EQUALLY Safe, the Scottish Government’s strategy on preventing and eradicating violence against women, frames prostitution as commercial sexual exploitation and a form of violence against women. This is nothing new.

It is a rhetorical weapon that has long been used by those wishing to push anti-prostitution policies – including MSP Rhoda Grant, who was last week appointed Scottish Labour’s women and equality spokeswoman by the party’s new leader Richard Leonard.

Last Tuesday, a debate took place at the Scottish Parliament on a motion entitled “The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Tackling Commercial Sexual Exploitation”.

Grant was congratulated for bringing the motion to the chamber, and what followed was a familiar spectacle where the majority of MSPs who attended disregarded evidence and common-sense concerns for the safety of sex workers.

Global health and human rights organisations all support full decriminalisation of the sex industry; how can this always be so comfortably bypassed?

The Scottish Government commissioned a review of the evidence available on the criminalisation of the purchase of sex in 2015. The report did not make the recommendation to criminalise clients, the so-called Nordic Model.

Ongoing accounts from sex workers in countries that have adopted the Nordic Model say their lives have become harder and violence has increased.

The push to criminalisation represents unequal treatment towards a community of people – sex workers – but is this always justified because prostitution is violence?

Perhaps we need to think about the continued unanswered questions on what MSPs are proposing to do to help people to leave the sex industry.

For seven years, Grant has pushed to criminalise the clients of sex workers: either by supporting Labour Party colleagues in 2010, or in her attempts to fast-track and amend prostitution law between 2012 and 2015.

Members of the Scottish Parliament rejected her proposals to tackle human trafficking and end prostitution by criminalising the purchase of sex, due to the adverse effects the Nordic Model has had on sex workers.

This year, more behind the scenes but still involved, Grant sponsored the Inside Outside exhibition at Holyrood – a display of women’s specific experiences in the sex industry – with the intention to sway political backing towards criminalisation, days before the Scottish National Party conference in Aberdeen.

Delegates at the party’s conference voted in favour of a motion proposing a Scottish model to “handle” prostitution, like the Nordic model, as Grant found a political companion in SNP MSP Ash Denham, who recommended the resolution.

Sex workers should have been given absolute assurances that their safety in Scotland would become a priority – but yet again, they were not.

Increased raids on saunas and flats, sex workers moving away from health and wellbeing services – all of this happened as Grant vowed to criminalise the purchase of sex, in her role as a named champion when it comes to addressing violence against women. I’m not convinced.

Sex workers and their allies know that the framing of prostitution as violence, in its entirety, acts to preserve a layer of the stigma that leads to advocacy for unworkable and unsafe laws, thus creating conditions in which exploitation and violence can occur.

Individuals selling sex are not Equally Safe in the current law or Scottish Government strategy and are within their rights to call out problematic policy if it causes harm.

There is a tendency towards group-think on the sex industry, where people feel they must accept what people around them are saying to avoid confrontation or be viewed as less to their cause among colleagues.

This is particularly true if you are part of the violence against women community.

I hope this encourages people to think about that matter at hand and to realise that the dominating consensus on criminalising the purchase of sex isn’t necessarily right.

Janine Ewen is a trustee of Umbrella Lane, a community-based, peer-led sex worker project