Fiona takes part in debate on "Helping Vulnerable Women in Prostitution"

Fiona said:

“I commend the speeches of the hon. Members for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) and for Luton South (Mr Shuker), who are my colleagues in the all-party parliamentary group, and I wholeheartedly support their powerful expressions of support for women who are in prostitution and trapped in prostitution.

Although prostitution is often referred to as the oldest profession, it is more accurately viewed as one of the most enduring forms of exploitation. It has been my privilege to meet and talk with several women who have lived through prostitution. The stories they tell of being treated as an object or commodity, and of feeling that they had no choice but to sell sex in order to survive, are a sobering contrast to the fictional glamour in the popular myths surrounding the industry. As one of those survivors, Rachel Moran, has written in her excellent autobiographical book, “Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution”:

“I pay no respect or accommodation to the glamorising or sensationalising of prostitution. These are not true depictions of prostitution...My assessment of prostitution and my opinions of it I take from the years I spent enduring it and everything I ever saw, heard, felt, witnessed or otherwise experienced at that time. There was no glamour there. Not even the flicker of it. Not for any of us”.

No one reading Rachel’s book could believe anything other than that women involved in prostitution are abused women; no one could doubt that prostitution is an utterly exploitative experience.

As we have heard, circumstances in early years—such as homelessness, family breakdown, problems with drugs or alcohol, or being in local authority care—are often precursors to young people entering prostitution, which then becomes a trap for years.”

Michael Tomlinson MP said:

“I, too, have met Rachel more than once and read her book; it is truly compelling. Will my hon. Friend say a little more about the evidence that we both heard on this issue on the Conservative party human rights commission—that it is wrong to describe prostitution as a genuine choice, because there are so many underlying reasons for it that it would be wrong to say that those in prostitution are there out of choice?”

Fiona said:

“Absolutely; I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue. The argument that women—it is mainly women—who are engaged in prostitution and being paid for sex are consenting is a fallacy. They are never consenting; they are coerced. They are coerced by their circumstances, such as those I have described, and then exploited by those who use them for sex and by the pimps who sell them for sex.

Research for the Scottish Government has shown that

“most respondents who provide services and support to those involved in prostitution emphasised a range of risks and adverse impacts associated with prostitution in the short and longer term in relation to general and mental health, safety and wellbeing and sexual heath.”

The loss of self as a result of being objectified time and time again comes across profoundly when one talks to or about women who have been involved in prostitution. The techniques that they operate to block out from their minds what is happening to them, so that they think of themselves as an object, are so profound that they often cannot then move on with their lives.​

Although some British nationals, especially young people, are affected, as we have heard, commercial sexual exploitation now often affects foreign nationals who have been trafficked here and are vulnerable. A Police Foundation study in Bristol found that only 17% of the people providing sexual services in the city’s brothels were British.

Prostitution and the commercial sex industry are intrinsically linked with modern slavery. As we have heard, the market for commercial sex operates as a pull for traffickers and organised crime groups. It is heart-rending when one hears accounts from organisations such as Hope for Justice. I believe that the daily figure of 13 sex buyers a day mentioned by the hon. Member for Rotherham is often a gross underestimate. I remember an account from the founder of Hope for Justice, which rescues trafficked women from prostitution. On one occasion he was told about a young girl who had been rescued. One day she had decided she would count how many men had abused her that day. After 100 she stopped counting.

To reduce modern slavery we must reduce the demand that creates the market in which so many people are exploited. That is why I support what has been said here today. At the same time, we must also provide real exit routes for women who are trapped in prostitution. It is not enough to say, “You can have health checks and clean condoms.” They need genuine opportunities to gain education, to be rehoused, and to understand how they can support themselves in a different way, because they often see themselves as having no alternatives at all.

The Conservative party human rights commission, which I chair, is in the middle of its own inquiry into the different legal approaches to prostitution and the impact they have on the fight against modern slavery. I am very pleased to see the evidence coming through now from the countries where “end demand” legislation has been implemented, including in Northern Ireland, where the law is fairly new. The police have found the offence much more effective than the partial offence that existed before, which we still have here. I congratulate the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland on securing its first conviction two weeks ago in a contested court case following the implementation of the new law.

The culture has been changed in Sweden, as we have heard. It is now considered almost demeaning to pay for sex there. Only a minority of men in this country pay for sexual services—only about 11% of men have ever paid for sex and only 3.6% have done so in recent years, according to the most recent survey data published. However, their behaviour harms individuals, fuels organised crime and contributes to the global networks of modern slavery.

Many people suggest that the law should not intervene in matters of prostitution. They say that that would stray into regulating the behaviour of consenting adults, but, as we have heard, one of those people, often not an adult, is not consenting. The law needs to be looked at again. If the cost of protecting such extremely vulnerable people from exploitation and modern slavery is to reduce the choices of a small group of people, it is a cost we should be prepared to pay.

I welcome the research that the Government have commissioned into the scale and nature of prostitution in England and Wales, and I commend the Minister for ​her own interest in the subject. I look forward to the findings of that report. I hope that perhaps during the summer recess the Minister will have an opportunity to read Rachel Moran’s book and that the researchers undertaking work of the inquiry will look at it, too.”