The Scottish Parliament is currently carrying out a consultation on decriminalization of sex work, lead by MSP Jean Urqhart. Urqhart has introduced a proposal for a Bill to decriminalise activities associated with the buying and selling of sexual services and to strengthen the laws against coercion in the sex industry. To learn more about the bill, click here! You can also watch the YouTube video linked below.
Urqhart is asking individuals and organizations to provide feedback on decriminalization through December 1st. SWOP-USA participated in the feedback, and you can view our response to the consultation here: SWOP-USA Submission to Consultation on Proposed Prostitution Reform Bill (Scotland). We’re sharing our response to help folks better understand decriminalization and our position on the legal regulation of sex work.
We also encourage YOU – as an individual or an organization – to provide feedback on the Scottish consultation. You can do so through December 1st on the Consultation Website.
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1.) Do you support the general aim of the proposed Bill? Please indicate “yes/no/undecided” and explain the reasons for your response.
Yes. We without reservation support Urquhart’s aim to promote the safety and rights of people selling sex by repealing laws that criminalize activities associated with sex work, and to increase legal safeguards to prosecute coercion and exploitation.
2.) Do you agree that the New Zealand Prostitution Reform Act is a model for Scotland to follow? Please indicate “yes/no/undecided” and explain the reasons for your response.
Yes. We support New Zealand’s overall framework of ensuring sex workers are not directly or indirectly criminalized by restricting legal regulations to larger, commercial establishments. We also support the New Zealand model in giving municipalities the ability to control the location of larger, visible adult industry establishments and in allowing surveillance of larger scale adult industry establishments to ensure the safety, well-being, and labor rights of sex workers are protected. We support the New Zealand model based on a large body of evidence regarding how decriminalization promotes the health, human rights, and safety of sex workers.
Our sole reservation with the New Zealand model is the continued criminalization of non-native sex workers, particularly because migrant sex workers are a sizeable, particularly vulnerable sex worker sub-population in Europe. We recognize that as a member of the European Union, Scottish immigration laws differ from those in New Zealand, and we support application of general national migration frameworks, without discrimination, to migrant workers in the Scottish sex trade.
3.) What (if any) would be the main advantages of the legislation proposed? What (if any) would be the disadvantages?
The legislation would have a profound impact on improving the safety, health, and social integration of individuals who sell sex.
It would support the family rights of sex workers by permitting sex workers to have joint finances with their families. It would make street-based sex work safer by repealing laws that often disrupt outreach efforts, prevent sex workers from contacting law enforcement after victimization, lead to street-based sex workers working in isolation and in less safe neighborhoods and areas It would allow small numbers of sex workers to collectively work together without barriers, thus protecting their autonomy and safety. In legalizing larger brothels and commercial sex establishments, the legislation would giving social services and law enforcement greater ability to promote safety, health, and labor laws and fight trafficking.
4.) Do you agree that current laws against soliciting and kerb‐crawling should be repealed? Please indicate “yes/no/undecided” and explain the reasons for your response.
Yes. Enforcement of soliciting and kerb-crawling laws can result in displacement of street-based sex workers to more dangerous areas, make it more difficult for sex workers to access outreach services, result in sex workers working in isolation to avoid detection, and result in sex workers “rushing” conversations with clients to evade arrest, ultimately jeopardizing safety. Only enforcing laws against clients has the same negative effects, with the sole exception of creating criminal records for sex workers.
While some neighborhood members may have concerns about the repeal of laws criminalizing street-based sex work, research in Scotland and England has suggested that street-based sex work does not negatively impact the overall quality of life of individuals living in areas where street-based sex work occurs. Anecdotally, one of our staff members who lived in Berlin in a redlight tourist district and later, above a string of small brothels, concurred with this, stating “Living near the sex trade had no impact on my life. It was just a quiet part of the scenery that stopped being interesting after a day or two. No littering, no public disturbance, no noticeable stream of clients–the main issues were noise from bars in the tourist district and noise from people who congregated around a 24/7 kiosk, as that apartment was near an S-Bahn station, which was unrelated to sex work.”
