A chance for cross-party action against human trafficking
Prostitution is often described as the the oldest occupation in the world. It is not, but it may be one of the oldest forms of violence against women.
This is the firm belief of Glasgow City Council and, after years of campaigning by Glasgow Labour, we finally may be able to strike a cross-party blow against human traffickers, the men who drive demand and a system of blame that has exploited some of our most vulnerable women for centuries.
Prostitution is overwhelmingly driven by male demand. Half of the women involved begin selling their bodies for sex before they had turned 18 and 95% of women involved in street prostitution also have addictions issues.
But the statistic that should shame us all into action is that once in prostitution, 9 in 10 women report wanting to exit, but feel unable to do so. Trapped by a violent combination of personal circumstance, ineffective law and male demand.
This is more than just an issue about the exploitation of women, and in particular young women. It is also about organised crime.
Prostitution and trafficking are undeniably linked and we know that victims of trafficking are brought to cities almost exclusively to meet the demand of the sex industry. By targeting demand for prostitution, we are making Glasgow and Scotland a less attractive destination for traffickers.
Evidence suggests that when countries stand up and tackle this issue, traffickers flee, largely to neighbouring countries. And with the calls for similar action in Ireland, Northern Ireland, France and across the continent getting louder, it is not in anyone’s interest for Scotland to be the only door left ajar.
The status quo is not working, no matter how hard those in power wish the issue to slip away unnoticed out of the public mind. Criminalising the women involved simply is not a deterrent to a demand driven problem.
Glasgow City Council has changed the way we deliver services, developing a robust and proactive approach that puts the well-being of women at the forefront
But only by challenging public acceptability and attitudes will we see progress, and that is why Glasgow Labour is leading cross-party efforts in our City Council to lobby the Scottish Government to criminalise all means of buying sex.
That means learning from the example of other countries which have criminalised the purchaser and organisers of the sex trade and prioritised exit routes for women.
Countries like Sweden which have already taken this action saw levels of prostitution halved between 1999 and 2008 while Denmark and Norway, neighbouring countries with more liberal attitudes towards prostitution, saw it triple.
We could follow in their footsteps and with a single amendment make a tangible difference to thousands of our most vulnerable citizens.
Human trafficking and prostitution are undeniably linked and are both rooted in inequality and exploitation.
With an amendment to the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Bill which is making its way through Holyrood just now, we could take a huge step forward for gender equality and ensure that our justice system better helps vulnerable women, rather than protect those who exploit them.
As elected members our duty is to give a voice to the voiceless and to stand up for those in need.
The time for action is now and Holyrood must be brave enough to seize it.