Mon, Nov 17, 2008 - Page 6 News List

UK to criminalize paying for sex

CLEAN UP TIMEThe British Home Secretary plans to crack down on the vice trade on the streets, while lapdancing clubs will face a stringent licensing regime

THE OBSERVER , LONDON

British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has attacked the “bizarre” practice of City — London’s financial district — firms entertaining clients in lapdancing clubs, on the eve of a government crackdown on the sex trade which is expected to criminalize most men who use prostitutes.

Smith said she expected to see some lapdancing clubs, which have mushroomed in recent years, close and fewer new ones opened under reforms triggered by concerns over a seedy culture of sexual titillation creeping across city centers.

She will outline plans this week to criminalize paying for sex with a woman “controlled for another person’s gain.” The new offence will carry a hefty fine and criminal record, which could prevent those caught from getting jobs in sensitive occupations.

The legislation will cover women who have pimps, or drug addicts who work to pay off their dealers as well as the rarer cases of trafficked women. This is expected to include the majority of Britain’s 80,000 sex workers. Ignorance of a woman’s circumstances will not be a defense. Curb crawlers will be “named and shamed,” while those who pay a prostitute knowing she has been forcibly trafficked could face rape charges.

The measures are highly controversial, with critics arguing that men will seek other outlets if prostitution is driven off the streets.

Smith said it was “not mine or the government’s responsibility to ensure that the demand is satisfied.”

“Is this something about which people have a choice with respect to their demands? Yes, they do. Basically, if it means fewer people are able to go out and pay for sex I think that would be a good thing,” she said.

The prostitution review will be published this week, followed later this month by new licensing arrangements that are expected to see lapdancing clubs, currently licensed in the same way as pubs, subjected to the same stringent regime as sex shops, allowing local residents more opportunities to object.

Smith said she believed the law had been “left behind” by the explosion in lapdancing clubs, which were seen as acceptable entertainment for a corporate night out.

“If I were a business person and I were wanting to make the best impression on clients, who presumably are female as well as male, I do think it’s a bit bizarre that you would take them to a lapdancing club,” she said.

The new regime would make it more difficult to open them.

“It’s not a complete ban on lapdancing clubs, but it’s saying you don’t operate in a vacuum, you have an impact on the community around you. I would hope it would make it harder for them to open, certainly in residential areas, and I would suspect that some of them will be closed when the licences come up for renewal,” Smith said.

The English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP), which has vigorously opposed the clampdown, says outlawing paid-for sex between consenting adults will punish women who find this more lucrative than menial jobs.

Forcing the trade underground would mean that “the risks they are forced to take will be greater,” a spokeswoman said.

One anonymous lapdancer who provided a statement for the ECP said she could earn £250 (US$371) in four hours of dancing.

“Nine out of 10 women turn to prostitution or lapdancing because there’s not enough money to survive. Recently my mum couldn’t afford a pair of school shoes for my brother and sister. When I worked a day job I couldn’t help her, but now I can,” she said.

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