REPORT OF THE EXPERT GROUP ON PROSTITUTION IN SCOTLAND: ANALYSIS OF CONSULTATION RESPONSES

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The consultation on the report of the Expert Group on Prostitution in Scotland, " Being Outside: Constructing a Response to Street Prostitution", took place between 16 December 2004 and 18 March 2005. A consultation paper was issued to which 62 responses were received from a range of individuals and organisations with an interest in tackling the problems associated with street prostitution.

This report presents an analysis of the responses to the consultation. The findings will inform the Scottish Executive's plans to address the challenges posed by increasing levels of street prostitution in Scotland.

Despite a relatively modest volume of submissions, the response to the consultation was encouraging in terms of its representation of a wide range of perspectives from a variety of agencies and individuals. Responses from non-governmental organisations comprised the largest category of submissions (35%). Most responses were submitted on behalf of organisations, with only 4 from individual consultees. No obvious gap in respondent category was identified.

The Expert Group outlined in the consultation document its proposed approach to tackling street prostitution. It advocated a new national strategy which requires identification of whether there is evidence of street prostitution in local authority areas, followed by local planned action where a need is identified. The consultation document set out in detail the recommended content of the proposed local strategic plans which it was envisaged would address:

  • Prevention
  • Early intervention
  • Harm reduction
  • Exiting prostitution, and
  • Co-ordinating the process

The document also considered the application of the criminal law to street based prostitution in Scotland, sought to consider the equity and effectiveness of the law in its approach to prostitution and made recommendations for changes to the law. The Expert Group proposed that the current law on soliciting be replaced with a new legal focus which deals with offensive behaviour or conduct surrounding street prostitution (whether committed by the buyer or seller).

Consultees were invited to comment on the proposals contained in the document and add any further comments of relevance.

SUMMARY OF VIEWS EXPRESSED

General Views on the Expert Group's Report ( Chapter 3)

  • The majority of respondents (81%) provided general commentary on the consultation document, with much support expressed for its broad principles, recommendations and what was seen as the constructive manner in which themes had been identified and presented.
  • Despite such support, however, some respondents felt that the Expert Group had failed to give clear direction and guidance on how street prostitution should be tackled.
  • A recurring comment was that prostitution is part of the continuum of violence against women and should be tackled holistically within this framework.
  • A common recommendation was for a sustained, national educational initiative aimed at changing societal attitudes and beliefs towards the acceptability of violence towards women and de-stigmatising prostitution.
  • A common theme was that any new and existing initiatives aimed at addressing street prostitution would require adequate funding to be effective.
  • Respondents recommended further research and investigation to supplement what was seen as the current thin evidence base on which to build policy.

Managing the Process of Responding to Street Prostitution ( Chapter 4)

  • Amongst those who commented on the proposal for a new national strategic framework, the overwhelming view was one of support for its development as a basis for the construction of local implementation plans.
  • There was much support for the co-ordinated, multi-agency response advocated by the Group.
  • An inclusive approach which used the experiences of relevant individuals and organisations in developing the plans was recommended by many commentators.
  • There were mixed views on the proposal to establish a new National Forum to oversee the process of defining the strategy and monitoring its implementation. Some support was expressed, but it was also felt that the need for the Forum required further clarification.
  • Several respondents from a variety of sectors expressed their support for the ethos of local planning to address street prostitution, within the framework of a national guiding strategy.
  • A recurring theme was the identification of compatibility between existing local planning mechanisms and structures and the proposed local implementation plans.
  • It was suggested that the development of local plans should build on relevant lessons learned previously throughout Great Britain.
  • Several respondents from a range of sectors queried who would fund what they saw as the additional tasks of identifying need and developing and executing local implementation plans.
  • There was much support for the proposal for plans to be monitored at regular intervals against agreed standards and nationally prescribed standards of performance. However, it was urged that room should also be left for local flexibility.

Preventing Involvement in Prostitution ( Chapter 5)

  • There was much general support for the approach to prevention suggested in the report and the attention given to the root causes of prostitution.
  • Almost one in five of respondents to the consultation urged that sufficient funding be allocated to underpin the preventive work recommended.
  • Respondents recognised the sense in locating preventive work within existing national and local social inclusion strategies wherever possible.
  • The proposal that continuing attention be given to strategies relating to educating the public, and in particular young people, attracted much attention and support.
  • There was much support for the proposal to target preventive interventions towards people at risk of involvement in prostitution.

Early Intervention ( Chapter 6)

  • Several consultees from a variety of sectors offered their general support for the report's proposals regarding early intervention with young women being drawn towards involvement in street prostitution.
  • Whilst the benefits of the collaborative model of working were appreciated by respondents, several qualified their support by stressing that such an approach may not be straightforward to achieve and sustain.
  • The need to develop shared protocols between agencies in ways of working and the handling of client's details was a recurring theme in many responses.
  • Of the minority of respondents who commented on the proposal to separate early intervention services from "later" services, views were split between those in favour (67%) and those against (33%).

Reducing the Harm ( Chapter 7)

  • The majority of respondents (69%) commented on the proposals for reducing the harm with many very much in favour of the approach proposed.
  • The notion of a single door or gateway approach to accessing services was praised by many commentators.
  • There was much agreement that the logistics of accessing services required attention, with various ideas put forward for improving service access and flexibility. In particular, recommendations were made for services to be more mobile and more proactive in increasing their accessibility.
  • There was general support for the notion of dedicated health services targeted at prostitutes.
  • Of those commenting on the proposal for a key worker relationship between agencies and clients, the majority (75%) view was in favour.
  • Concerns were raised over the need to resource the proposal adequately and split financial responsibilities between agencies.

Exiting ( Chapter 8)

  • There were mixed views on whether exiting should be considered as a main target in addressing prostitution or whether more emphasis should be placed on harm reduction as a target.
  • Respondents agreed that no one stand-alone agency could offer the range of services required to support women at the stage of exiting from prostitution.
  • The notion of a care plan with the woman at the centre supported by a key worker or care manager was endorsed.
  • Views were mixed on the Group's proposals to separate the different stages of response to prostitution. The majority view was that treating them as separate stages was beneficial. The minority view was that in reality the stages could rarely be segregated and any artificial distinctions could serve to create barriers to the seamless provision of services.
  • Several respondents urged that services be ready to respond to the typically non-linear routes out of prostitution experienced by many women.
  • Calls were made for adequate funding to support the proposals with a few consultees suggesting that the government take responsibility for funding the exiting proposals.

Justice Issues ( Chapter 9)

  • The proposals to change the law attracted commentary from 95% of respondents.
  • Many respondents expressed their agreement that the current law relating to prostitution was outdated and needed to be reviewed.
  • There were mixed views regarding the Expert Group's proposal to replace the criminalisation of soliciting with a new offence targeting offensive behaviour. Of the responses which provided a clear indication of opinion, 37% were in favour, 37% were against, and 26% saw some merit in the recommendations but also had some reservations about certain aspects.
  • Several respondents were concerned that the change in law proposed would not address what was seen as the fundamental problem of violence against women and would not reduce the numbers of those involved in prostitution. Another key concern was what was viewed as the relatively subjective nature of the terms of the proposed new offence.
  • Of the 18% of respondents who commented on the 3 options for legal change presented in the report, the option most commonly preferred was that of following the Scottish Law Commission's codification route.
  • A recurring theme was to recommend that the Group reconsider the transferability of the Swedish approach of prohibiting the buying of sex, to the Scottish context.
  • A current imbalance in the treatment of buyers and sellers of sex in Scotland was acknowledged, with many respondents endorsing the report's aim of addressing this.
  • There were differences in opinion on whether the proposal for gender-neutral approaches under the proposed offence would actually result in equality of treatment between men and women.
  • Of the respondents who expressed a view on kerb crawling, 46% argued that there should be an offence relating to kerb crawling, 38% agreed with the Group's view that, under their proposals, there would be no additional requirement to create a specific offence of kerb crawling, and 15% respondents did not express a clear opinion one way or other.
  • There was general support for the Group's criticism of punitive approaches to address women involved in prostitution.
  • Of those who expressed a view on the use of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders as a sanction for women involved in prostitution, 67% were against their use in this context.
  • Of the respondents who commented specifically on the notion of managed zones for prostitution, the majority view (60%) was that these should not be introduced in Scotland. Twenty per cent were in favour of such zones in Scotland, whilst the remaining 20% provided more general commentary rather than a specific view.