Scottish Executive response to the report

Street Prostitution: The Scottish Executive's Response to the Expert Group on Prostitution Report

Background

Consultation

Acknowledgement

General approach

Local approaches based on partnership

Attitudes

Redressing the balance: reforming the law

Summary

Background

The Scottish Executive established the Expert Group on Prostitution in 2003 following the suggestion of the Local Government and Transport Committee during their consideration of Margo Macdonald's Member's Bill proposal on tolerance zones. The Group's task was to consider the legal, policing, health and social justice issues surrounding prostitution in Scotland.

The Group decided to break the review down into three phases and to focus first of all on street prostitution involving women. Their first report - Being Outside: Constructing a Response to Street Prostitution - was published in December 2004. In it the Group identified several key common challenges in relation to street prostitution: facilitating harm reduction and exiting of those involved; protecting communities affected; preventing vulnerable groups from becoming involved, and influencing public attitudes. The Group made a number of proposals which were contained in the Executive Summary to their Report In particular they called for a national strategic framework; local implementation plans based on a multi-agency approach; initiatives to influence and educate public opinion, and changes in the law to address the current imbalance between sellers and purchasers.

Consultation

The Scottish Executive issued the Expert Group's report for public consultation. The consultation period closed on 18 March. 64 responses were received, mostly from local authorities, health board, police churches and non-governmental organisations. There was general support from respondents for the thrust of the Group's proposals, though some debate on the details. Most supported the proposal for a national framework with local plans, though a number made suggestions that the latter should be integrated with existing community planning arrangements. A notable exception was COSLA which rejected the proposal of a central prescription for local plans. There was significant support for criminalising purchasers and for changing public attitudes. A full independent professional analysis of the consultation responses has been undertaken.

Acknowledgement

The Scottish Executive is grateful to the Expert Group for their hard work on a difficult and often contentious issue. We are particularly grateful to Sandra Hood for chairing the Group and achieving a consensus on the Group's proposals. We have considered these proposals carefully and have developed our response both in light of their work and responses from consultees.

General approach

The Expert Group's proposals challenge both central government and local authorities to take a stronger role in addressing the problem of prostitution. For our part we recognise that we have a leadership role in setting out both the policy and legislative framework within which local partnerships can deliver.

The Executive accepts the Expert Group's view that engagement in street prostitution is overwhelmingly a survival behaviour for the women involved. Furthermore we consider street prostitution to be a form of abuse of women. We believe that efforts to eradicate it should be seen in the context of our broader policies of tackling violence against women. The National Group on Violence Against Women has agreed outline principles setting out what is meant by violence against women - this encompasses all forms of gender-based violence and would include prostitution. Our response to the Expert Group is therefore set in the context of a longer-term objective of challenging and ultimately eliminating all forms of violence against women, including through sexual exploitation.

Our response is also linked to our commitment to build safer, stronger communities. We will provide the legislative framework which will enable antisocial activity associated with street prostitution - including kerb-crawling - to be addressed.

There is sometimes a perception that seeking to minimise harm for those currently involved in street prostitution is in conflict with the objective of eradicating it. We do not recognise such a conflict. We believe that efforts to reduce the harmful effects of involvement for those currently engaged in street prostitution are entirely compatible with helping those who are ready to do so to exit, and in the longer term with eliminating both demand and supply.

The review of street prostitution undertaken by the Group was one component of our examination of these issues. As such it necessarily provides the first step in building up a picture of prostitution in Scotland and the challenges we face in tackling it. There is also on-going work being undertaken both by the National Group on Violence Against Women and by the Adult Entertainment Working Group which will have a bearing on our approach to prostitution. For these reasons this response should be seen as a first step in addressing the problem of prostitution. We anticipate that further action may be required.

Local approaches based on partnership

We strongly support the Group's view that there is a need to improve coordination of strategies and services at the local level to protect and reduce harm to those involved or at risk of becoming involved in street prostitution. However, we do not see the need to adopt a heavy, centralised approach involving the establishment of national forum to develop a national strategy requiring local authorities to develop a local implementation plan on the basis of a prescribed framework. We agree with COSLA's argument that a 'one size fits all' model is inappropriate.

We look to local authorities to take the lead in developing local approaches tailored to local need. They should do so in close partnership with police, health boards and local community and voluntary agencies. The Report showed that the problem of prostitution is concentrated in three of our four main cities but that the problem is manifested differently in each. Whilst the effects and impacts of street prostitution go wider than these three cities, they in particular have a clear challenge to develop pro active approaches which address their local circumstances.

