Should sex workers or their clients be criminalised? What Lib Dem members think

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. 741 party members responded – thank you – and we’re publishing the full results.

This lunchtime, two consultation sessions will take place on two policy areas. Full debates on these subjects will take place at Spring Conference in York.

I remember way back in 1992, around Black Wednesday, we were the first national party to debate sex work. We are now in the process of updating our policy to take account of recent evidence and international practice.

Two controversial aspects of this are whether sex workers or their clients should be criminalised. There have been several attempts to change the law in Scotland to criminalise sex workers’ clients but these have so far been defeated.

We asked what our members thought. They were pretty clear.

Do you support the decriminalisation of sex work?

Yes: 92.04%

No:    7.96%

A selection of comments:

I support the decriminalisation of the individual sex workers. But the organised trade in sex, and exploitation of indivuals, should be criminalised further.

There must be protection from trafficking and abuse and coercion. But there are people, I suspect, who would find offering sex as an acceptable economic activity. I deplore the whole business and would hate any of my family to be involved but personal freedom is essential.

I would like to see laws to protect sex workers against exploitation and abusive clients. It is difficult to do that while sex work itself is a criminal offence.

Should clients of sex workers be criminalised?

Yes:   15.79%

No:     84.21%

Except where they commit acts of violence/rape obviously. Sex workers should have complete control over their own bodies, and freedom of choice in selling their services in a regulated and safe industry. Clients should be free to engage those services.

The desire to pay for sex should not be illegal as long as the sex itself is legal (over the age of consent and with no coercion)

Would ensure that the sex work industry remained demonised, regular clients are replaced by less favourable ones and would make it harder for sex workers to make a living.

  • 2,200+ Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with  741 completed the latest survey, which was conducted between 13-15 September 2016
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. The surveys are, though, the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country.
  • We have been able to test the LibDemVoice surveys against actual results on a handful of occasions. It correctly forecast the special Lib Dem conference would overwhelmingly approve the Coalition Agreement in May 2010. In the 2008 and 2010 elections for Lib Dem party president, it correctly predicted the winner. However, in the 2014 election it didn’t; see here for my thoughts on this. 
  • Polling expert Anthony Wells has written about the reliability/validity of LibDemVoice surveys here.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

Read more by or more about or .
This entry was posted in Conference and LDV Members poll.


  • Richard Underhill 17th Sep '16 - 9:18am

    The poll included mandatory questions for which only Yes or No answers were accepted, failing which answers on a wide variety of other questions would not be accepted. This would not happen at conference because it would be possible to register an abstention or decline to vote on individual subjects.

  • A no brainer with caveats. Legalise prostitution and regulate it.

    (I deplore the whole business and would hate any of my family to be involved but personal freedom is essential.) You could say the same about many jobs. It’s amazing how sex gets peoples hackles up when permanent unwanted zero hours don’t.

    Sex should be great in whatever context – if people want to pay then if there’s no coercion then why not? Most people don’t and some people can divorce the idea of lust and love. Perhaps it’s a man thing as they tend to compartmentalise these things more ably.

  • Barry Snelson 17th Sep '16 - 12:53pm

    Like Richard I struggled with Yes/No. it isn’t illegal now to buy or sell sex so it can’t be decriminalised. Many associated activities are and should very much still be. It is all too easy to attempt to ‘help’ sex workers and only end up only benefiting pimps and traffickers.

  • Eddie Sammon 17th Sep '16 - 11:36pm

    This is very difficult because we don’t want a sex-buyer’s manifesto. The sex workers are the ones who should be listened to. We need to protect against exploitation.

    I’d probably support decriminalisation but I’d be very interested to hear what the workers think themselves. From what I’ve read they tend to favour decriminalisation.

    Blackmail disguised as “purchasing”, trafficking and safety are the key issues, I imagine.

    Apparently some police officers in England are using criminal records to blackmail sex workers into sex.

  • The only media coverage I’ve seen of the conference so far was a bit saying schools career advisers should recommended prostitution as a career for pupils. I’m sure that will have the countries parents rushing to vote Lib Dem.

  • Paul Griffiths 18th Sep '16 - 10:55am


    Well, that’s freedom of speech. Nothing we can do about that.

  • Paul Griffiths 18th Sep '16 - 6:45pm


    Oh, apparently there is.

  • John Mitchell 19th Sep '16 - 3:36pm

    My fear of legalising prostitution would be that it legitimises it or makes it acceptable. I do not see it in these terms. Often it is people who are vulnerable who are coerced or exploited into such practices through debt or addictions. I would be wrong to state that all people do not go into prostitution through free will, some individuals will do so, but legalising it would only see this increase or become more attractive. That’s not at all positive.

  • John Littler 10th Jul '20 - 6:29pm

    Yes, legalise, regulate and tax it. There is no case for doing it any differently. The case for banning the unbanable is usually based on banning because of certain sometimes associated different offences, i.e trafficking and enslavement. But that is illegal anyway so what difference would banning it with 2 laws do? Answer = none.

    Banning it would just further push enslavement underground and make it impossible for participants to inform police with incriminating themselves.

    A golden rule for liberals is not to ban what cannot in practice be banned. That includes drug use, except perhaps in exceptional circumstances. It should be dealt with as a medical issue and discouragement

    A experiment with monkeys taught them to use money as means of exchange for food etc and it worked, but as soon as the little blighters got the idea they were using it to try to buy…….you’ve guess it

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Simon R
    @ Peter Martin.. Yep, exactly right. Every time since the industrial revolution that some big technical innovation has come along allowing jobs to be automated,...
  • Mick Taylor
    SOME of our so called privatised rail companies are owned by people outside the country, but so are car companies, utilities, football teams and so on. BUT at ...
  • Simon McGrath
    Still no actual costing - always seems to be missing from UBI articles....
  • Gwyn Williams
    “However, since then Wales has regained its Principality status.” I must have missed that. Wales was established as a Principality of the Kingdom of England...
  • Chris Perry
    It would be nice to hear from a few people in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, please?...