Desperate people in the north-east are having sex with landlords instead of paying rent, a local expert has claimed.
A panel from across the region gathered to discuss a growing “sex for rent” epidemic in Scotland, following recent studies which showed that hundreds of thousands of women are falling prey to the practice.
The Aberdeen Law Project, based at Aberdeen University, invited MSP Kevin Stewart, Detective Sergeant Craig Currie, Mark Thomson from homeless charity Shelter Scotland and Marsha Scott of Scottish Women’s Aid as part of the workshop.
Mr Thomson said there is a “vast amount of under-reporting” on the growing issue, where tenants are asked by landlords to offer sex in exchange for rent.
He added: “We are aware anecdotally that it does happen in Aberdeen.
“The organisation, as a whole across the country, carried out a study through YouGov which said 220,000 women have been asked for sex for their tenancies.”
Mr Thomson said the charity aims to help anyone who might be in a “vulnerable position”, he added.
Mr Stewart, minister for local government, housing and planning, said there is currently a multi-agency team undertaking research to identify any residents in Aberdeen who might be facing the issue.
He referred to a recent Press and Journal article, which revealed that women are resorting to prostitution on the streets of Aberdeen to make ends.
He said: “There’s evidence from the food bank CFine that this could probably be going on under the surface.”
Ms Scott, chief executive for Scottish Women’s Aid, said a number of women in their care feel coerced into the exchange from being in abusive relationships.
She added: “Sex for rent is about coercion – it’s like sex for any of the things that someone has the power to withhold.
“Sex is just the currency involved in this.”
Detective Sergeant Currie said the legal aspects behind the arrangements could be contentious if consent is involved.
He said: “The essential element will always come down to consent.
“The issue when establishing criminality in Scotland, for sex for rent, will come down to consent for the arrangement.
“Every situation and every scenario is different.
“If there’s not free agreement, there’s no consent and the person has been coerced – you could be looking at rape.
“If someone is making threats if you do not give them sex – it’s abusive and aggressive behaviour.
“I would encourage anyone who has been asked for sex for rent to contact police or the partner agencies.”
Cfine has previously said that women are increasingly turning to so-called “survival sex” due to the impact of changes to the benefits system.
But the charity’s chief executive, Dave Simmers, said: “Anecdotally, women were identifying themselves as being there because of the benefit system.
“We have not spoken to enough people affected to know whether it is solely Universal Credit driving them to make these undesirable choices.”