UK Home Office Recommends Criminalizing Men Who Pay for Sex with Trafficked Women
Monday, November 24, 2008 9:57 AM

Under proposed changes to British law, a person who buys sex from a woman who was trafficked can now be charged with rape, which carries up to a life sentence. An excuse of not knowing that the woman was trafficked will not be accepted as the law includes a strict liability test, making it “irrelevant whether the sex buyer knew that the prostitute was controlled or not.” (Cited from: Tackling the Demand for Prostitution: A Review, Home Office (November 2008).) The proposed punishment would include a fine of up to £1,000 and a criminal record. The proposed modifications would also eliminate the requirement to show that a patron used “persistence” or “annoyance” in attempting to buy sex, so police will be able to arrest patrons for first-time offenses, which is virtually impossible under the current law.

The proposal, which shifts its focus from supply to demand, encompasses a broader range of new crimes intended to cut down on prostitution in the United Kingdom. This comes to the surprise of many, given that only four years ago, the same political party (Labour) that passed this bill was considering a move to partial legalization of prostitution.

These legislative proposals emerged from the Home Office's six-month review of  prostitution markets in the U.K. and the impact of similar laws in Amsterdam, Stockholm, and other cities. The review encompassed both legal and non-legal measures aimed at tackling prostitution.

Former Home Secretary Fiona Mactaggart worried that the new strict liability law may be hard to implement, and cited a similar Finnish law that has had no prosecutions so far.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith explained the proposal by stating, “There would not be this exploitation, there would not be this slavery of women, controlled in the way that they are, if there was not the demand for prostitution.” On the other hand, the English Collective of Prostitutes expressed fear that this law, like any law against “consenting sex,” may make women more exposed to violence by putting prostitution under the radar.

Compiled from: Travis, Alan & Andrew Sparrow, “New law to criminalise men who pay for sex with trafficked women,” Guardian (19 November 2008); New rules to protect exploited women, Home Office (19 November 2008); Tackling the Demand for Prostitution: A Review, Home Office (November 2008).