Further, the study cited above found that community mediation by non profit organizations and other stakeholders is often effective in reducing negative effects assumed to be inherent to street-based sex work. It is also important to note that repealing laws that criminalize street-based sex workers and their clients would not repeal laws that specifically address the actual issues (ex. excess noise, littering, public exposure, disorderly conduct) people assume to be associated with street-based sex work. We believe viewing street-based sex workers as an inherent disruption to neighborhood quality of life creates antagonism between street-based sex workers and residents in areas where street-based sex work occurs, and that this antagonism prevents collaboration and cooperation to improve neighborhoods (eg. lighting, trash bins, public amenities) and reduce tangible neighborhood issues (eg. litter, noise, public indecency).
5.) Do you agree that small groups of up to four sex workers should be legally entitled to work collectively from the same indoor premises? Please indicate “yes/no/undecided” and explain the reasons for your response.
Yes. Allowing small numbers of sex workers to work collectively without registration is imperative to the safety and autonomy of sex workers. Sex workers frequently rent an apartment and share it as a workspace for commercial sex. They do so to protect their anonymity, reduce risks for stalking or harassment, reduce personal costs, and keep each other safe. In this regard, we support ending the criminalization (and preventing the penalization ) of small numbers of sex workers who wish to work together.
We also oppose registration requirements for small, informally shared spaces used for sex work, because such requirements can:
a.) create a permanent record for sex workers which can lead to discrimination and present barriers for exiting the sex trade.
b.) result in a double-system in which many sex workers continue to work illegally because they cannot or do not wish to register.
c.) create a monopoly of larger adult business owners who can meet registration fees and requirements, which impedes the autonomy of sex workers and fosters large power differentials between brothel owners and sex workers, making sex workers vulnerable to economic exploitation.
- Do you agree that the licensing regime already in place for sexual entertainment venues should be extended to cover indoor premises where more than four sex workers are employed?
We are unable to comment specifically on Scottish entertainment venue licensing schemes. Generally we support minimal, streamlined and non-discriminatory regulations for sex work businesses like formal brothels to avoid licensing regimes effectively criminalizing/suppressing adult businesses by making operating within a legal framework overly burdensome for operators/third parties.
- Do you agree that the laws on living on the earnings of prostitution and procuring should be repealed and that there is a need for more stringent and robust laws against coercion in the sex industry modelled on the New Zealand Prostitution Reform Act?
Yes. Like other members of society, sex workers have family, peer, and friend networks that share resources such as earned income to support each other. Criminalizing these networks and means of resource sharing breaks up community structures and families. To prevent abuse, law enforcement and social services should work with the sex worker community to develop standards and protocols around suspected coercive situations, much like domestic violence laws in the US protect individuals from exploitative relationships.
- Do you agree that there should be a statutory right for sex workers to refuse to provide, or refuse to continue to provide, sexual services?
Yes. Sex workers should be able to assert the right to refuse sexual services to anyone. Sex work is about granting time, companionship, and access to sexual services, not relinquishing control over what happens to one’s person. To refuse this right is to bring sex work into a coercive context, which we are adamantly against.
- Do you agree that there should be a statutory obligation on brothel operators to ensure safer sex supplies are made available on their premises?
Yes. As part of keeping a safe and respectable venue for the practice of sex work, brothel operators should ensure that safer sex supplies and proper cleaning supplies are available for workers and customers.
- What is your assessment of the likely financial implications (if any) of the proposed Bill to you or your organisation? What (if any) other significant financial implications are likely to arise?
None. Our organization is located in the USA, and our contributions to this discussion are shared to further the basic human rights of sex workers, world-wide.
- Is the proposed Bill likely to have any substantial positive or negative implications for equality? If it is likely to have a substantial negative implication, how might this be minimised or avoided?
We strongly feel that decriminalization will have positive effects on the equal treatment of those engaged in sex work. When sex workers have legal recourse with the law to report abuse, they are empowered and treated as other members of society. LIkewise, when sex workers cannot be evicted for their work, loose custody of their children, or be denied access to social services because of their occupations, they achieve more equal treatment than they do under criminalization. We do not foresee any negative implications for gender equality.