Help create liberal sex work law in Scotland – consultation ends today

Scottish Liberal Democrat Women have been at the forefront of ensuring the Scottish party has a workable policy that secures the rights and safety of sex workers. Jean Urquhart MSP (Highlands and Islands, Independent) has proposed a Bill that is in agreement with this policy, and the Bill consultation is ongoing. Sadly, we are too close to the elections for Holyrood to officially start the Bill process – Members’ Bills can only be introduced up until June of the penultimate year of the session. However, it’s important that we have a framework to build from in the next Scottish Parliament – and, of course, as many Lib Dem MSPs as possible to support the change! This is our contribution to the consultation process.

Do you support the general aim of the proposed Bill? Please indicate “yes/no/undecided” and explain the reasons for your response.

Yes – the Scottish Liberal Democrats backed decriminalisation of sex work with Motion SC6 (Standing up for the rights and safety of sex workers) at their Autumn 2014 conference. The motion was proposed and summated by SLDW executive members, and states:

“Conference calls on:

1. The Scottish Liberal Democrats to reaffirm our support for the rights and safety of sex workers and to include a policy on the full decriminalisation of sex work in our manifesto for the next Scottish Parliamentary election;

2. The Scottish Parliament to reject any further attempts to criminalise sex work or sex workers’ clients;

3. The Scottish Government to:
a. Amend the Safer Lives: Changed Lives document to remove sex work from the definition of violence against women; to commit to a policy of consulting sex workers and working with sex worker-led organisations on matters that will directly affect their rights or industry; and to reject any future policy that defines sex work as violence against women;
b. Implement full decriminalisation of sex work, including activities associated with sex work, based on best practice identified through an investigation into international evidence, in consultation with those involved in the industry.”

Do you agree that the New Zealand Prostitution Reform Act is a model for Scotland to follow? Please indicate “yes/no/undecided” and explain the reasons for your response.

Yes, we do – the motion cited New Zealand as an example of best practice in that sex workers there have a better relationship with the police, greater protection from exploitation and abuse, and that there are fewer cases of violence against sex workers. This is in comparison to Sweden where criminalising the purchase of sex has put sex workers more at risk.

What (if any) would be the main advantages of the legislation proposed? What (if any) would be the disadvantages?

The main advantages of the legislation proposed, from a liberal perspective, would be securing the rights of sex workers to be safe at work and their freedom to engage in a profession of their choice, At the same time, it would protect them from violence and make it easier to identify and prosecute those who sought to exploit or abuse sex workers. Allowing sex workers to work together and removing restrictions on soliciting would improve their safety and allow them to make a proper assessment of potential clients. We also agree that the current sex work laws restrict individual financial freedoms in terms of not allowing family members to be supported by the proceeds of sex work, and fail to protect those who do not identify as female. We do not envisage any particular disadvantages being caused by this Bill – the current situation disadvantages and marginalises sex workers and change is long overdue.

Do you agree that current laws against soliciting and kerb‐crawling should be repealed? Please indicate “yes/no/undecided” and explain the reasons for your response.

Yes – sex workers need to be able to exercise their labour rights not to serve particular customers, and they cannot effectively make an assessment of a customer if the legal framework forces them to act quickly out of fear of detection. People should be able to feel safe at work, and the current situation in Scotland is forcing them to make more risky decisions while not acting as a deterrent.

Do you agree that small groups of up to four sex workers should be legally entitled to work collectively from the same indoor premises? Please indicate “yes/no/undecided” and explain the reasons for your response.

Yes – there is no reason that sex workers should not be able to organise themselves and their business dealings in a way that suits them.

Do you agree that the licensing regime already in place for sexual entertainment venues should be extended to cover indoor premises where more than four sex workers are employed? Please indicate “yes/no/undecided” and explain the reasons for your response.

Yes – we believe that the model in place in Edinburgh was successful in securing the rights and safety of sex workers (as much as was possible in a criminalised system) and were disappointed to see it end. Again, sex workers should have control of their own business decisions, and if they wish to work in larger brothels it is not for us to prohibit such decisions. This also makes it easier for charities and outreach services to work with those in the industry to provide safer sex supplies, reducing vulnerability to sexually transmitted infections.

Do you agree that the laws on living on the earnings of prostitution and procuring should be repealed and that there is a need for more stringent and robust laws against coercion in the sex industry modelled on the New Zealand Prostitution Reform Act?

Yes – there should be no legal difference between earning money from choosing to be a sex worker and earning money from choosing to be a retail worker. Both are legitimate forms of work through which people can support relatives. It is shocking that the current coercion laws are so strongly gendered – it makes no sense that laws should be tailored to women alone when men and non-binary people work in the industry. These kind of laws would not make sense in any other industry – under current laws, two friends who are sex workers would be breaking the law if one invited the other to come and work in the United Kingdom with them, or vice versa.  It is entirely nonsensical.

Do you agree that there should be a statutory right for sex workers to refuse to provide, or refuse to continue to provide, sexual services?

Yes – other workers can refuse to serve customers and end transactions whenever it becomes necessary, so sex workers should have these basic labour rights.

Do you agree that there should be a statutory obligation on brothel operators to ensure safer sex supplies are made available on their premises?

Yes – again, other businesses are required to provide their employees with Personal Protective Equipment where necessary, and sex workers should be entitled to the same legal protections.

What is your assessment of the likely financial implications (if any) of the proposed Bill to you or your organisation? What (if any) other significant financial implications are likely to arise?

Our organisation would not incur any expense from the bill – if the party were to govern, it would have to deal with any financial implications. However, we accept the assessment that there would be savings from the Bill in terms of freeing up police time, the criminal justice system, and legal aid budgets. Our councillors would be the ones who had to handle local authority costs, but again, the application fees mentioned in the Bill for Licensed Brothers would absorb that cost. Sex workers already pay tax on their earnings, so there would be no real change needed to Scottish government tax powers or British government tax collection in this regard.

If you wish to respond to the consultation yourself, the questions and submission instructions can be found here. Today is the last chance for you to respond. We have a real chance to get a workable and liberal sex work policy in place in Scotland, so please make your views known!

* Hannah Bettsworth is a member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats Council for Europe, and the Liberal Democrat Federal International Relations Committee. Outside of politics, she works in European affairs consultancy on health policy.

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  • So depressing. Not one word of criticism about the exploitative, pathetic men who use such services or any thought that this might not be an emotionally healthy way of life for women. The Lib Dems have no moral compass when it comes to these kinds of issues. The ultimate betrayal of feminism and the dignity of women.

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