Criminalising the buying of sex in Scotland would “disempower” women and put them in further danger, the head of a leading charity has claimed.
Last year the Scottish government launched a consultation on sex work, outlining its position that it regards it as a form of violence against women.
Ash Denham, the community safety minister, has previously given her support to the so-called Nordic model, where men are criminalised for seeking to buy sex.
The policy has also been supported by Diane Martin, 57, a Dundee-based campaigner who was trafficked for sex as a teenager, who said: “Going forward we must recognise prostitution and sex trafficking as the same thing.”
However, Dr Marsha Scott, the chief executive of Scottish Women’s Aid, which works to end domestic abuse, has made it clear that the charity will not back the proposals.
In a letter responding to a request for support from Martin, she wrote: “Criminalisation of sex work is a major issue and can cause increased risk for the women involved in it.
“As you know, it’s impossible to criminalise the buyer without impacting on the woman by completely disempowering her and taking away any small bit of choice she has in this awful power dynamic. We also know from research in other countries that operate from models of criminalisation of sex that it pushes it deeper underground; forces women into positions and places which make it harder to risk-assess; creates bigger barriers for support services to operate; and makes it impossible for women to work in groups which currently creates a degree of safety and peer support.”
She said that Scottish Women’s Aid saw sex work as a form of violence against women, but added: “We want to stop the demand, but we think we are not in that place yet and we can’t therefore operate in a way that would only work if we had.”
The exchange of sexual services for money is legal in Scotland but associated activities such as brothel keeping and kerb crawling are outlawed. In Edinburgh, brothels, whose existence is tolerated by the authorities, are allowed to operate.
The government consultation received 4,000 responses which were “polarised” between those in favour of total decriminalisation and those who favoured outlawing the sale of sex.
At the beginning of the process Denham said: “This consultation is an opportunity for a national discussion about how we address this form of gendered violence, protect the human rights and dignity of women, and improve outcomes.”
The Scottish government has since announced plans to create a “bespoke” model to help women involved in sex work.
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