In just over one hour, the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, which I have the privilege of chairing, will be publishing its latest report—a substantial and groundbreaking one, entitled “The Limits of Consent: Prostitution in the UK.” That is not a subject often considered in this place. We need to. The whole basis of the report is that many of the women drawn into prostitution—often through trafficking but also by other means, and often very young—are abused and suffer abject sexual exploitation.
Those women deserve our compassion, practical help and support and must not fear criminalisation under our complex, confusing and inconsistently applied laws. Those laws need reform. We need to penalise those who exploit, coerce and abuse others in this area, but not those who are themselves exploited. The recommendations in our report are clear and I am pleased that Conservatives are leading on this human rights issue. We need to reduce the demand for prostitution by creating a new criminal offence of paying for sexual services—by criminalising the trade, but making it absolutely clear that those personally abused in this way will not fear being treated as criminals. If anyone is under any illusion as to what the trade really means and its links with organised violent crime, drug and people trafficking and international money laundering, they need only read our report.
By creating a new offence, we will help to halt human trafficking into this country by making it a less attractive destination for those who engage in the heinous organised international trade in human beings for the purposes of prostitution. We can strike a spoke into the wheel of modern-day slavery and challenge and call to account the often violent and degrading sexual exploitation associated with the trade. Sadly, all these crimes are still growing in this country. It is indeed a heinous trade. I have heard it said, “You can sell a drug once, but you can sell a girl a thousand times.” I heard of one trafficked girl who decided one day that she would count how many men were sent to abuse her; after 100, she stopped counting.
The experiences in other countries support our proposed approach. The UK needs to be at the forefront of this human rights work. Our report is different from others in this policy area because it gives in-depth consideration to the questions of principle around prostitution that are often neglected—questions such as: what does it mean to make a free choice? Is prostitution inherently harmful? What does sexual consent really mean in the context of prostitution? We found more agreement on these issues than one might first expect from a superficial reading.
The report, which is the fruit of more than a year of research and inquiry, meticulously weighs the evidence in favour of and against different legislative models and solutions. I pay tribute to the lead commissioner on the report, Luke de Pulford, and thank those who gave their time to help draft it. I also pay tribute to the many survivors of prostitution and the dozens of concerned interest groups that gave evidence to us. I thank in particular one remarkable woman, the brave survivor Rachel Moran. I implore colleagues to read her book “Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution”, which tells her heart-scorching personal story. I challenge any colleague then to deny that these abused women, and some men, need our effective help, and need it now.
In the coming months, I shall bring forward a private Member’s Bill to strengthen the law around sexual consent and end the demand for prostitution in this country—an approach that I know has cross-party support. If enacted, the Bill will repeal criminal sanctions against prostituted people while creating a public sector duty to enable those caught in prostitution to exit, and to give them safe homes, health help, support and protection, as well as the educational skills that so many never have the chance to develop because frequently they are drawn into prostitution in their early teenage years. Our report can be found at Scribd.com. I ask for support from all colleagues from all parties in this endeavour.