Facebook page of SWAN Twitter page of SWAN Instagram stream Youtube channel of Swannet RSS feeds

site available in english and russian

  • English
  • Russian

Закон о морали не прошел тест на безопасность

IT'S the type of business no-one wants in their neighbourhood. Women living near the city's "red light district" were fed up with being harassed by kerb crawlers after dark. Many were frightened of waiting at bus stops, as these were used by prostitutes looking for trade. Parents even found their children playing with used condoms and needles in local parks.

So residents were delighted when strict new laws on prostitution were brought in last year. They welcomed the Scottish Government's drive to get sex workers off the streets and criminalise their clients.

Kerb crawlers could expect a £1000 fine, a criminal record and to lose their driving licence. Women caught "loitering and soliciting" also faced fines up to £1000.

But six months later, many doubt whether these laws have had the desired effect. The Newhaven-based prostitutes' support group ScotPEP has released new figures showing that the number of attacks on prostitutes – called "ugly mug" incidents by the street workers – has doubled since 2006. They claim the laws have made life more dangerous for women, by forcing them to work alone and take more risks.

ScotPEP reported 126 attacks last year in Edinburgh, including 55 assaults and eight rapes. Although these figures cover all of 2007, it says the situation has got worse since October.

Ruth Morgan Thomas, the group's project manager, said more women were arranging meetings in discreet places over the phone rather than picking up clients on the streets. That has meant losing most of the precious few safety guards they enjoyed when they worked semi-publicly on the streets, close to other street workers who tended to keep an eye on them.

Police crackdowns on kerb crawling mean those who continue to work the streets tend to jump straight into cars with clients, without assessing them first.

Ms Morgan Thomas said: "The Scottish Parliament decided to go for criminalising both the buyer and the seller.

"One of the results was that women were driven into more isolated areas.

"Another impact is some men will be put off purchasing sex. But men who have raped and murdered sex workers will not be deterred by the prospect of a criminal record. Prostitutes are left with a smaller group of clients, but are more likely to be assaulted."

She said about 90 per cent of street workers were on drugs, compared to only ten per cent of prostitutes who work indoors. ScotPEP works with around 400 women a year, helping them access health services and report attacks to police.

Independent MSP Margo McDonald said the increase in violence was not surprising.

She said: "My reason for opposing the new law was it said one thing, but its intention was another. They were trying to eliminate prostitution. This needs a big police resource, and I don't think the police are in a position to deliver it.

"When we had the tolerance zone, the car registrations were often known to the women and the police. They were able to police it much more successfully in terms of women's safety."

But the Scottish Government claims the new laws have had some success in the first six months, although they cannot be expected to end prostitution and its associated problems overnight. It has also spent £1 million developing local strategies in Edinburgh and other cities.

A spokesman said: "The Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland has reported a significant reduction in demand."

Lothian and Borders Police say they have arrested and charged 24 suspected kerb crawlers since October.

And the changes have improved residents' lives. Most prostitutes tended to work in a three-square-mile area between Seafield, Leith Links and Ocean Terminal, although the city's unofficial "tolerance zone" in Leith was scrapped in 2001.

Rob Kirkwood of Leith Links Residents' Association, said

: "It's had a tremendous positive effect here. Women and girls can walk to friends and not feel they'll be targeted by kerb crawlers."

But he admits the problem has not gone away. He said: "We've made our community safer but we'd like to see more creative policies for tackling prostitution."

The debate on what these might be is still very much open. The much-cited example of Sweden – which has reported some success by decriminalising prostitutes, but prosecuting the men who use them – is difficult to equate to Scotland.

The Swedish initiative was combined with a comprehensive programme to educate women and help them find jobs. Sweden also has a much smaller sex industry and lower levels of drug addiction.

While Scotland's approach has improved life for those living around the city's traditional red light district, there remain deep concerns it is failing some of the most vulnerable women in society.

Source: Scotsman, United Kingdom