Prostitution law in the UK

Alexsandr too, Going Postal
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Prostitution Law

Some time ago there was a planning application for a ‘sexual encounter establishment’ all over the local paper. It was to be a lap dancing club. But people made some inflammatory statements, so I read round the law.

This article is about the law in England and Wales. I think Scotland is similar, but I havent read up on it. Northern Ireland is different (The have a law making it illegal to see a prostitute. But I think they have an organised crime problem there)

Back to England and Wales.

Contrary to the impression given by the press, when they have a pic of a girl at a car window, the majority of prostitution takes place indoors.Some advertise on the internet, others work in ‘massage parlours’

All law is gender neutral – the law applies equally to men and women being a prostitute, or being a client.
First, its quite legal to see a prostitute. Its also quite legal to be a prostitute. But there are some bits of law that controls the ‘industry’

1. It’s illegal to see a prostitute aged under 18. The law as to whether its legal for a 16 yr old client to see an 18+ prostitute is unclear.

2. Its illegal to wander round the streets looking for prostitutes – so called kerb crawling. It doesnt matter if you are in a vehicle or on foot. It is also illegal for girls to solicit their services in the street.

3. Its illegal to see a prostitute that has been forced into prostitution by exploitative conduct. This is a strict liability offence, ignorance of the exploitative conduct is no defence. But since that became law while Jaqui Smith has home secretary, I am not aware there have been any convictions.

4. Its illegal for 2 or more girls to operate from the same premises. The girls are not breaking the law, the owner and/or manager is. A place where 2 or more girls work (not necessarily at the same time) is known as a brothel

5. There are some laws about trafficking girls around the UK for prostitution.

Lets look at some of these in more detail.

Re point 2. Street Prostitution has almost died out in the UK. The days when you would see loads of girls out in the area around Piccadilly gardens in Manchester, The Calls in Leeds and Balsall Heath in Birmingham have gone.
However, there is a ‘tolerance zone’ for street prostitution in Leeds, in Holbeck, where the police monitor the situation, but dont seek to enforce the laws on kerb crawling or soliciting. Not sure how the police can observe crimes without acting? But the argument is its safer having the girls in a zone that is monitored, rather than them hiding, and at a greater risk.

Re point 4. Two or more girls operating from the same premises makes that place a brothel. What that means in practice is girls are discouraged from sharing a place of work, thereby adding in risk.
The authorities can crack down on brothels in several ways:-
They can get a closure order, meaning the brothel is closed down.
They can look at the tax position, notably VAT. And also immigration status of prostitutes there.
They can use the proceeds of crime act against brothel managers/owners.
They can prosecute for the offence of keeping a brothel, and probably exploitative behaviour too.

Bear in mind a brothel is a public place. But the chances are they wont be abiding by fire regulations or health and safety requirements.

There are calls for the brothel law to be repealed in the interests of prostitute safety. While some would register their place, and make sure they were safe, as any other business premises does, you can be sure many wont bother and continue to work under the radar.

There are also calls to make it illegal for a client to see a prostitute, the so-called Swedish Model. But that would probably not stop prostitution, just make it work under the radar.

There are a wide range of approaches in the EU about this subject. Belgium and Netherlands have the well known streets of girls in red-lit windows, and Germany also has a relaxed law with regards to prostitution and brothels, but the industry is heavily regulated, while Sweden and France have gone the other way. It seems to hang on the argument as to whether prostitutes are vulnerable and being exploited, or whether they are people exercising their right to have sex with who they choose, and make to money as they see fit.

Prostitutes can pay income tax and NI as self employed persons. The profession of prostitute is recognised by HMRC. How many actually do pay taxes in a cash industry I don’t know.
Prostitution is included in the calculations that determine contributions to the EU. That they bother with this means the turnover is significant. And how do they calculate that if taxes are generally evaded? Obviously, they can offset tax owed against justifiable expenses just like any other self employed person.

The scale of prostitution is huge. I have seen estimates of up to 10,000 prostitutes working on any day. To keep those girls busy, there must be a hell of a lot of clients.

I am not a lawyer. If you need specific advice about this aspect of the law, see a solicitor. I will be glad to hear if anyone thinks what I have said is inaccurate.

© Alexsandr too 2019

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