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In Scotland, prostitution itself is not illegal but there is legislation covering activities surrounding prostitution, such as soliciting, living off immoral earnings and trafficking.

For a comparison of prostitution regimes across nine countries see the 2009 report Shifting Sands.

Buying Sex

The first piece of Scottish legislation to tackle the purchase of sex was introduced in October 2007. This made it an offence to solicit or loiter in a public place for the purpose of obtaining the services of a person engaged in prostitution. Prostitution Public Places (Scotland) Act 2007.

Currently it is not an offence in Scotland to buy sex, other than "in a public place". There have been a number of proposals to criminalise buying sex, the latest being Rhoda Grant MSP consultation on the proposed Criminalisation of the Purchase of Sex (Scotland) Bill.

Selling Sex

Although the Scottish Government has recognised prostitution as exploitation and as part of the spectrum of gender based violence, those selling sex on the street continue to be criminalised. Women and men selling sex can be charged with soliciting under Section 46 of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982.

The impact of prostitution

There is much evidence to show that prostitution is harmful to women directly involved, women in general, to men who buy women in prostitution to families and to communities:

  • Women and children abused in prostitution experience severe and long lasting physical and mental health problems.
  • Prostitution is harmful in and of itself, i.e. the constantly repeated experience of submitting to unwanted sex is very damaging to women’s mental health, self-esteem and sexuality.
  • Having to endure unwanted sex leads to the need to dissociate – often using drugs and/or alcohol. Whatever the reason for women entering prostitution, her drug and alcohol use is likely to hugely increase.
  • Many women involved in street prostitution do not have care of their children (usually as a consequence of drug and alcohol misuse). This has a strong impact on the women themselves and is a common issue they need support on through services. It also has an impact on the children, the extended family, for example grandparents bringing up grandchildren, and on child protection services.
  • Impact on family life, for families where women become involved, and also families of men who buy sex: e.g. health risks, loss of income.
  • Impact on communities, especially in areas where street prostitution takes place: debris, noise, increased traffic from kerb crawlers, harassment of local residents, witnessing sexual activity.
  • Only 19% of women working as prostitutes in flats, parlours and saunas are originally from the UK
  • 3 out of 4 women in prostitution become involved aged 21 or younger, and 1 in 2 aged 18 or younger (
  • 25% of men who had bought sex in prostitution expressed “significant or shame” about having done so (Challenging Demand 2008)
  • A Survey of Male Attendees at Sandyford Initiative: Knowledge, Attitudes, Beliefs and Behaviours in Relation to Prostitution (PDF, 5.90MB)

The following figures are from the Home Office report ‘Paying the Price’.

  • 8.9% of men in London aged 16-44 reported having paid for sex in the past 5 years
  • 75% of children abused through prostitution had been missing from school
  • As many as 85% women in prostitution report physical abuse in the family, with 45% reporting familial sexual abuse
  • In the UK as many as 60 women involved in prostitution have been murdered in the last 10 years 80,000 women work in ‘on-street’ prostitution in the UK. The average age women become involved being just 12 years old

Vice Versa believes that condoning or accepting prostitution undermines work on gender equality and on violence against women: what sense could we make of work against rape, sexual harassment at work, stalking and underage sex if men can simply buy these activities through prostitution?

Useful contacts

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