Local authorities and their Community Planning partners already have powers, duties and responsibilities for dealing with both the underlying causes and effects of prostitution, in particular through the provision of support services to those vulnerable to, or involved in, prostitution and the protection of local communities affected by the nuisance of prostitution. In developing their local responses local authorities and their partners should consider the strands which the Group identified should form part of such responses: education, prevention, harm reduction and exiting.

We agree with those consultees who argued that the planning of local responses should be integrated with, and build upon, existing Community Planning activities. In particular we consider they should be integrated with Community Safety Plans and Joint Health Improvement Plans. We will encourage local authorities to take the lead by issuing guidance to them outlining their existing powers in relation to street prostitution (which may include the Power to Advance Well-Being), and locating the response to street prostitution firmly within those powers.

We will also provide local authorities and their Community Planning partners with guidance on dealing with street prostitution and provide examples of existing best practice from both within Scotland and the rest of the UK on which they may draw in developing their own local approaches. We will consult on draft guidance.

We recognise that some local authorities are already taking steps to address street prostitution on a partnership basis. We hope all will respond to the challenge and to further develop their approaches. If they fail to do so we will consider whether we need to take further steps to ensure that they do.

We also need to make links with the Executive's work in promoting local responses to health problems which are of relevance to street prostitution. For example, the Executive is making a significant investment in the delivery of frontline sexual health services, as part of our Sexual Health Strategy. NHS Boards, in consultation with their strategic partners, are currently developing local inter-agency strategies which should make connections to vulnerable groups, including prostitutes. In addition, given the very strong links between street prostitution and drug and alcohol addiction, the implementation of local Corporate Action Plans for tackling substance misuse through local action teams will have an important part to play in harm reduction for those involved in street prostitution.

Attitudes

We agree that there is a need to change public attitudes in relation to street prostitution. We hope that our response sends out a clear signal in that regard. It is likely that the National Group on Violence Against Women will want to give thought to the issues around prostitution as part of a more general approach to awareness raising that makes links between different forms of violence against women and challenges the attitudes that allow such violence to be accepted. We do not therefore propose a targeted campaign specifically on prostitution.

Redressing the balance: reforming the law

In addition to the various wider measures described above, we want to take practical action now to deal with the antisocial activity associated with street prostitution which affects our communities. In particular we are committed to tackling the nuisance caused by those seeking to purchase prostitution services, whether they be 'kerb-crawling' from vehicles, or on foot. We must foster confidence in our communities and regenerate the respect we all want to see in our society. Respect for individuals and communities is an important part of our message in building a safer Scotland.

For too long the law in Scotland has been focused on women soliciting and not on men purchasing. There is a need to redress this balance. That is why we will introduce a new offence which will focus on the nuisance or harm arising from street prostitution-related activities, whether caused by seller or purchaser. This will replace the existing soliciting offence. It will deliver on, but go further than, our commitment to criminalise nuisance from kerb-crawling. It will cover purchasers causing nuisance or offence, whether on foot or operating from a vehicle. The offence will be based on an objective assessment of whether offence would be caused to a reasonable person if they witnessed the behaviour rather than being dependent on complaints from the public. We intend therefore to criminalise men who cause nuisance or alarm when attempting to purchase sex. But we also want to make clear that anyone causing nuisance or alarm by selling sex would also be committing a criminal offence. We will include provisions for the new offence in the Sentencing Bill which will be brought forward in 2006-07. As part of this process we will examine opportunities for a wider range of discretionary disposals, such as drug rehabilitation and other support for women and re-education programmes for men.

We do not support the introduction of statutory tolerance zones for prostitution. Nor was there much support for their establishment from consultees. There is little evidence that such zones help to protect women involved in prostitution, or that they prevent communities from the nuisance associated with it. Indeed a number of consultees argued that the opposite is true.

Moreover our proposals will make statutory tolerance zones unnecessary and inappropriate, since they will require a pro-active response at local level to street prostitution in order to ensure community safety, to reduce the harm caused, and with the ultimate aim of supporting women to exit. And our proposals to change the criminal law will ensure that enforcement focuses on nuisance to the community and enables the police to also deal with the harm caused by males seeking to purchase, rather than only appearing to target prostitutes as such.

Summary

    The Executive will:
    • address street prostitution within the context of an overarching approach to tackling violence against women and of building safer, stronger communities
    • issue guidance to local authorities on their powers and on how they (and other participants in Community Planning) should address street prostitution as part of the Community Planning process in order to prevent involvement in prostitution, to reduce the harm to the women involved, to assist those ready to exit and to ensure the safety of local communities
    • promote good practice in developing local responses which involve all agencies in the delivery of services
    • establish a new offence which will focus on harm, offence and nuisance caused to communities from prostitution-related activities, whether by sellers or purchasers (to replace the existing offence of soliciting).