On 19 March 2021, the Cross-Party Group on Commercial Sexual Exploitation launched the findings of its 2020-2021 inquiry into Sexual Exploitation Advertising websites.
Sexual Exploitation Advertising websites are websites dedicated solely or partly to advertising individuals for prostitution. The inquiry was launched in response to growing concerns about the role these websites play in facilitating sex trafficking and sexual exploitation in Scotland. The purpose of the inquiry was to establish what role Sexual Exploitation Advertising websites currently play in facilitating sex trafficking and sexual exploitation in Scotland - and to identify what action the Scottish Government should take in response.
"My advert was put on the internet. I didn’t do that, the pimp’s girlfriend did... I had to fight with the customers but I didn’t speak very good English at that time.” - Natasha
The role of Sexual Exploitation Advertising websites in facilitating sex trafficking and sexual exploitation:
1. Sexual Exploitation Advertising websites are a major enabler of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation in Scotland.
2. ‘Market-leading’ Sexual Exploitation Advertising websites centralise and concentrate demand online from sex buyers.
3. Opportunities and incentives for third parties to traffic and exploit women via Sexual Exploitation
Advertising websites cannot be ‘designed out’ of the websites.
4. Sexual Exploitation Advertising websites knowingly facilitate and profit from the prostitution of others.
5. Sexual Exploitation Advertising websites do not enhance the safety of women. They endanger
vulnerable women by incentivising and enabling sex trafficking.
Government and law enforcement responses to Sexual Exploitation Advertising websites:
7. The scale of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation facilitated by Sexual Exploitation Advertising websites vastly outstrips policing capacity to respond to it.
8. Current UK-wide law enforcement collaboration with Sexual Exploitation Advertising websites is
failing to meet its ostensible objectives, provides political cover to the website companies, and
underplays the level of threat posed by the websites.
9. Successful international legal and law enforcement initiatives to tackle Sexual Exploitation Advertising websites enable evidence-based action in Scotland.
“[The] man who recruited me into prostitution managed to serve prison time and will be subjected to a proceeds of crime hearing to pay back the hundreds of thousands of pounds that he earnt from exploiting me and others. But the websites that directly profit off every booking, off every girl who advertises globally, have no repercussions for their exploitation. This feels like an extreme injustice to our trauma.” - Megan King, survivor of sexual exploitation
In order to prevent Sexual Exploitation Advertising websites fuelling and facilitating sex trafficking and sexual exploitation, the following public policy and policing reforms should be enacted in Scotland:
• Introduce the offence of enabling and/or profiting from the prostitution of another person.
• Introduce the offence of providing or offering money or other benefit (including food and accommodation) in return for a person performing sex acts.
• Repeal Section 46 of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 in order to prevent victims
of sexual exploitation from being sanctioned for soliciting in a public place.
• Expunge previous convictions under Section 46 of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982
from individuals’ records.
• Upon the introduction of the offence of enabling and/or profiting from the prostitution of another
person, enforcement action should be taken against Sexual Exploitation Advertising websites that continue to operate in Scotland in violation of the law.
• Until the introduction of the offence of enabling and/or profiting from the prostitution of another
person, law enforcement must fully and robustly enforce existing legislation and powers relating to the activities of Sexual Exploitation Advertising websites.
• All law enforcement personnel who work on matters relating to sexual exploitation, including the National Crime Agency and other UK-wide law enforcement bodies that operate in Scotland, should receive specialist training on the nature and harms of sexual exploitation.
Support services and education
• A comprehensive, well-resourced network of holistic support and exiting services should be provided for individuals who are currently or have formerly been involved in commercial sexual exploitation in Scotland. Training and other relevant capacity-building initiatives should also be provided for personnel in mainstream services who interact with victims of commercial sexual exploitation.
• All schools should adopt a whole school approach to tackling sexism and promoting equality between women and men in order to promote positive attitudes amongst young people in relation to consent and healthy relationships. In support of this, every Initial Teacher Training provider in Scotland should include training on how to tackle sexism in schools as a core and compulsory part of their courses for trainee teachers.
“These websites increase the scale and profitability of the market dramatically. …It made it much easier for traffickers to advertise people and much easier for buyers to find them. And any time you reduce that threshold, those barriers to accessing the market, you are going to see more engagement and that’s been the major problem. It also reduces risk for traffickers, so it makes it much more attractive. And we know that because we see the proliferation of websites and we see the volume of ads. But we also know it because we talk to survivors, and before these sites came along they were being sold maybe once or twice a night. Now it’s ten times because they can get buyers much, much more quickly.” - Valiant Richey, Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe