Sex for rent is a form of modern day slavery – so why aren’t we prosecuting abusive landlords?

As Britain’s homelessness crisis spirals, men are keeping vulnerable women housed in exchange for sexual favours

Sarah Champion
Thursday 29 November 2018 11:25
Comments
'You can't solve homelessness without homes': Charity leaders respond to Tory plans to 'eradicate homelessness'

Thanks to the efforts of my colleague Peter Kyle, MPs held a debate in Westminster Hall yesterday on the issue of “sex for rent”. It’s a matter that has gone unnoticed for far too long and is symptomatic of two major issues in modern Britain: violence against women and girls, and homelessness.

Sex for rent is exploitation. Vulnerable women in financial trouble, or without a home are encouraged to allow men to abuse them in exchange for a place to stay. According to a recent survey by Shelter and YouGov, 3 per cent of female renters have been offered sex for rent in the past year. That’s 139,314 women.

Advertisements like the following, on websites such as Craigslist, are typical: “Free accommodation for female student: If there is any Homeless Single [sic] stunning Females [sic] out there seeking to save or seeking to be re-housed by a friendly genuine white britisg [sic] then look no further.”

Sex for rent is an example of how power is used to exploit and abuse. Men have something homeless women – and men – need: a place to stay. They believe this entitles them to force women to do things they don’t want to do in exchange.

In a country where an estimated 320,000 people are homeless, it becomes easier to understand how some women feel they have no choice but to give up their bodies for shelter.

For those with children, desperate to provide stability to their child by staying close to their school, landlords are in a prime position to exploit them. For those living on the street through the long winter, it might seem the only option for survival.

This is not a choice; women are not choosing to pay for accommodation with their bodies. They feel they are out of options. They are desperate. Predatory men are exploiting their difficult living situation.

Sex for rent is a form of modern slavery. Men are keeping vulnerable women housed in exchange for sexual favours.

Many of these women may have already experienced sexual or domestic violence. Research by homelessness charity St Mungo’s in 2014 found almost half of its rough sleeping clients had experienced domestic violence, and one in five had been abused as a child. A third of the women among its rough sleeping clients had been involved in prostitution.

Sex for rent is also a crime. When a person offers accommodation in return for sex, they are inciting another person to have sex with them for payment. This is an offence under the Sexual Offences Act 2003. Shockingly, however, the government does not know how many prosecutions relate to sex for rent. As a minister acknowledged in yesterday’s debate, the number is almost certainly very low.

Websites hosting adverts offering sex for rent need to take more rigorous action. They are facilitating exploitation and rape. The tech companies enabling this need to know that, if they don’t take action, the government will – and that will damage their business. Home secretary Sajid Javid recently held a “hackathon” with leading US tech companies to tackle the problem of online child sexual exploitation. Similar leadership on sex for rent is required from other arms of government.

The rise of the issue also highlights the dire need to sort out the country’s housing situation. Homeless or near-homeless people are the people most likely to be targeted by exploitative landlords and may feel they have no other option. A decade ago, in Paris, public disgust at a sudden rise in sex for rent scandals triggered a wave of housebuilding. Yesterday the housing minister acknowledged we desperately need new stock of social and genuinely affordable housing in the UK, something Labour has long been calling for.

Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events

Support free-thinking journalism and subscribe to Independent Minds

We also need reforms to protect tenants. For people already living in a home when their landlord suggests a sex for rent arrangement, there is the threat of eviction upon refusal, and the worry they may find themselves unable prove to the local council they are not intentionally homeless. The government should consider how it can better protect tenants from the false choice of sexual exploitation or homelessness.

Coercing someone to pay their rent with sex is a vile, criminal act. It’s an act of exploitation. We need to stamp it out without delay.

Sarah Champion is Labour MP for Rotherham

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in