Will We See Decriminalisation In Scotland?

The sex industry is pretty much always in the spotlight, mainly because the world cannot stop looking at it. They want to know what it is all about, what drives people to be a part of it, and they can’t wait to force their own ideas and stigma onto those who are working in it.

Beautiful blond naked girl in seductive position

Amnesty International recently challenged everyone’s ideas about the world of sex by saying that the Swedish model is what so many people are calling for to try and “help” sex workers and to prevent “dangerous” clients from being out there was actually bad for the industry. They then said that the best thing to do would be to decriminalise it completely, and that caused a lot of problems for those still clinging to the ideas about the industry that they so desperately wanted to be true.

Pretty much everyone and their mother has an opinion on sex work. In fact, there are plenty of celebrities out there who have hit back at Amnesty’s proposal, believing that it will do more harm than good. They think that, for some reason, it would lead to a rise in trafficking, pimping, and sex worker abuse, and would simply encourage the kind of things that they want to stop with things like the Swedish model.

So while there are some out there who do believe that the Swedish model is the way to go, there are also plenty of people who can see that, actually, we don’t want the Swedish model in Scotland. It isn’t going to make anyone any safer, as numerous studies have shown, and the best thing to do would be to listen to Amnesty and have a complete decriminalisation of the industry, just like New Zealand does.

Jean Urquhart

While Amnesty International did an amazing job bringing the issue to the attention of the media, celebrities have done enough to shoot down the idea. They keep telling us the decriminalisation would be legalising abuse, pimping, and all sorts of things like that. Of course, the celebrities know better than actual sex workers. After all, they have played them in films!

An independent member of Scottish Parliament, Jean Urquhart, has seen Amnesty’s proposal and thinks that it is definitely the right way to go, and has put forward a proposal “which calls for the abolition of laws banning kerb crawling and soliciting”. The proposals are currently in a draft for consultation, but they have some fantastic points in them.

The current laws in Scotland mean that two sex workers working together to keep each other safe is technically a brothel, which can earn you a seven-year prison sentence. It sounds ridiculous, especially when the women are usually just working together so that they have someone else there just in case the worst should happen. They aren’t doing it to set up a brothel, but are still treated in that way. Urquhart’s proposal will mean that up to four sex workers will be able to “operate together” and protect themselves in this way, while they would also be able to share their finances with housemates and their families, which was previously not allowed.

This whole thing came about when Rhoda Grant put forward a bill to criminalise sex work, and she said that she “didn’t like” that Grant’s proposal as “the criminalisation of sex work was seen as the cure-all for drug addiction, violence against women by men, and human trafficking”. She agrees that those issues do need addressing, “but criminalising the sale of sex doesn’t answer any of these questions or solve any of these problems.”

This isn’t a decision she has made without support. In fact, she has worked on the bill with the SCOT-PEP sex worker rights charity, who has found that the current laws actually increase the risk of harm to sex workers. She tells us that “it doesn’t mean that prostitutes have stopped doing street work, it just means that it happens very quickly. In order not to be caught, the prostitutes have to decide to get in the car without time to assess whether there is any danger or not.”

Huge support

Unsurprisingly, this proposal from Urquhart has gained a lot of support because it makes sense. Trying to criminalise sex work would just push the industry underground and make it more dangerous, whereas decriminalising, as sex worker Jamie Drake points out, would help to end the “volatile relationship” that Scottish sex workers and the police have.

The co-chair of SCOT-PEP, Nadine Stott, has said that “there’s a whole range of laws that massively negatively impact people who sell sex in Scotland” and simply describe the situation as saying “the law is shit”. Things need to change, and this might be the best way to do it.

Jamie Drake talks about the situation in New South Wales in Australia, where sex work is legal, and has said that the difference between the situation there and every other country is huge. “If anything ever went wrong,” she said, “I wouldn’t feel scared to go to the police as I know they would only be there to help me. However in Scotland there si no way I would ever go to the police.”

If that isn’t enough of a reason to get behind this proposal, the amazing Laura Lee has also spoken out about it, saying that “the number one problem we face is being unable to work together for safety. Decriminalization allows that and sends a message out to would be attackers that we are no longer along and vulnerable.”

She even discusses a time when being able to work with another sex worker would have realy helped her. She said that she once “had a client in Glasgow who was very mentally unstable and frightened me.” She goes on to say that “when we had finished our session, he accused me of going to the kitchen to find a knife! I felt very vulnerable and had there been another sex worker there I would simply have told him to leave. It took me two hours to calm him down and get him out.”

Will it really make a difference?

Of course, with any kind of new proposal regarding the changing of sex work legislation, there are those who genuinely don’t believe that it is the right way to go. They think that the only way to deal with sex work and the other things they tie into it, such as drug abuse and trafficking, is to completely criminalise it. This will make people stop selling sex and realise that there are plenty of better options for work out there… because that is the way that it works, right?

Well, for those who realise that sex work isn’t the demonic job that others think it is, Urquhart’s proposal seems to be the best that we have seen for a long time, mainly because it actually looks at the problems that sex workers face and tries to address them, instead of covering them up with lies and stigma or making them worse. Urquhart has said that “one of the things that they feel is the kind of disregard for their work. If somebody is violent towards them, they have no defence. The law is not on their side. They’re most keen to have the same rights as everybody else – to have that protection in law – and to feel safe doing the work they were doing.” Is that really too much to ask?

Unfortunately, the timetable for parliament means that the bill isn’t going to be passed before the next election, but it seems that the topic is controversial enough that it will start the conversation that we so desperately need to be having.

One Edinburgh based sex worker has spoken out, saying that while “everyone says the bill isn’t likely to become a law”, she feels that “it’s important to start the conversation on our terms”, as there are far too many speaking for sex workers without any real idea about what the industry is actually like. “So far, the Scottish parliament has only discussed proposals that criminalize my work in one way or another, and I’m very glad sex workers in Scotland get to say what we really want and what would make our work safer.”

What do you think about the decriminalisation of sex work in Scotland? Is it something that we will ever see? What can we do to further show the country and indeed the entire world that sex work isn’t the demon industry that they see it as? You can let us know what you think, whether you agree with the proposals or feel they are a little too much too soon by leaving a comment in the comment box below, or you could join in the discussions on the Escort Scotland forum and see what others have to say about this hot topic.

Lara Mills
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