Luton MP leads call for prostitution reforms

Gavin Shuker MP
Gavin Shuker MP

“Punters and pimps” should be targeted by new laws on prostitution instead of women, according to a report by MP Gavin Shuker’s cross-party group published today.

The Luton Labour MP chairs the group of MPs and Peers which is calling for the government to take action on prostitution, which is a particular problem in areas of Luton such as High Town.

It’s the first major cross-party report on prostitution since 1996 and follows a year-long inquiry.

Mr Shuker, Chair of the All Party Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade, said: “The current UK law on prostitution is not working. It sends no clear signals about what we consider prostitution to be; in effect prioritising the gratification of punters, at the expense of often vulnerable women and girls.

“This cross-party inquiry kick-starts what for too long has remained an off-limits debate.”

The report recommends removing soliciting as a punishable offence and instead using anti-social behaviour powers.

It also says prostitution should be acknowledged as a coercive and abusive practice and explicitly recognised as a form of violence against women and girls, as the Scottish Government and numerous local authorities already view it.

The report found that just seven per cent of respondents consider the current laws on prostitution to be effective and it fails to protect vulnerable women and children.

Enforcement of the inadequate laws is further compromised by strict evidentiary requirements and “patchy local practise”.

Loopholes allow men to escape prosecution for abusing girls as young as 13, and women trafficked into the country to be repeatedly raped.

It also highlights “shocking levels of poverty, addiction, and abuse” which are the “day-to-day reality for most who sell sex” and says the law’s failure adequately tackle the demand for prostitution indicates to traffickers that the UK is a lucrative destination for trafficking with the purpose of sexual exploitation.

Fiona Mactaggart, co-Chair of the All Party Group on Human Trafficking & Modern Day Slavery said: “The lack of effective government action to tackle the demand for prostitution draws women and girls across the UK into a vicious cycle of abuse and neglect. It also makes the UK a profitable location for sex-trafficking.

“The inadequacy of existing legislation and policy has created lucrative market conditions which are exploited by criminal gangs profiting from the sale of women. This enquiry makes substantial proposals which could prevent this vile trade.”

Last week the European Parliament voted in favour of a report from the Women’s Rights Committee on measures to tackle prostitution. Amongst the recommendations made was for EU member states to adopt the Nordic Model, which criminalises the client instead of the sex worker.