On Tuesday 12th December, MSPs held a debate to mark the the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, with a particular focus on commercial sexual exploitation (CSE).

Commercial sexual exploitation is explicitly definied as a form of violence against women in the Scottish Government’s Equally Safe strategy for preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls.

Last month, MSPs debated the recently published Equally Safe Delivery Plan 2017-2021. The plan was broadly welcomed, although cross-party concerns were expressed regarding the lack of explicit action aimed at tackling the single root cause of CSE, male demand. Instead, action points relating to tackling prositution are focused on harm reduction and on supporting women to exit.

This follow-up debate saw both male and female MSPs, including SNP MSP for Cunninghame South, Ruth Maguire, reiterate their support for more bold and explicit action to tackle male demand.

The SNP has a clear policy on the issue, which is to support a ‘Scottish model’ for prostitution, which would criminalise those paying for sex, but not those who sell it.

The Scottish Government, however, is yet to reach a final position on how to act.

Speaking in the debate, Ruth said:

“I am very clear that commercial sexual exploitation is form of men’s violence against women, that it is a cause and a consequence of gender inequality, and that it makes the world less safe for women and girls.

I am equally clear that if we are to create a world that is equally safe for women and girls, then commercial sexual exploitation must be completely eradicated – not mitigated, not tolerated – eradicated.

Yes, we have to mitigate harm where we can and make sure that women are as safe as possible and with access to good quality health services.

But we will be failing in our promise to eliminate violence against women and girls if we don’t also address head on the single root cause of this particular form of violence against women – which is male demand.

And we can do this only by criminalising the purchase of sexual access to womens bodies – whilst decriminalising prostituted women and providing properly resourced specialist services to help women leave.

Currently, we are only really focused on the last part – on supporting women to leave.

But it’s time to stop women from ever being exploited and degraded this way in the first place.

It’s time to tackle demand.”