Banning Edinburgh’s ‘saunas’ will not make sex workers saferPosted: November 13, 2013
This article originally appeared on the Telegraph online, November 13, 2013
On Friday, councillors in Edinburgh will be asked to vote for consultation on changing their long-standing tolerance of the sex trade. Edinburgh has had a relaxed approach to the sex industry since 1986, when it became the only British city to decriminalise prostitution through the creation of “saunas”, where paying for sex is licenced.
The vote for the consultation on changing public entertainment licence rules will lead to another vote next month, which may end the council’s role in regulating saunas. If this happens, then they will be subject to “enforcement activity through trading standard and public health powers”. In other words, they will be policed.
The police in Edinburgh have been gradually cracking down on Edinburgh’s saunas. Earlier this the year, more than 150 officers raided seven saunas and 11 related premises. The surprise raids resulted in the arrest of three people for drug offences. And in a letter last month to the city council, they called for the banning of “items of a sexual nature”, including condoms. While the police insist there has been no change of policy, the council’s consultation this week suggests the police have exerted influence on the council’s policy.
If the vote goes through, then Edinburgh’s sex workers will no longer be protected against violence, as they will be forced to work on the streets. Currently, Edinburgh has 10 times fewer street-based sex workers than Glasgow, but if the council’s vote goes through then it is likely this difference will disappear, meaning that attacks on sex workers in Edinburgh will increase. On the streets, sex workers are presented with dangerous clients, and have little choice but to accept them. One sex worker, who works under the name of Lynn, and has been working in saunas for more than 25 years, but used to work the streets, told the Daily Record: “The main advantage of the saunas is that it is controlled. There is always somebody on the management side available at the desk and somebody there to provide security…. it’s far safer than working on the street where you never knew what was going to happen and you were taking single day.” She goes on: “at the moment, it is regulated in a safe environment. But if the saunas lose their licences, the industry will be chased back underground. It will be much more dangerous for girls and their clients. It makes everyone much more vulnerable a chance just getting into a client’s car. I was working in fear every to attack or robbery.”
This vulnerability has increased since 2007 when the law regarding kerb-crawling changed to criminalise clients of street-based sex workers, forcing them to work in isolated backstreets, because of clients’ fear of arrest. This means a prostitute has less time to decide whether a potential client is safe or not before getting into his vehicle, as the client is likely to be jumpy about getting the transaction done quickly. Such fear is justified as, since the change in legislation, there has been a 95 per cent increase in attacks on sex workers.
The view that criminalising prostitution is harmful is shared by the UN, who, in a 2012 report, state: “There is very little evidence to suggest that any criminal laws related to sex work reduce ‘demand’. Rather, all of them create an environment of fear and marginalisation for sex workers, who often have to work in remote and unsafe locations.”
It has long been the view that prostitution is immoral, yet the profession has been present throughout human history. By the laws of economics, if there is a demand for a good, however ugly, then, they’ll be a supply. Therefore, those campaigning against Edinburgh’s saunas are doing so solely on the basis of morality, not common sense.
What they fail to understand, however, is that basing an argument for legislation on the basis of morality does not work; demand continues and supply remains. Except in this instance, those supplying the good will find themselves in greater danger.
Countries in the world where sex work is legal, such as New Zealand, are places where sex workers are safest. The Council’s move to ban saunas in Edinburgh is backward, and will have a dangerous impact on those who currently work in saunas. A civilised society should not be enforcing such a measure.