Paying for sex in Britain is about to get riskier. A new law is being proposed for England and Wales that would make it an offense to pay for sex with prostitutes if they are controlled by pimps.
Right now, buying and selling sex is legal, but soliciting and pimping are not. The new law would mean that people who hook up with prostitutes who are “controlled for another person’s gain” could be fined up to $1,900 and get a criminal record. As well, anyone who has sex with an illegally trafficked woman could be charged with rape. The police also gain new powers to close brothels, and there would be more “naming and shaming” of persistent johns.
The crackdown was announced by British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith last week. According to Smith, the measures are designed to increase penalties for buyers and those who prostitute others, and decrease the “demand” for trafficked women. But the new measures stop short of an outright ban on paying for sex.
“My proposal is that men should think twice about paying for sex,” Smith told the BBC. “The reason they should do that is actually the majority of women don’t want to be involved in prostitution.”
Critics say the government may as well have banned prostitution because there’s often no way to know whether a prostitute has a pimp or not. And many prostitutes themselves oppose the law. Niki Adams, of the English Collective of Prostitutes, told the BBC the legislation will only force women underground. “All this will do is hound the decent parlour owners,” she says. “The government is trying to take the moral high ground but it’s a low blow for women who are struggling to make ends meet—whether they are from Croydon or Croatia.”