Press release from the Cross-Party Group on Commercial Sexual Exploitation
MSPs launch inquiry into 'pimping websites' over concerns about online sex trafficking crisis
On Friday 9th October 2020 the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Commercial Sexual Exploitation is launching an inquiry into websites that advertise sexual exploitation (1). MSPs fear that lax laws have allowed commercial website operators to act like ‘pimps’ by advertising victims of sexual exploitation to sex buyers, thereby making Scotland a magnet for sex traffickers. The Cross-Party Group, co-chaired by the SNP’s Ruth Maguire MSP and Labour’s Rhoda Grant MSP, will hold a series of evidence hearings and publish their findings and recommendations to the Scottish Government in the autumn.
‘Sexual Exploitation Advertising websites’ – under investigation by the Cross-Party Group - are websites dedicated solely or partly to advertising individuals for sexual exploitation. The websites are free to use by sex buyers – who use the sites to locate people to pay for sex - but generate profits by charging individuals to place an advert or boost the prominence of their advert on the site. Currently, Sexual Exploitation Advertising websites operate openly and free from criminal sanction in Scotland. Internationally, these websites have come under increasing scrutiny due to concerns that they fuel sex trafficking and organised crime:
In 2017, the US Government cracked down on websites facilitating sex trafficking by passing the ‘Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act’ – which makes it a federal criminal offence to own, manage or operate a website to promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person (2).
In 2018, the Paris public prosecutor’s office opened an investigation into the advertising website Vivastreet on charges of aggravated pimping – on the basis that it was hosting adverts for prostitution (3). The case is ongoing.
In 2018, the UK Parliament’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade concluded that Sexual Exploitation Advertising websites were fuelling “industrialised” sex trafficking and called for the sites to be banned in England and Wales (4).
Sex trafficking is the most common form of human trafficking in the European Union, with 95% of the victims female (5). Trafficking for sexual exploitation is also believed to be the most profitable form of modern slavery: on average a victim of modern slavery will generate $3,978 (£3,030) a year for their exploiter, while a victim of sex trafficking will generate average profits of $36,000 a year (6).
The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is a framework for identifying and referring potential victims of modern slavery and ensuring they receive the appropriate support. Of the referrals to the NRM in 2019 that relate to Scotland, 81 adults were referred as potential victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation (7). 95% of these potential victims were female (77 female, 4 male). The Cross-Party Group on Commercial Sexual Exploitation has calculated, based on the median length of time a trafficking victim is held in sexual exploitation and the median counts of rape and sexual assault perpetrated against victims in this time, that an estimated total of 64,395 rapes and sexual assaults would have been perpetrated against the 81 potential adult victims of sex trafficking (8). This is expected to represent the tip of the iceberg of the true scale of sex trafficking.
In September 2020, 24 people were arrested as part of an investigation led by Police Scotland into sex trafficking. 10 Romanian nationals, suspected to be part of the organised crime group, were arrested in the UK, while a further 14 suspects were arrested in Romania (9).
Ruth Maguire MSP, Co-Chair of the Cross-Party Group on Commercial Sexual Exploitation, said:
“We have launched this inquiry because behind closed doors there is an epidemic of sexual exploitation and sex trafficking in Scotland. Organised crime groups are luring vulnerable women to Scotland, often with promises of a better life, only to ruthlessly subject them to rape and sexual assault by the small minority of men in this country who pay for sex. Crucially, there is growing international evidence that the organised crime groups and sex buyers who commit this abuse are getting a major helping hand from Sexual Exploitation Advertising websites. These are commercial pimping websites where victims of sexual exploitation are advertised to sex buyers.
“Right now, hugely lucrative pimping websites operate openly in Scotland. The Cross-Party Group on Commercial Sexual Exploitation will investigate the role that these websites are playing in fuelling sexual exploitation in Scotland and identify what action the Scottish Government must take.”
Rhoda Grant MSP, Co-Chair of the Cross-Party Group on Commercial Sexual Exploitation, said:
"The sex trade is insidious, it visits violence on women. Those who advertise prostitution are actively encouraging violence against women. They profit from the misery of that individual and they hold all women in contempt, seeing them as commodities rather than people. That they do not care whether the people they are advertising for sale are enslaved and being raped underlines their lack of empathy. They only care about their profits. It is time we stood up to them, called them to account and ensured that no woman is for sale in Scotland today."
Notes to editors
1) The Cross-Party Group on Commercial Sexual Exploitation is co-chaired by Ruth Maguire MSP and Rhoda Grant MSP. Consistent with the Scottish Government, the Cross-Party Group on Commercial Sexual Exploitation recognises prostitution as commercial sexual exploitation and a form of violence against women. For further details, see Equally Safe: Scotland's strategy to eradicate violence against women. Accessed at: https://www.gov.scot/publications/equally-safe-scotlands-strategy-prevent-eradicate-violence-against-women-girls/pages/3/
2) H.R.1865 - Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017. Accessed at: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/1865
4) ‘Behind Closed Doors: Organised Sexual Exploitation in England and Wales’, All-Party Parliamentary Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade, 2018. Accessed at: https://appgprostitution.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Behind-closed-doors-APPG-on-Prostitution.pdf
5) ‘Data collection on trafficking in human beings in the EU’, European Union, 2018. Accessed at: https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/sites/homeaffairs/files/what-we-do/policies/european-agenda-security/20181204_data-collection-study.pdf
6) Analysis published in 'Modern Slavery' by Siddharth Kara - a slavery economist and fellow of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/jul/31/human-life-is-more-expendable-why-slavery-has-never-made-more-money
7) Source: https://www.gov.scot/publications/equally-safe-consultation-challenging-mens-demand-prostitution-working-reduce-harms-associated-prostitution-helping-women-exit/pages/3/
8) In 2018 the Home Office estimated that the median length of time a trafficking victim is held in sexual exploitation is 9 months (274 days), with individual victims experiencing a median of 795 counts of rape and other forms of sexual assault during that period. Report: ‘The economic and social costs of modern slavery’, Home Office, July 2018. Accessed at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/729836/economic-and-social-costs-of-modern-slavery-horr100.pdf
9) See: https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/cops-raid-scots-properties-during-22655862; https://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/crime/24-people-arrested-during-police-scotland-human-trafficking-investigation-2966540