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  • Writer's pictureRachael Fulton

Selling Sex in Our City

The street-corner stereotype of prostitutes leaning into car windows is becoming outdated.

Glasgow's sex trade is moving off the street, as prostitutes and their punters make use of mobiles and escort websites to discreetly arrange business elsewhere.

Behind closed doors, the city's sex industry is booming.

"The face of prostitution is changing. Years ago in Glasgow there was quite a thriving sex industry on the street," said Linda Thompson of the Women's Support Project.

"It's hard to say now what's happening in other venues.

"At one stage there was a company that offered a pick-up service at men's work places - a lunch time quickie. A limo would arrive, pick up someone at their office and they'd have a woman in the back of the car for an hour over lunch time. A mobile brothel."

Glasgow City Council and women's organisations across the city are now supporting a bill proposal by MSP Rhoda Grant which would seek to outlaw the purchase of sex in Scotland.

This follows on from the Council's End Prostitution Now Campaign, launched in 2009.

As the law stands, selling and purchasing sex is legal in Scotland unless it is solicited in public or done through a brothel or pimp, but this could be about to change.

The revised proposal of the Criminalisation of the Purchase of Sex Bill was launched in September and is currently in its consultation stages.

If passed, the bill would make it an offence to purchase sex in Scotland, both publicly and privately, and would criminalise the purchaser rather than the prostitute.

A briefing will be held on Thursday, October 25 at St Enoch Square to alert Glasgow of the proposed changes in legislation and discuss its potential outcomes.

"The bill is about getting rid of the market," said Rhoda Grant.

"If you make purchasers stand up and be counted and criminalise them, you immediately cut the amount of purchasers that are there."

The bill is supported by numerous women's rights and anti-prostitution groups, many of whom have had an active role in campaigning for the criminalisation of prostitution over the last decade.

"In Glasgow we clearly view prostitution as commercial exploitation, that women do not tend to wake up one morning and say 'Do you know what? I quite fancy being a prostitute today.' That's not how it works," said Linda.

"In Glasgow there has been a long history of looking at women in prostitution and why they got into it, what backgrounds they were from and what was needed to support them.

"Glasgow sees prostitution as violence, inequality and exploitation of vulnerability. Glasgow says we don't want this in our city."

Once recognised by Amnesty International as having the highest number of sex workers in the UK outwith London, our city has long had a contentious relationship with the world's oldest trade.

An East/West divide can be said to exist in the approach to prostitution within Scotland, as Glasgow, unlike Edinburgh, does not license premises such as saunas and massage parlours - businesses which often operate as brothels.

With the Commonwealth Games 2014 approaching, the council and organisations such as the Women's Support Group are prepared for a surge in demand for prostitutes as thousands of visitors flock to the city, thus potentially increasing the number of local prostitutes as well as women trafficked into the city for purposes of sexual exploitation.

Many want Rhoda Grant's bill to be put into motion this year to eradicate the problem as quickly as possible.

"With the Commonwealth - where there is an increase in men there's an increase in demand. There'll be an expansion of the sex industry, but not all those women will be trafficked," said Linda.

"The vast majority of punters do not want to be confronted with the reality that they've just had sex with a trafficked woman.

"If it's marketed that she's an exotic beauty that has come to Scotland to study and she's learning the language to try to get through it, it's much more palatable for a punter to think that they are helping out some poor Brazilian student than to think that he's paying for non-consensual sex.

"If we really look at our culture as a city - is this acceptable? Often the most vulnerable, those who haven't had a background of privilege, end up in prostitution. As long as prostitution exists, we are saying it's ok to have a class of women that can be used as men's sex toys."

Although the Council and other organisations across the city support the Criminalisation of the Purchase of Sex bill, there are also many who are campaigning to prevent it from going through.

Laura Lee, a Glasgow-based escort and activist for the rights of prostitutes, has worked in the sex industry for almost 18 years. She vehemently opposes Rhoda Grant's proposed bill and feels it will do little to decrease demand and will put women further in danger, rather than protect them.

"If the client is criminalised the whole transaction becomes more clandestine," said Laura, who works as an independent escort in the city in hotel rooms and clients' homes.

"For instance - we know that when street work is further criminalised, all that happens is that women move out of the way of police and move into a more secluded area where, if anything goes wrong, no one can help them. Their window of opportunity of deciding to jump into a car or not is a lot shorter."

Laura has worked in various jobs within the sex industry, from 15 minute parlour appointments to escort tours of up to a week in length.

She believes her wealth of experience makes her a well-qualified spokeswoman for her trade and that the image portrayed of prostitutes as vulnerable, defenceless women is wrong. She says that most of the women she has encountered in her line of work have been confident, strong people who do not want to leave the business.

"In my experience, the women there are there by choice. It's a picture that the abolitionists tend to favour - that we're all pimped, all there because we're too frightened to do anything else," said Laura.

"Quite simply, that's not true, though no one will deny that there is a small element of trafficking that occurs industry wide. Having spoken to other prostitutes, they are strong, feisty and independent. To suggest that anyone would control them is laughable."

After suffering discrimination by members of the public when she was once 'outed' as an escort while living in a small community, Laura began campaigning for the rights of prostitutes.

She now works voluntarily with ScotPep, a group that exists to promote health, dignity and human rights in the sex trade and campaigns for the decriminalisation of sex in Scotland.

"What we strongly encourage is an open communication policy between sex workers and police, which at the moment we enjoy.

"I would have no qualms in going to the police if I had a client come to see me who'd been to a flat in Glasgow and not been happy with what he saw - miserable women, bruising etc. I would go to the police and say you need to have a look at this.

"I've had clients who have called Crimestoppers and gone to the police and reported things. If Rhoda Grant's proposal goes through and clients are criminalised, how are police going to know about these women? The clients are sometimes the only people who see these women.

"As an industry, we are very self-regulating, so within our own industry there is a code of ethics that exists. If it came to light that there were women in fear or being co-ersed or what not, as an industry we would look to report that because we have standards of business practice and as a community we look out for one another."

  • For more information on Rhoda Grant's proposed bill, click here

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