If you've been paying attention to internet law in the US recently, you'll know that there's been a crackdown on websites used to advertise prostitution services in a bid to tackle sex trafficking and modern slavery. The move has been criticised by sex workers and activists alike, and now MPs in the House of Commons will be debating whether to implement a similar ban on such websites in the UK.
A call to ban 'prostitution websites' will be made during a House of Commons debate by a group of cross-party MPs, claiming owners of those sites "directly and knowingly" profit from sex trafficking. While they want the Home office to get involved, people campaigning for the rights of sex workers say the move would be "disastrous" - mimicking the conversation that's still happening in the US.
The Sex Worker Advocacy and Resistance Movement (Swarm), the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP), and the xTalk collective will be holding a demonstration outside parliament timed to coincide with today's debate, in protest of the suggested change in the law. Their argument is that forcing sex workers off the internet will place them in more danger, putting them at risk. The ECP argues that it would make it harder for sex workers to screen their clients, and potentially push them into "the hands of exploitative brothel bosses".
"If well-meaning MPs want to save women from sex work then take action against zero-hour contracts, low wages and exploitative bosses in the jobs that are the alternatives to prostitution."
This call from MPs comes following a parliamentary report into sexual exploitation in England and Wales, which was published in May. The report concluded that prostitution websites were "the most significant enabler of sex-trafficking in the UK".
"Websites such as Vivastreet and Adultwork are key to the typical 'business model' used by the organised crime groups and third-party exploiters who dominate the UK's off-street sex trade.
Any notion that prostitution websites introduce 'safety' to the sex trade by making procurement visible is a dangerous and misleading fallacy. They hide sexual exploitation in plain sight."
Sarah Champion, Labour MP for Rotherham, willalso be leading a follow-up debate at Westmisnter Hall where she is expected to say:
"Across the UK, men are paying to sexually exploit vulnerable women and girls that they have 'shopped' for online. We need to join the dots - between prostitution, modern slavery, trafficking and child sexual exploitation."
She's also calling for rules to criminalise paying for sex in all forms, with an end to fines for loitering and solicitation.
It seems like those calling for the rule change have their hearts in the right place, especially if they listen to calls to end punishment for loitering and solicitation, but is the website ban the way to go? Prostitution is one of those things that's going to happen, whether the law says it's ok or not, and driving it underground isn't going to benefit anyone but the criminals this law is clearly designed to go after. Dealing with sex trafficking and exploitation is a very important issue, don't get me wrong, but surely there are better ways to do it than penalise sex workers who aren't being forced into that line of work by a third party. [BBC News]