A Yorkshire MP has said men who pay for sex are perpetuating a “brutal sex trafficking trade” as she pushed for laws to protect sex workers from criminalisation.
Hull North MP Dame Diana Johnson made a passionate speech in the Commons today, where she highlighted the “sexual exploitation scandal” and read harrowing reviews written by men about women they had paid for sex.
Dame Diana, who is also the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Commercial Sexual Exploitation, said that British laws were failing to disrupt the demand which fuels trafficking as she introduced her Sexual Exploitation Bill.
She told MPs: “Today, the UK is a high-value, low-risk destination for sex traffickers. Why? Because our law fails on two critical fronts: first it fails to discourage the very thing that drives trafficking for sexual exploitation – demand, and second it also allows ruthless individuals to facilitate and profit from sexual exploitation.
“So what does this mean in practice? It means the minority of men in England and Wales who pay for sex do so with impunity, fuelling a brutal sex trafficking trade and causing untold harm to victims.
“And it means profit making pimping websites operate free from criminal sanction, helping sex traffickers to quickly and easily advertise their victims and reap the enormous profits from doing so.
“Right now, there is a sexual exploitation scandal playing out in towns and cities across the UK.”
Fellow Labour MP Lyn Brown (West Ham) said the proposed change of legislation would “put women at greater risk” and drive the industry “underground”.
But Dame Diana said sex trafficking was occuring the UK on an “industrial scale”, and the victims were often vulnerable foreigners, with a significant proportion of women being from Romania.
She said: “Vulnerable women are moved around networks of brothels and hotel rooms to be raped and abused by men who pay for sex.”
One testimony from a victim, which Dame Diana read to the Commons, said: “To begin with the offenders were my friends, but as soon as we came to England, they started to physically abuse me.
“He beat me many times because I was not earning him enough money. Even though the clients did not physically abuse me, I felt abused because I was forced to have sex with them, even when I did not want to do so, sometimes that was painful.
“After a while I felt disgusted by what I was doing and I wanted to stop, but he wanted more money and he forced me to continue. I was scared because he kept threatening me that he was going to hurt my mother.”
Dame Diana said: “Sex trafficking is profit driven. The crucial question to ask though is where do those profits come from? And the answer is sex buyers.
“Only 3.6 per cent of men in the UK have paid for sex in the past five years, but this demand drives the supply of vulnerable women into brothels in Britain. It is these men who commit the thousands upon thousands of rapes and sexual assaults perpetrated against victims of trafficking every year in this country.”
One disturbing so-called ‘review’ referenced by Dame Diana by a man who paid £100 to have sex with a woman read: “This is a classic case of ‘the pretty ones don’t have to work hard’…She’s Polish, and her English is not good…I was reminded of the Smiths song ‘Girlfriend in a Coma’…All the while she seemed completely disinterested and mechanical…I finally decided to f*** her…All the while, she kept her face turned to one side.”
Another, where the man paid £70, read: “Very pretty and young girl…If you want to try a fresh, young (says she is 18) and pretty girl is ok, but maybe as she just started to work, is quite passive, scarcely kiss without tongue, doesn’t want to be kissed on the neck or ears […] she really can’t speak a word of English (is Romanian) so even [girlfriend experience] is a zero.”
Dame Diana hit out at “pimping websites” which she said gave sex traffickers a “helping hand”.
And she said: “To stop women being raped and abused for profit we must dismantle the business model of this sex trafficking trade.
“This will require two key measures: one, prevent the demand-driving sex trafficking by criminalising paying for sex, two – stop website companies and other third parties aiding and profiting from this appalling crime by making it a criminal offence to enable or profit from the prostitution of another person.”
But opposing the Bill, Ms Brown told MPs she could not support making it illegal to pay for sex.
She said: “I hope I don’t need to spell out that we all oppose trafficking, we all oppose exploitation, it is real, it is utterly horrifying and it is rightly illegal. We absolutely need laws that target exploitation and abuse and we need them to be better enforced.
“The part of (Ms Johnson’s) Bill that I cannot support involves putting into the law of England and Wales what is called the Nordic Model.
“The Nordic Model is not about tackling trafficking or exploitation directly, it criminalises the buying of sex and it can also criminalise many of the means by which sex workers market their work.
“I believe that it is counter-productive and I believe it will put women at greater risk.
“In France, after the model was introduced in 2016, 42 per cent of sex workers said they’d become more exposed to violence and tragically there is some evidence that murders of sex workers increased significantly.”
Ms Brown added: “Reports on the implementation of the Nordic Model have found that it has caused sex workers to be less likely to refuse risky clients as income has fallen. They are also less likely to report violence to the police.”
She continued: “The Nordic Model even made 38 per cent of sex workers less likely to use condoms because their power to refuse clients has reduced, making it harder to insist on safe sex only and this is why criminalisation is opposed by the World Health Organization, by Stop Aids and by the Royal College of Nurses.
“(Ms Johnson) has quoted despicable comments about women posted online, none of us like that, the comments create a society in which women are objectified. But shutting down the websites will push them underground, moving them to encrypted message apps or sites on the dark web instead.”
The Bill passed its first hurdle in the Commons without a vote with its second reading scheduled for January 29.
It has little chance of making further progress in its current form without Government backing.