Frequently Asked Questions
End Demand FAQ
It is estimated that 80,000 people are involved in prostitution in the UK. The majority of those who sell sex are women and girls, and the majority of those who buy sex are men. Approximately 50% of women in prostitution in the UK began selling sex acts before they were eighteen years old (2).
The trafficking of women and girls in to prostitution in England and Wales is worth at least £130 million annually to their abusers, while the social and economic costs of the problem are estimated at £890 million (3). In 2009 the Association of Chief Police Officers reported that 2600 migrant women in England and Wales had been trafficked for sexual exploitation in to brothels and other premises and a further 9,200 were identified as vulnerable to being trafficked or may have been trafficked previously. These figures, however, are thought to be a significant underestimation of the true scale of trafficking into the UK. Migrant women are estimated to account for over half of those involved in off-street prostitution (4).
(1) ‘Paying the Price: A Consultation Paper on Prostitution’, Home Office, 2004
No. Levels of demand for the trade vary between countries, over time and according to the cultural and legal context. Here in the UK, the number of men who pay for sex doubled during the 1990’s, with the rate increasing from one in 20 men to nearly one in 10 men (1). If demand can grow, it can also shrink. And that is exactly what countries like Sweden and Norway have shown through their adoption of the Sex Buyer Law.
An investigation of the law by the Swedish government found that street prostitution in Sweden halved during the period 1999-2008 and there is no evidence these women were simply displaced to indoor prostitution or prostitution advertised online (2). The number of men paying for sex in Sweden also declined. A survey in 1996 found 13.6% of men reported buying sex, while a similar survey in 2008 found this figure had dropped to 7.9% (3).
Research with men who pay for sex has revealed that criminal sanctions would act as a deterrent:
- Research conducted with 110 men in Scotland who bought women in prostitution found 79% of the respondents said having to spend time in jail would deter them from buying sex, while 72% reported that greater criminal penalties would do so (4).
- Interviews conducted with 113 men who paid for sex in Chicago (US) found 83% of the men said that a potential consequence of jail time would deter them from buying sex. 75% of the men said greater criminal penalties in general would deter them from paying women for sex (5).
- Research conducted by the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit at London Metropolitan University with 137 men who paid women for sex found, “the accounts of men who had paid for sex overseas confirm that legality contributes to normalisation, which in turn increases the likelihood of paying for sex.” (6)
(2) Swedish Ministry of Justice, English summary of the Evaluation of the ban on purchase of sexual services (1999-2008) (2010). See also: Max Waltman, “Prohibiting Sex Purchasing and Ending Trafficking: The Swedish Prostitution Law,” 33 Michigan Journal of International Law 133, 133-57 (2011), pp. 146-148.
(3) ‘Demand Change: Understanding the Nordic Approach to Prostitution’, Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Australia, 2013
(4) Macleod, J. Farley, M., Anderson, L. & Golding, J. (2008) Challenging Men’s Demand for Prostitution in Scotland.
(5) CAASE, Deconstructing the Demand for Prostitution: Preliminary Insights from Interviews with Men who Buy Sex, May 2008.
(6) Coy, M. et al (2007) ʻItʼs just like going to the supermarketʼ: Men buying sex in East London, Report for Safe Exit, Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit: p.25
Prostitution is a form of commercial sexual exploitation. It is both a cause and a consequence of gender inequality. The overwhelming majority of those who end up in the prostitution trade are highly vulnerable and suffer acute harms as a result of their involvement. It is estimated that:
- 50% of women in prostitution in the UK started being paid for sex acts before they were 18 years old (1).
- 95% of women in street prostitution are problematic drug users (2).
- Over half of women involved in prostitution in the UK have been raped and/or sexually assaulted – the vast majority of these assaults committed by sex buyers (3).
The Crown Prosecution Service (4) and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (5) recognise prostitution as a form of violence against women.
(1) ‘Paying the Price: A Consultation Paper on Prostitution’, Home Office, 2004.
(2) Hester, M. & Westmarland, N. (2004) Tackling Street Prostitution: Towards an Holistic Approach, Home Office: London
(3) Hester, M. & Westmarland, N. (2004) Tackling Street Prostitution: Towards an Holistic Approach, Home Office: London
(5) Mayoral Strategy on Violence Against Women and Girls, 2013-17, MOPAC
Buying and selling sex acts is legal in the UK. However, a number of activities relating to prostitution are criminal offences, such as brothel-keeping, soliciting and kerb-crawling.
