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Umbrella Lane Statement on Calls to Criminalise Clients and Adult Websites

Umbrella Lane, a sex worker-led charity supporting over 500 sex workers throughout Scotland, condemns calls by the Scottish Parliament's cross-party group on commercial sexual exploitation and UK Feminista to bring in laws that criminalise adult service websites and paying for sex. These measures will create more victims than they help, hurting consensual sex workers while doing nothing for those being exploited.

Legislation aiming to shut down adult content websites would follow an approach taken in the United States under Donald Trump that saw the introduction of the controversial ‘Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act’ and ‘Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act’ (FOSTA/SESTA). Like the Cross-Party Group MSPs, supporters of these laws framed the measures as a way to target and reduce sex trafficking.

This has transpired to be completely misguided and has instead compromised sex workers’ abilities to earn money, support themselves and their families, screen clients and stay safe. Shutting down websites also removes the transparency of sex work that allows for easier identification of victims of forced prostitution. These victims are subsequently hidden away by their exploiters, removed from visible parts of the internet to the dark web and other more dangerous places.

Criminalising clients – widely dubbed the Nordic model – is an approach adopted by some of mainland Europe. It has been comprehensively linked to increased risk of violence and poorer overall health, while doing nothing to decrease the number of people doing sex work. Research commissioned and published by the UK Home Office showed that sex workers overwhelmingly enter the industry because of financial need. They also directly link criminalisation practices to increased risks physical and sexual violence.

Criminalisation approaches are opposed by every sex worker-led organisation, as well as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, the United Nations and the World Health Organisation.

Leading feminist organisations, including Scottish Women’s Aid, have also expressed concern that these laws will further endanger women.

Umbrella Lane stands with these organisations in calling for legislators to listen to sex workers, implement evidence-based policies and support the full decriminalisation of sex work. We also ask that the SNP's Green coalition partners now speak out in favour of the decriminalisation of sex work which is a firm part of Scottish Green Policy.

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