Last year, it was reported in the press that adverts explicitly seeking sex for rent were appearing online. As a result of those reports, websites such as Craigslist enhanced the filters that they apply to stop the practice. However, landlords are still seeking sex for rent through online ads by using euphemistic terms such as “rent for fun”. Living Rent has claimed that 2,000 women are offered rent in exchange for sex every year. I have seen for myself that those adverts deliberately target vulnerable people by claiming—this is the key point—that the arrangement is perfectly suited to students or people who are struggling for money.
Does the First Minister agree that the practice is immoral and that it should be against the law to prey on vulnerable men and women who are struggling for money? If a gap in the law exists, I urge the First Minister to speak to the Lord Advocate to legislate against advertising sex for rent.
I believe that adverts of that nature are immoral and I absolutely agree with Pauline McNeill’s sentiments on the issue. Forcing someone, in any way—I stress “in any way”—to participate in sexual activity is a crime already. It is behaviour that is completely unacceptable, deplorable and immoral, and it is also illegal.
Where evidence exists, it is for the police to investigate, and it is for the Crown Office to decide whether to prosecute. I am sure that the Lord Advocate will pay attention to the specific request that Pauline McNeill has made, although whether there needs to be and should be further legislation would be a matter for this Parliament, not the law officers.
We have already taken action that seeks to challenge the practice directly. In 2017, Kevin Stewart wrote to online platforms, including Craigslist and Gumtree, to draw their attention to the unacceptability of the practice. Gumtree responded, but, disappointingly, Craigslist did not, although I understand that it has discontinued its personals section. Either way, it is unacceptable behaviour that needs to be dealt with criminally where appropriate.
All of us should join together to make any company that engages in the practice absolutely aware of how unacceptable the Parliament finds it.