The Sex Buyer Law – sometimes referred to as the Nordic Model – is a legal framework designed to tackle commercial sexual exploitation. It has three key components:
- The buying of sex acts is criminalised
- The selling of sex acts is decriminalised
- Support and exiting services are provided for those exploited through prostitution
The Sex Buyer Law was first introduced in Sweden in 1999. It has since been adopted by Norway and Iceland.
As a trade, trafficking rests upon the basic principles of supply and demand. Women and girls are ultimately only trafficked in to the prostitution trade because there is currently a minority of men wanting and willing to pay for sex. In order to end the ‘supply’ of women and girls trafficked to the UK for sexual exploitation, we have to end the demand.
The legality of prostitution significantly influences rates of trafficking inflows in to a country. An empirical analysis for a cross-section of up to 150 countries found that reported human trafficking inflows were larger in countries where prostitution is legal .
An investigation of the Sex Buyer Law in Sweden reported: “[a]ccording to the National Criminal Police, it is clear that the ban on the purchase of sexual services acts as a barrier to human traffickers and procurers considering establishing them-selves in Sweden” (2). Simon Häggström of the Prostitution Unit of the Stockholm Police has reported, “We’ve had wiretapping cases where pimps say they don’t find Sweden attractive” (3). An evaluation of the law in Norway reported: “A reduced market and increased law enforcement posit larger risks for human traffickers… The law has thus affected important pull factors and reduced the extent of human trafficking in Norway in comparison to a situation without a law.” (4) The Sex Buyer Law makes the country in question a more hostile destination for traffickers.
(1) Cho S-Y.; Dreher A. & Neumayer, E. (2013) Does Legalized Prostitution Increase Human Trafficking? World Development, 41: 67-82
(2) Evaluation of the ban on purchase of sexual services, Ministry of Justice, Government Offices of Sweden, 2 July 2010, p.37
(4) ‘Evaluering av forbudet mot kjøp av seksuelle tjenester’, Rapport nummer 2014/30, VISTA ANALYSE
Evidence from Sweden: adopted the Sex Buyer Law in 1999
- Street prostitution in Sweden halved between 1999 and 2008 and there is no evidence women were simply displaced to indoor prostitution or prostitution advertised online (1).
- The number of men paying for sex in Sweden has declined. In 1996, 13.6% of men reported buying sex. By 2008 this figure had dropped to 7.9% (2).
- Public attitudes have changed. While the majority of the Swedish population was opposed to the law before it was introduced, three surveys have shown that a decade on from its adoption more than 70% of the population fully support it (3).
- According to the National Criminal Police, Sweden has become a more hostile destination for traffickers (4).
Evidence from Norway: adopted the Sex Buyer Law in 2009
- The prostitution market has reduced. Systematic field observations of the street prostitution market in Oslo reveal it has shrunk by 40%-65% since the law was adopted (5).
- Norway has become a more hostile destination for traffickers. An evaluation of the law’s impact reported: “A reduced market and increased law enforcement posit larger risks for human traffickers…The law has thus affected important pull factors and reduced the extent of human trafficking in Norway in comparison to a situation without a law.” (6)
Evidence from Ipswich, UK: adopted a similar approach in 2007
In 2006, five women involved in prostitution at the time were brutally murdered in Ipswich by a sex buyer. In response to these appalling crimes, Suffolk Constabulary joined with local agencies and determined to end street prostitution. Suffolk Constabulary took a zero tolerance approach to kerb-crawling, diverted women involved in prostitution away from the criminal justice system and instead worked with local agencies to enable women to access support and exiting services. These three elements are the fundamental pillars of the Sex Buyer Law.
An independent evaluation of the Ipswich/Suffolk Prostitution Strategy for 2007-2012 (EVISSTA 2) by the University of East Anglia concluded there has been, “clear and sustained success in terms of: Eliminating kerb-crawlers from the streets (Tackling Demand)” (7). An economic analysis of the strategy also found that for every £1 spent as part of the Ipswich/Suffolk Prostitution Strategy, there were savings of £2 to the public purse. By shrinking the prostitution market Ipswich’s strategy reduced the associated financial burden on the criminal justice system and social support system. However, the police have been prevented from tackling demand for off-street prostitution because the act of paying for sex is not illegal.
