British parliament to debate whether paying for sex should be illegal -MP

by Katie Nguyen | Katie_Nguyen1 | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 3 November 2014 17:28 GMT

A woman views a memorial of hundreds of representative ribbons at the entrance to an unconsecrated graveyard for prostitutes in London, October 25, 2006. The site was a burial ground for paupers and "single women", a euphemism for the prostitutes who worked in brothels since the sixteenth century REUTERS/Toby Melville

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"Our usual method of dealing with women in prostitution is to see them as the problem"

LONDON, Nov 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - British lawmakers are due to debate this week an amendment to the country's modern slavery bill that would make it a crime to pay for sex, a member of parliament said on Monday.

The other proposed changes to the draft law would decriminalise soliciting and require the Home Office (interior ministry) to help women who wanted to leave prostitution, said Fiona Mactaggart, who put forward the amendments.

"Because such an enormous proportion of the people who are trafficked and exploited around the world are women and children ... trafficked into providing sexual services, it seemed right to me, that this bill should include the protection of those people who are exploited in prostitution," Mactaggart told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"Our usual method of dealing with women in prostitution is to see them as the problem not the men whose demand they fulfil."

In September, Britain's National Crime Agency said it identified 2,744 people, including 602 children, as potential victims of human trafficking last year.

More than 40 percent of them had ended up in the sex trade and almost 30 percent had been forced into manual labour. The rest were trafficked for domestic servitude and to commit crimes among other things.

"Britain is a quite large destination country (for trafficked people)," Mactaggart said. "The bill that my amendments are party to might help a bit, but not enough. My amendments would be the only things which would specifically target the demand for sexual services, which is what feeds these exploiters."

Changing the law to make it a criminal offence to buy sex has not only reduced the demand for prostitution in countries that have adopted similar laws, it has also changed attitudes and reduced violence against prostitutes, Mactaggart said.

"If you look at Sweden which has had this law in place the longest, men's attitudes have changed," she said.

"It's changed how people think about prostitution and so it's meant there is less demand, it's meant that men in Sweden think it's not the right thing to do to pay for women's bodies."

Mactaggart said since Norway criminalised buying sex in 2009, the number of prostitutes who have experienced rape has halved and violence from pimps had also halved.

The amendments are due to be debated in the House of Commons (lower house of parliament) on Tuesday.

"If it's passed, which I don't expect ... it could be raised again in the House of Lords (upper house)," Mactaggart said.

The government expects parliament to pass the Modern Slavery Bill, which consolidates and simplifies slavery and trafficking offences in one law, before the next election in 2015. (Editing by Ros Russell)

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