Ruth has published a blog piece with the HuffPost. You can also read it below.
At SNP conference a motion was unanimously passed condemning “sex for rent” and instructing the Scottish government to legislate to tackle it. I was pleased to speak in favour of the motion and propose an amendment to strengthen it by acknowledging it as part of a wider trend towards increasing levels of commercial sexual exploitation.
When the scale of the ‘sex for rent’ phenomenon came to light in April of this year, the shock, outrage and condemnation across the political spectrum was unanimous.
Questions were asked in the Chamber of the Scottish Parliament, the First Minister of Scotland said that she was ‘horrified’, and the Housing Minister immediately wrote to the website concerned asking them remove any such adverts.
For those who may not know, sex for rent involves the exploitation of vulnerable people, predominantly women, who cannot afford to pay rent. The person receives ‘free’ accommodation in return for sexual access to their body.
The issues with this hardly need stating. The power imbalance is obvious. The vulnerable person is left at serious risk of violence, rape and manipulation – with the dominant person able to threaten them with eviction if they don’t comply with demands for sex. There is no written contract involved and the vulnerable person has no rights or recourse to justice. It is a form of sexual servitude rooted in gender inequality. To any reasonable person, never mind self-proclaimed feminists, it is as reprehensible as it is indefensible.
There is no grey area, no debate, no sitting on the fence.
Nobody argues that a woman has the right to choose to swap sexual access to her body for a place to stay. Nobody argues that as long as it’s two consenting adults, then it’s okay. Nobody argues for giving rights to those selling sex for rent, or ‘regulating’ the industry, as a solution to the issue.
On the contrary, the people (mostly men) advertising for such an arrangement are viewed with contempt and disgust, the victims, (mostly women) as vulnerable individuals, at the mercy of both poverty and patriarchy.
When it comes to the wider issue of prostitution, however, it is curious that so many of those who condemn sex for rent without a moment’s hesitation suddenly sit on the fence – or even argue for a man’s right to buy sexual access to a woman’s body.
I understand that feelings run high on both sides of this debate, and I do believe that many in the pro-prostitution lobby have genuinely come to their conclusion with women’s welfare as their starting point. However, you simply cannot separate one type of objectifying and commodifying of women’s bodies from another.
There is no real difference between sex for rent and sex for cash to pay your rent. If it’s exploitation when a woman sells sexual access to her body for a roof over head, then why is it not when she does so for money to put a roof over her head?
When it comes to prostitution, the same power imbalance is at play. The same toxic combination of poverty and patriarchy underpins the arrangement. The same risk of violence, rape and exploitation plagues the vulnerable on a daily basis. The same deeply-rooted gender inequality is at its heart.
The Scottish Government’s 2014 ‘Equally Safe’ strategy for preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls also designates commercial sexual exploitation such as prostitution as a form of violence against women and as being rooted in “systematic gender inequality”.
The SNP has a clear policy on the matter, which is to support a ‘Scottish model’ for prostitution, which would criminalise those paying for sex, but not those who sell it. The passing of the “Sex for Rent motion” illustrates the strength of feeling out there about the need to tackle exploitation and adds further weight to the calls for the Scottish Government to take action and legislate.
Whether it’s sex for rent or sex for cash – to end the exploitation, what is crystal clear is we have to end the demand.