UK: Proposal to prosecute men who buy women to rape under Government consideration
London ~~ Monday September 10 2007
Men who buy sex could face prosecutionTania Branigan, political correspondent
Ministers are considering proposals to prosecute men for buying sex in a new effort to curb the demand for prostitution, the Guardian has learned.
Senior members of the government are discussing whether to criminalise the purchase, rather than sale, of sex - as Sweden did eight years ago - in part because of the growth in sex trafficking. According to the government, 85% of women in brothels come from outside the UK.
Men have been convicted for trafficking women into Britain, but none has been prosecuted for paying for sex with women or girls forced into the sex trade.
One minister acknowledged the move would be "quite a dramatic step", but added: "There's no doubt whatsoever it's being talked about. There is increasing awareness among senior ministers, particularly women, that demand for prostitution is an area which needs to be tackled seriously and hasn't been."
A number of senior women in government - including Jacqui Smith, the home secretary; Patricia Scotland, the attorney general; Vera Baird, solicitor general; and Harriet Harman, leader of the house - are thought to be sympathetic to the calls.
Other proposals being considered include large-scale programmes to name and shame men caught kerbcrawling, which is already illegal. But campaigners believe that only by criminalising clients can they help women working in brothels as well as on the streets and send out a signal that paying for sex is not acceptable.
Fiona Mactaggart MP, who as a home office minister was in charge of tackling prostitution until last year, said: "The criminal justice bill that comes back on the first day [after the parliamentary recess] includes changes to the prostitution strategy. It would be possible to put into it some amendment which deals with this issue of men who pay for sex," she said.
She dismissed arguments that prostitution was an inevitable part of society, adding: "We have always had murder - that doesn't make it right. The price of prostitution is enormously high for women...[And] the more vulnerable the woman is, the cheaper the price is for men."
Denis MacShane MP, a former minister and campaigner against sex trafficking, added: "Until you have the Wilberforce moment when you say those who buy [sex] are just as guilty as those who are selling [women], it will continue to grow. It's not until there is a regular flow of men before the courts because they have paid for sex with illegally trafficked sex slaves that we will see a change in culture."
A Home Office spokeswoman said it had no current plans to criminalise paying for sex. But the Guardian understands that the proposal is being discussed informally with a view to longer-term action.
The government has won praise from unexpected sources for other socially conservative measures recently, ranging from scrapping plans for a supercasino to launching a review of media violence and its impact on children and young people.
Sweden criminalised buying sex but decriminalised selling it eight years ago. Supporters of the scheme say it has slashed the number of brothels and clients and cut the level of sex trafficking into the country to hundreds of women. But some critics have suggested that women who remain in the sex industry have become more vulnerable as a result of the reforms.
In a recent study by the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit at London Metropolitan University, researchers asked men arrested for kerbcrawling to pick from a list of factors which might deter them from buying sex. While some agreed that large fines or being publicly shamed would do so, none cited knowing that a woman was forced into prostitution.