(1) English summary of the Evaluation of the ban on purchase of sexual services (1999-2008), Swedish Ministry of Justice, 2010. See also: Max Waltman, “Prohibiting Sex Purchasing and Ending Trafficking: The Swedish Prostitution Law,” 33 Michigan Journal of International Law 133, 133-57 (2011), pp. 146-148.
(2) ‘Demand Change: Understanding the Nordic Approach to Prostitution’, Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Australia, 2013
(3) European Women’s Lobby, 2014
(4) Evaluation of the ban on purchase of sexual services, Ministry of Justice, Government Offices of Sweden, 2 July 2010
(5) ‘Evaluering av forbudet mot kjøp av seksuelle tjenester’, Rapport nummer 2014/30, VISTA ANALYSE
(6) ‘Evaluering av forbudet mot kjøp av seksuelle tjenester’, Rapport nummer 2014/30, VISTA ANALYSE
(7) Evaluation Research Report for Ipswich/ Suffolk Prostitution Strategy 2007-2012: EVISSTA 2, University of East Anglia, 2012
The claim that the Sex Buyer Law could push prostitution ‘underground’ is generally meant to infer that prostitution would not be reduced, it would just be displaced – for example, from on-street to off-street locations.
Evaluations of the Sex Buyer Law conducted in Sweden and Norway have found no evidence to support this claim. A review of the law’s impact reported: “Despite many unfounded rumors <of> a stronger move from the street to the internet or to other indoor prostitution venues after the Swedish law’s enactment compared to, e.g., Denmark or Norway, no information, empirical evidence, or other research suggests that this has actually happened” (1).
What evaluations of the Sex Buyer Law in Sweden have found evidence for is a reduction in the size of the prostitution market, a reduction in the number of men who pay for sex, and changed attitudes:
- The number of men paying for sex in Sweden has declined since the Sex Buyer Law was adopted in 1999. Between 1996 and 2008 the proportion of men who reported paying for sex declined from 12.7% to 7.6% (2)
- Attitudes have changed. In 1996 45% of women and 20% of men in Sweden supported criminalising the purchase of sex. By 2008, support for this legal principle had risen to 79% among women and 60% among men (3).
- Street prostitution has halved and there is no evidence it has just been displaced. A review of the law’s impact reported: “In the last five years, Internet prostitution has increased in Sweden, Denmark and Norway. However, the scale of this form of prostitution is more extensive in our neighboring countries, and there is nothing to indicate that a greater increase in prostitution over the Internet has occurred in Sweden than in these comparable countries. This indicates that the ban has not led to a change in arenas, that is, from street prostitution to the Internet, in Sweden. In light of this it should be possible to conclude that the reduction of street prostitution by half that took place in Sweden represents a real reduction in prostitution here and that this reduction is also mainly a result of the criminalization of sex purchases.” (4)
- Despite Sweden having 3.8 million more inhabitants than neighbouring Denmark, the number of people involved in prostitution in Sweden – its ‘prostitution population’ – is approximately a tenth of Denmark’s – where buying sex is legal (5).
Regarding the claim that criminalising the purchase of sex makes it more difficult to identify women involved in prostitution, Detective Inspector Simon Haggstrom from the Stockholm police points out that in order for the trade to be able to function, sex buyers have got to be able to locate women selling sex. The police can look at exactly the same websites, newspaper advertisements and phone cards that sex buyers do to locate women. “If a sex buyer can find a prostituted woman, the police can do it”, Haggstrom says. In this way, the police can locate women being exploited through prostitution and target sex buyers.
(1) Waltman, M. (2011) Sweden’s prohibition of purchase of sex: The law’s reasons, impact, and potential. Women’s Studies International Forum 34: 449-474, p459
(2) Ibid (Waltman, 2011)
(3) Ibid (Waltman, 2011)
(4) Selected extracts of the Swedish government report SOU 2010:49: “The Ban against the Purchase of Sexual Services. An evaluation 1999-2008”, Swedish Institute, November 2010
(5) Ibid (Waltman, 2011)