Ministers are apparently discussing the introduction of a radical new law – first introduced in Sweden eight years ago – which is designed to curb the prostitution by criminalising the act of buying sex rather than selling it.
The law is intended to combat the increasingly lucrative sex slave trade, whereby women are illegally smuggled into the UK and forced to work as prostitutes – the idea being that criminalising men who pay for sex will stem the demand this trade is set up to meet.
It would be a bold move. With most illegal markets, the heaviest legal sanctions tend to be reserved for the seller rather than the buyer – as can be seen with the trade in drugs and copyrighted material, for instance. But with an estimated 85% of women in UK brothels now brought in from outside the UK, according to official figures, the government could decide to try a different approach.
Then again, it might not. The Home Office said today it had “no current plans” to criminalise paying for sex (although it has considered it, it admitted). But with Home Secretary Jacqui Smith one of the senior female MPs “thought to be” in favour of the move, it would be no surprise if this turned out to be a case of the government testing the water.
The strange thing is that an equally viable alternative for the Home Office is to do the exact opposite – make the whole industry legal, as it is in various other European countries. This tends to have the effect of reducing associated crime, with the additional benefit of generating more tax receipts.
Either way, the ‘oldest profession’ has out-lived many attempts to close it down in the past. Is this latest initiative really likely to be any more successful?