Licensed brothels planned in prostitution law shake-up

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Radical proposals to overhaul the law on prostitution were being unveiled by Home Secretary David Blunkett today.

Radical proposals to overhaul the law on prostitution were being unveiled by Home Secretary David Blunkett today.

The highly controversial option of decriminalising brothels was expected to be put forward in a major new consultation document.

Mr Blunkett hinted that brothels disguised as "legitimate" businesses such as massage parlours will no longer be tolerated.

"There is a growing trade in selling sexual services in premises licensed for other activity, including massage and also video and film," wrote the Home Secretary.

"Prostitution must not be concealed behind the fagade of legitimate business."

He admitted that existing laws were "outdated, confusing and ineffective".

Licensed brothels were expected to be one option put forward in today's document as a way of cleaning up the sex industry.

Ministers were also expected to ask for views on whether the government should go ahead with "tolerance zones" for street prostitution.

Some experts believe the zones could be set up in non-residential areas to keep "street walking" call girls and their clients away from passers-by.

The paper was expected to propose toughening the law against pimps, brothel keepers and clients.

But at the same time it was likely to propose new moves to help sex workers escape the industry - particularly by trying to sever the links between prostitution and organised crime.

It was likely to set out moves to reduce the number of prostitutes hooked on Class A drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine by offering adequate drug treatment, housing and education measures.

There must also be "the right intelligence-based approach" to tackle the "stranglehold of pimps" and the gangs trafficking women and girls into the UK to work in the sex trade, Mr Blunkett said.

It will be the first time in decades that the issues surrounding prostitution have been examined in such detail.

Mr Blunkett went on: "Many of the laws relating to prostitution are outdated, confusing and ineffective.

"Today's consultation paper is intended as the starting point for the development of a realistic and coherent strategy to deal with prostitution and its serious detrimental consequences for individuals and communities."

He said it was of "prime importance" to prevent women being drawn into prostitution early in their lives, as research showed seven out of 10 started as children or young teenagers.

"Their vulnerability and need for affection means they can be easy prey for those determined to exploit them," wrote the Home Secretary.

"Often they become trapped in a web of fear and deceit in which drug addiction, prostitution and responding to the demands of pimps becomes a way of life.

"This paper looks at the preventative measures that need to be in place as well as the support and protection required by those particularly at risk, or already drawn into this vicious cycle."

Up to 80,000 women are thought to work in the sex trade in Britain - including up to 5,000 children.

In London, the Metropolitan Police estimates 70% of call girls are illegal immigrants working off debts to people traffickers.

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 introduced new offences with tough penalties to crack down on pimps and others who exploit children and adults through prostitution, making it an offence to traffic people into the UK for sexual exploitation.

A recent study found 70% of prostitutes had been in local authority care as children, 45% had been victims of child sexual abuse, 42% had been raped and all had been truant from school.

Up to 1,400 women may be trafficked into Britain for sexual exploitation a year, according to recent estimates.