A chance for cross-party action against human trafficking

GlasgowColeman.pic-1 Councillor Jim Coleman is Chair of the Safe Glasgow Group and has led calls for an amendment to the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill (Scotland) to tackle the demand for prostitution.


Prostitution is often described as the the oldest occupation in the world. It is not, but it may be one of the oldest forms of violence against women.

This is the firm belief of Glasgow City Council and, after years of campaigning by Glasgow Labour, we finally may be able to strike a cross-party blow against human traffickers, the men who drive demand and a system of blame that has exploited some of our most vulnerable women for centuries.

Prostitution is overwhelmingly driven by male demand.  Half of the women involved begin selling their bodies for sex before they had turned 18 and 95% of women involved in street prostitution also have addictions issues.

But the statistic that should shame us all into action is that once in prostitution, 9 in 10 women report wanting to exit, but feel unable to do so. Trapped by a violent combination of personal circumstance, ineffective law and male demand.

This is more than just an issue about the exploitation of women, and in particular young women. It is also about organised crime.

Prostitution and trafficking are undeniably linked and we know that victims of trafficking are brought to cities almost exclusively to meet the demand of the sex industry. By targeting demand for prostitution, we are making Glasgow and Scotland a less attractive destination for traffickers.

Evidence suggests that when countries stand up and tackle this issue, traffickers flee, largely to neighbouring countries. And with the calls for similar action in Ireland, Northern Ireland, France and across the continent getting louder, it is not in anyone’s interest for Scotland to be the only door left ajar.

The status quo is not working, no matter how hard those in power wish the issue to slip away unnoticed out of the public mind. Criminalising the women involved simply is not a deterrent to a demand driven problem.

Glasgow City Council has changed the way we deliver services, developing a robust and proactive approach that puts the well-being of women at the forefront

But only by challenging public acceptability and attitudes will we see progress, and that is why Glasgow Labour is leading cross-party efforts in our City Council to lobby the Scottish Government to criminalise all means of buying sex.

That means learning from the example of other countries which have criminalised the purchaser and organisers of the sex trade and prioritised exit routes for women.

Countries like Sweden which have already taken this action saw levels of prostitution halved between 1999 and 2008 while Denmark and Norway, neighbouring countries with more liberal attitudes towards prostitution, saw it triple.

We could follow in their footsteps and with a single amendment make a tangible difference to thousands of our most vulnerable citizens.

Human trafficking and prostitution are undeniably linked and are both rooted in inequality and exploitation.

With an amendment to the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Bill which is making its way through Holyrood just now, we could take a huge step forward for gender equality and ensure that our justice system better helps vulnerable women, rather than protect those who exploit them.

As elected members our duty is to give a voice to the voiceless and to stand up for those in need.

The time for action is now and Holyrood must be brave enough to seize it.

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One thought on “A chance for cross-party action against human trafficking

  1. The Swedish model is a mess bound up in mistruths and misunderstandings. For example, even the Swedish Government conceeds that there have been no reductions in the number of men buying sex and the number of women selling sex (I note your post says and seeks to do nothing about male sex workers).

    Sex work has also moved online to a great extent as well. Again, the Swedish government has conceded that there has been a rise in selling sex over the internet is increasing but it cannot state who is causing the increase – new sex workers or former street-based sex workers. Either way, the demand has not changed.

    Finally, the law in Sweden has not done anything to reduce trafficking. Of course, in Sweden if you sell sex you have been trafficked even if the choice was made voluntarily. This, of course, means that the Swedish Government is blaming the women themselves if their clients are violent. Sex workers and researchers also say that the crackdown on street based sex work has forced women to move to more hidden and thus potentially dangerous locations. The men still on the streets are reportedly the more dangerous ones while the nice or safe clients have moved to the internet. This situation has pushed women to accept more risky clients who may turn out to be violent.

    Trafficking is a problem that needs to be addressed seperately from sex-work. Granted, a lot of trafficking is forcing women into horrendous situations but even then Labour offers little sympathy. I remember a Labour Home Office defending its decision to deport immigrants who had been sex trafficked. If this is about actually protecting women then a different apprach to Sweden is needed.

    Sex work needs to be decriminalised and approaches seperated into supporting and education sex workers about their health and other aspects of their lives who can then leave sex work if and when they want to. Human trafficking is a heinous crime and that needs to be addressed. Taking the simple, broadbrush, lazy, inneffective plucking of low hanging fruit by criminalising the buyers of sex workers will do nothing for women selling sex. If will make the self-appointed do-gooders feel better but wont change a thing. As Sweden has shown us.

    We need evidence based policy making and the real evidence from Sweden (writen in Swedish not pro-government policy annoucements in English) tell us that is not the policy we need.

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