Sexual Exploitation: Accommodation

Women and Equalities – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 13th September 2018.

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Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 12:00 am, 13th September 2018

What discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on increasing the number of successful prosecutions of people that offer rent-free accommodation in return for sex.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

The practice of offering sex for rent is unacceptable. It preys on vulnerable people who are seeking affordable accommodation and was, I believe, the subject of a recent “Inside Out West” programme. Such behaviour is already a criminal offence under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, and the decision on whether to prosecute and for what offences rests entirely with the Crown Prosecution Service, rather than the Ministry of Justice. My officials have been working, including with the Home Office and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, to raise awareness of the offences available to prosecute such behaviour.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I thank the BBC’s “Inside Out West” for its investigation into this despicable practice which, as the Minister pointed out, is illegal, although it continues to target vulnerable women and men. Will the Minister continue to work with me, as we did on upskirting, and consider a code of conduct, or perhaps go even further and consider binding legislation to prevent websites from hosting these adverts?

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

The CAP code, which is the independent Advertising Standards Authority’s rulebook for non-broadcast advertising, including print and online, does not apply to classified adverts, but it does prohibit ads for illegal products and services. DCMS colleagues are working to ensure that technology companies meet their responsibilities of preventing their services from being used for criminal activity, and they are further exploring how classified ad websites are used to facilitate crime. I would be delighted, as always, to meet the hon. Lady.

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities)

When someone facilitates accommodation, money, food or services in exchange for sex, it is abuse. It degrades the victims, and unfortunately financially benefits the facilitators. The Government must commit to legislation that punishes those who profit from such abuse.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

It is a pleasure to take a question from the hon. Lady, and she is right to highlight this despicable crime. As I have said, we believe that such practices are already against the law under the 2003 Act, and as I said to Wera Hobhouse, I am happy to continue looking at what more we can do.