A BOLD move launches across Scotland today to challenge the root cause of prostitution – men’s demand to buy sex – and end the harm caused by it.

The End Prostitution Now campaign – led by agencies such as the Women’s Support Project (WSP) and the Glasgow Violence Against Women Partnership (GVAWP) – will call on the Scottish public, MSPs, charities and public bodies, to put pressure on the Scottish Government to tackle the root cause of commercial sexual exploitation.

Councillor James Coleman, chair of the GVAWP and lead spokesperson for the campaign, said: “End Prostitution Now aims to engage with as many people as possible to make them aware of the horrific realities of prostitution and compel them to take action to help eradicate the serious harm it causes.

“Men’s demand for sexual access to women’s bodies is the ultimate cause of prostitution and all the misery it causes.

“We believe the solution is threefold. The End Prostitution Now strategy aims to secure legislation in Scotland which criminalises the buyers of sex, decriminalises those exploited by prostitution and provides support and services to help people exit prostitution safely.”

He added: “We urge members of the public to put pressure on the Scottish Government to make this crucial legislative change by writing to their MSPs using our downloadable template letter via enddemand.uk/scotland/.”

The campaign launch coincides with Labour MSP Rhoda Grant’s announcement yesterday of her amendments to the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill, which aligns with the aims of the campaign.

She said: “Just last week I attended an event in Northern Ireland to mark the criminalisation of the purchase of sex coming into force. I fear that if Scotland does not follow suit, it could become a haven for sex traffickers moving out of Northern Ireland.

“It is not only important to address the criminalisation of the purchase of sex, but to also provide substantial support and assistance through exiting services, and therefore become a positive part of the solution.

“I believe that the Scottish Government can and should introduce appropriate legislation to ban the purchase of sex, similar to Lord Morrow’s Act in Northern Ireland. The longer we delay, the more vulnerable individuals will be exploited in this way.”

End Prostitution Now is led by the Women’s Support Project, with Zero Tolerance, Encompass, Glasgow City Council’s arms-length organisation, Community Safety Glasgow (part of which is the GVAWP), NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and the Scottish Trade Union Congress.

The campaign will be accompanied by a nine-day social media campaign which launches today on Twitter via @EndDemandNow and Facebook.

Liz Curran, from the WSP, said: “Prostitution is abuse, often extreme or violent in nature. Prostitution is never a matter of choice, nor is it a human right, as some campaigners argue.

“No reasonable person wants the right to be sexually exploited, abused, demeaned, disadvantaged, socially excluded and marginalised.

“The vast, but often silent, majority of women in prostitution are there through utter desperation, poverty and a lack of positive, alternative choices. Many will exhibit ‘survival behaviour’ – which can result in drug use or other criminal activities, for example – just to help them cope with the unbearable way in which they are treated.

“The public needs to be aware of the realities which drive women into prostitution and towards such damaging survival behaviour. The End Prostitution Now campaign will play an extremely important role in raising this awareness and empowering the public to take their own action against it.”

Last year, the GVAWP launched a controversial exhibition at GoMA, entitled Unmasked, which raised awareness of the devastating impact of prostitution on the lives of vulnerable women. It presented the real-life views and attitudes of the men who use women in prostitution to the public using excerpts from a social media site where men “rated” their experience with prostitutes.

Coleman added: “No one should be punished for having had no choice other than to face a situation of violence and abuse just to survive. We are confident that the people of Glasgow will get behind us, put pressure on their MSPs, and raise their voices to help end prostitution now.”

Case study

STREETWORK Women’s Project aims to reach those excluded from mainstream services, promoting equality and advocating on behalf of women who are at risk, have experienced, or are experiencing domestic abuse; rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse; and/or commercial sexual exploitation.

One woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, with whom the organisation has worked, gave an insight into the plight of those forced into prostitution.

“A”, who is aged over 40, came to Scotland after fleeing her violent ex-partner. She had escaped to refuge accommodation after years of being forced into prostitution. She effectively exited prostitution when she fled, and stated on many occasions that prostitution – for her – was not a choice. She reported she found the constant level of physical, emotional, financial and sexual abuse unbearable.

“A” reported she was forced into prostitution when she met her partner when she was 16.

She said she was threatened with violence if she did not comply.

She also reported she was financially controlled during this time with no access to her own money.

“A” suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and long-term physical disabilities as a result of the violence she has endured.

She reported feeling deeply isolated having left her hometown and stated that she was often suicidal. “A” shared with her worker that she felt so damaged by her experiences that she no longer wanted to live as she couldn’t imagine a day where she wasn’t affected by the abuse.

She has since reported a vast improvement to her situation and said she feels able to move forward with ongoing support.