3. To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its plans to tackle violence against women, particularly in relation to prostitution and purchasers of sex. (S6O-00043)
The Scottish Government remains committed to tackling violence against women and girls, and that work continues within the framework of the equally safe strategy. We have made £18 million available in 2020-21 to tackle violence against women, and we have pledged to allocate an additional £5 million within the first 100 days of this Government to support front-line services and deal with the demand that has built up during the pandemic. The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women, and those who are involved in prostitution have faced increasing challenges that have put them at further risk of harm.
Last year, we took forward Scotland’s first national consultation on challenging men’s demand for prostitution, and yesterday we published the findings and the Scottish Government’s response. It sets out our commitment to develop a progressive model for Scotland to tackle this form of violence against women and a programme of work to co-design services with those who have lived experience so that support services meet their needs and, when the women are ready, help them to exit prostitution.
I know that the minister has listened, as I have, to survivors and those who have experienced prostitution. It seems to me that very few women are voluntarily involved in prostitution; the vast majority are forced to be in it, either by somebody else or by their circumstances.
Surely, if men are purchasing sex, they are guilty of violence against women and they should be criminalised.
I would agree with the member. In the equally safe strategy, we set out that prostitution is a form of commercial sexual exploitation and that it is part of what we would consider to be, and would respond to as, violence against women.
I am very interested in taking forward the views that were expressed in the consultation. Obviously, different opinions were expressed. Many respondents favoured a decriminalisation approach such as the one that we find in New Zealand, while many others favoured an approach that is known as the Nordic model, which is particularly associated with Sweden.
We are committing to develop a model specifically for Scotland that will reduce the harms of prostitution, support women to exit it and, crucially, challenge men’s demand for purchasing sex.
Commercial sexual exploitation is an aspect of violence against women that we have made very little progress in defeating, and prostitution is a signal of how unequal our society is with regard to women. Victims of exploitation are still criminalised while those who exploit them face no sanction whatever. Will the Scottish Government legislate to change that situation and, in doing so, look at how victims who have been prosecuted can have their convictions erased? After all, such convictions are a huge barrier to their exiting prostitution and starting new lives for themselves.
First, I commend the member for her long-standing interest and work in this area. She is quite correct in some of the points that she has just made.
As the member will acknowledge, this has been the first-ever consultation on prostitution and challenging men’s demand for purchasing sex. I invite her to work with me and the Government as we develop a model that is right for Scotland—one that recognises the lived experience of those who have been involved in prostitution, seeks to challenge men’s demand for purchasing sex and sits within our equally safe framework.