Government announces funding to support women involved in sex work

The government is consulting over whether its approach to tackling prostitution is sufficient to prevent violence against women and girls.

Government announces funding to support women involved in sex work Zave Smith via Getty Images
Sex workers have accused the government of adopting an 'outdated ideology' and a 'harmful moralistic view' in its approach to prostitution.

More than £615,000 is being invested by the Scottish Government in a range of projects, including support for women involved in prostitution.

Most of the money will go to the Glasgow-based Women’s Support Project, a charity which aims to raise awareness of the harms of commercial sexual exploitation.

The organisation will receive £421,000 which it said would help ensure women are able to access specialist support to address their practical and emotional needs.

Women’s Support Project national coordinator Heather Williams said it welcomed the government’s recognition of the selling or exchanging sex or images as violence against women and girls.

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“This funding will help ensure women are able to access specialist support to address their practical and emotional needs, it will also contribute to work to raise awareness of the impact of commercial sexual exploitation and help improve practice within statutory services based on what women have told us they need,” she said.

“Prostitution is a form of violence against women.”

Community minister Ash Regan MSP

More than £83,000 will go to community justice organisation Sacro – including support for an Edinburgh-based project to improve the health, safety and wellbeing of women involved in prostitution.

Sue Waddington, gender based violence services manager for Sacro’s Another Way programme, said: “The funding has enabled workers from our Another Way project to continue delivering the service, but also to shape, grow and respond to meet the needs of this hard to reach group of women.”

And more than £110,000 will go to the UK charity South West Grid for Learning Trust to help fund the rollout of its Revenge Porn Helpline across Scotland and to further its work to get illegal intimate images removed from the internet.

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The Scottish Government’s definition of violence against women includes prostitution and is set out in our Equally Safe Strategy.

But sex workers have accused the government of adopting an “outdated ideology” and a “harmful moralistic view” in its approach to prostitution.

The government is consulting over whether its approach to tackling prostitution is sufficient to prevent violence against women and girls.

Kate, a sex worker from Glasgow, said the consultation is “pushing a different agenda, one more towards criminalisation”.

It follows two women who described themselves as “survivors of prostitution” addressing Holyrood’s Cross Party Group on Sexual Exploitation, calling for buying sex to be made an offence.

The government said the consultation it not committed to any specific course of action and instead aims to ask questions about challenging men’s demand for purchasing sex and how harms for women involved in prostitution can be reduced.

Last year, sex workers told STV News they had put themselves in risky situations after their incomes were hit by coronavirus.

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Currently, the laws around sex work in Scotland are nuanced. 

While exchanging money for sexual services is legal, activities around it, such as operating a brothel or soliciting for the purchase or sale of sex, are not.

A group of campaigners are calling on the government to criminalise those who pay for sex in order to reduce demand for prostitution.

Community minister Ash Regan MSP, who is leading the consultation, said: “Prostitution is a form of violence against women.

“The harsh reality of the risks commonly encountered are violence, sexual victimisation, poor mental health and sexual health, manipulation and sexual exploitation.

“The pandemic, stigma and the hidden nature of prostitution has created further barriers to getting help and I am therefore pleased to announce this additional funding for specialist services, designed specifically for women involved in prostitution and those who have experienced illegal images being uploaded to the internet.

“This money brings our total dedicated funding to support women involved in prostitution to £700,000 since June this year and is part of the Scottish Government’s overarching ambition to develop a model for Scotland which effectively tackles men’s demand for prostitution.”