Sex workers have accused the Scottish Government of adopting an “outdated ideology” and a “harmful moralistic view” in its approach to prostitution.
Umbrella Lane, a group which supports more than 150 sex workers across Scotland, said its members oppose any move to criminalise the buying of sex – warning this could pressure them into seeing “dangerous clients”.
It comes after two women who describe themselves as “survivors of prostitution” addressed Holyrood’s Cross Party Group on Sexual Exploitation, calling for buying sex to be made an offence.
But Anastacia Ryan, the founder of Umbrella Lane and a lecturer on sex work and drugs policies, said ministers need to instead “prioritise safety, health and harm reduction”.
She added: “Despite leading the way on progressive measures in other areas of women’s rights, the Government agenda on prostitution is driven by an outdated ideology and a harmful moralistic view that fails to reflect the realities of sex workers’ lives and associated needs from services.
“We have an opportunity in Scotland to create policy and laws in this area that prioritise safety, health and harm reduction, showing sex workers that their lives matter.
“This begins by placing the voices of sex workers at the heart of this consultation and all future policy agendas on prostitution.”
The Scottish Government is currently consulting over whether its approach to tackling prostitution is sufficient to prevent violence against women and girls.
Kate, a sex worker from Glasgow, said the consultation is “pushing a different agenda, one more towards criminalisation”.
She insisted: “It should always be a women’s choice what they do with their own body and how to earn a living. Criminalising us will not stop us having to work, it will only make it more dangerous.”
Paul, a gay male sex worker from Edinburgh, added: “If this passes I worry that the pool of good clients will decrease and workers like myself will have to take on clients we would normally never consider.”
Claire, a sex worker from Glasgow, said: “The Government’s attitude towards sex workers is really unhelpful, treating us all as victims and promoting a support to exit approach amongst support services discourages us to want to access those services.
“I’ve been in the industry almost six years now, I am choosing to do this job, and I’m not looking for support to exit. I’m looking for the Government to help make my work safer, to support a harm reduction approach.
“I’d love to be able to work with a friend for safety, but under current laws, this is illegal.”
Countries such as Sweden, France, Norway, Ireland, Iceland and Israel have already criminalised paying for sex in a bid to reduce demand for prostitution.
But Claire said: “The consultation to end demand only serves to further stigmatise workers and if the Nordic model passes, it would make our work more dangerous.
“It would put workers in situations where they feel pressured into seeing dangerous clients or providing services they’re not comfortable with.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “This is Scotland’s first national consultation on prostitution to discuss our future approach to this important issue within the context of how women and girls should be treated in an equal society.
“We want to hear the views of everyone with an interest or insight into the issues, especially from those directly involved, and welcome the efforts of organisations to encourage those with lived experience to engage in this process.
“The consultation does not commit to any particular course of action and asks broad questions on challenging men’s demand for purchasing sex and on how we can reduce harms for women involved in prostitution and ensure women are supported, including to exit.”