Umbrella Lane and SCOT-PEP, two Scotland Sex Worker led Charities that support over 500 Sex Workers throughout Scotland, have condemned the measures, noting that this approach will create more victims than it helps.
The charities claim that shutting down websites will remove the transparency of sex work that allows for easier identification of victims of forced prostitution.
These victims, they say, would be hidden away by their exploiters, removed from visible parts of the internet to the dark web and other more hidden dangerous places.
Potential changes in Scottish legislation would follow an approach taken in the United States under Donald Trump that saw the introduction of the controversial ‘Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act’ (FOSTA). Like the Cross-Party Group MSPs, supporters of the US laws banning online advertisements related to sexual services framed the measures as a way to target and reduce sex trafficking. This transpired to be completely disingenuous, however; both consensual and non-consensual Sex Workers became collateral damage.
Dr Anastacia Ryan, Lecturer at Glasgow University and Chief Executive of Umbrella Lane, which supports 500 current Sex Workers in Scotland, said: “This inquiry is a biased and ideologically-driven examination of the sex work landscape in Scotland, carried out by a group that has long lobbied for the introduction of the Nordic Model in Scotland and the outlawing of adult services websites.
“A large body of international research has shown that introducing a ban on the purchase of sex harms Sex Workers, by forcing them into riskier situations in order to earn a living. Banning adult services websites would simply serve to force Sex Workers onto the streets or the dark web, with obviously disastrous consequences for their safety.”
The proposals by the cross-party group fail to consider how the internet is used by Sex Workers to carry out their work safely, while also making it easier for authorities to document and collect evidence about illegal activity, including potential coercion and instances of trafficking. ‘Beyond the Gaze’, a recent detailed academic study of web-based sex work in the UK (1) found that online spaces for advertising provided essential safety mechanisms for Sex Workers.
The safety benefits of online advertising sites were also noted by a Sex Worker in the Charities’ network:
"As a Worker who advertised solely online, I found it to be a great safety net as I could make contact with clients in a neutral space. Having their contact details also allowed me to cross-check with other Workers and databases like National Ugly Mugs, which was my main method of screening. I could then decide to see or not see them on my own terms.
If these websites are banned, it will do nothing to reduce Sex Worker numbers - instead, I would be forced to find clients on the streets. I would have to conduct business quickly to avoid arrest and would be unable to assess them as dangerous or not. This move also opens the door up to exploitative third parties and pimps who would prey on Workers’ new vulnerability." Priya, a Glasgow based Sex Worker.
A Glasgow based Sex Worker and representative of Scot-PEP noted- “Far from protecting people working in the sex industry from exploitation and abuse, the shutting down of advertising platforms actually increases our vulnerability to third parties who wish to profit from our labour. Without access to online advertising, we will be more reliant on managers, agencies and pimps. These kinds of relationships are rife with abuse, coercion and exploitation. Only access to non-judgemental support and robust labour rights can improve the lives and experiences of Sex Workers in Scotland, and these can only be achieved under full decriminalisation of sex work.”
Prerna Menon, Coordinator of the Umbrella Lane project said, "In light of the recent campaigns for an end to violence against women, these calls by the Cross-Party Group on Commercial Sexual Exploitation signal a clear disregard for the safety of Sex Workers. We must not forget that sex work will always exist whilst poverty exists, so until there is a push to eradicate poverty or a concrete commitment to providing Sex Workers real financial support, it is barbaric to make the lives of marginalised people even harder and less safe"
Umbrella Lane, an initiative of SISU, is recognised as a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (SCIO) with the office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) Charity Number: SC045915
19th March 2021
Umbrella Lane Responds To The Cross Party Group's Call For Sexual Services Advertising Sites To Be Outlawed:
Sex workers claim they are being “thrown under the bus” by politicians tasked with protecting women
For further information contact firstname.lastname@example.org / 07583067759
A cross-party group of Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) is calling on the Scottish Government to outlaw online sexual services adverts, after an inquiry was conducted that failed to ask current Sex Workers their views or experiences on advertising their work online. The report calls for a new offence of 'enabling or profiting from the prostitution of another person' - which would apply to websites.