to investigate further.
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The result – the Sex Buyer Law report, which was produced by an independent commission including Diane Martin and a former detective superintendent – is due to be launched in Parliament on Tuesday.
It concluded that a law similar to the Nordic Model is needed here.
The proposals will be contested, however. The Independent revealed earlier this month that a major survey of sex workers, submitted to the Home Affairs Committee after it announced its own investigation, found that nine out of 10 are against criminalising the buying of sex – and eight out of 10 fear it would impact on their safety.
In 2013-14 there were more charges for loitering and soliciting than for the crimes of pimping, brothel-keeping, kerb-crawling and advertising prostitution combined, the End Demand report said.
Ms Martin says prostitutes find it harder to leave the sex industry when they have these offences on their criminal record. “As things stand, people wanting to exit not only have to get over the psychological impact and stigma attached to what they’ve been doing, but they also have to worry about convictions for loitering or soliciting popping up on their record,” she said.
“These are often people with histories of abuse, who have been criminalised while the people who exploited them have walked away.”