Demand Change! was a joint campaign between Eaves and OBJECT. Read more about us here
Demand Change! calls on the Government to fulfil its multiple international and domestic obligations to tackle demand for prostitution. Section 14 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009 which criminalises the buying of sex from a person who has been subjected to force or coercion is a welcome step towards holding those who purchase sexual acts accountable for their actions.
However, although an important step in the right direction, Section 14 does not go far enough in terms of tackling the demand for prostitution which fuels sexual exploitation, violence and abuse. Demand Change! therefore calls on the Government to follow the ‘Nordic model’ which decriminalises those who sell sexual acts whilst criminalising those who purchase them. This approach has so far been adopted by Sweden, Norway and Iceland, as key parts of their policies to end violence against women.
It is only through tackling demand - holding the buyers of sex accountable for their actions and challenging attitudes towards the buying of sexual acts - that we will be able to end the sexual exploitation, violence and abuse experienced by many women and girls in prostitution.
Prostitution is not glamorous or harmless. It is commercial sexual exploitation which - whilst affecting some men and boys – is profoundly gendered and is defined by the United Nations as an act of violence against women (1). It is both a cause and consequence of wider systems of gender inequality and human rights violations. Treating women merely as sexual objects through commercial sexual exploitation rather than as individuals contributes to attitudes underpinning gender-based discrimination and violence. This makes prostitution a key social justice issue.
The UK has historically failed to deal with the far-reaching human rights implications of prostitution. Despite the intrinsic harm of prostitution and the vulnerabilities of the women exploited through it, current legislation effectively gives men the right to buy sexual acts and exploit this vulnerability. Logically, there is no viability to supply without demand, and it is undoubtedly the demand for sexual services from the empowered buyer that fuels sexual exploitation and the proliferation of the sex industry. Yet the UK has multiple international and domestic obligations to tackle demand for prostitution:
Council of Europe’s Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (2005)
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)
UN Slavery Convention (1926)
Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery (1956)
European Convention of Human Rights (1950)
International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (1966)
UN Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery (est. 1975)
UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (1994)
UN Fourth Conference on Women (Platform for Action) (1995)
UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime and its Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (Palermo Protocol) (1998)
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1971) and the Optional Protocol to the Convention (1999)
European Union Council Framework Decision on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings (2002).
Section 14 of the Policing and Crime Act (2009) represents the first time in UK history that the criminal gaze has shifted away from people exploited in prostitution to focus on those who directly contribute to this exploitation by choosing to buy women, girls, boys and men for sexual use, ensuring that buyers take responsibility for their exploitative actions. This legislation signifies a historic victory for the Demand Change! campaign, survivors of the sex industry, Parliamentarians, unions and activists across the country who lobbied hard for Section 14 to places the right of vulnerable people in prostitution to live free from commercial sexual exploitation above any perceived 'right' of buyers to pay for sexual acts. This is an important step towards gender equality and social justice. However more can be done.
Several countries throughout the world have successfully introduced legislation that tackles the demand for sexual acts. In Sweden, where this legislation has been in force since 1999, the real benefits are clear – there has been a dramatic drop in the number of women in street prostitution, the country is a no longer an attractive destination for traffickers and the number of men purchasing sexual acts has fallen significantly. However, Clause 14 of the Act does not introduce a blanket ban on paying for sexual acts, as per the Nordic model . So, whilst it is a very important step in the right direction, ultimately what is required to effectively end the demand for prostitution is to completely outlaw the purchase of sexual acts.
At the same time, measures should be taken to ensure that those who are victims of sexual exploitation are not criminalised. Criminalising those exploited in prostitution fails to address the reasons that often led to their involvement in the first instance – such as poverty, drug use or fear and coercion by a third party. Finally, adequate resources should be injected into developing and expanding holistic support services to help those involved in prostitution seeking to exit the industry to do so safely and permanently, overcome the damage caused by it, and enable them to avail of other life opportunities including training, education and employment.
(1) As defined in the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women.