Nine people from Thailand have been jailed for up to two-and-a-half-years for their part in exploiting women who were advertised in "online brothels". They are thought to have made millions of pounds from women trafficked from Asia to the UK for use in the sex trade...
One of the women - advertised on the website as "Helen" - had been "bought" from her traffickers by a syndicate of two women and a man for £11,000 and then told she would have to pay her "bondholders" £30,000 to win her own freedom.
Brian O'Neill, prosecuting, said she effectively had to sleep with 300 men, at £100 a time, to buy herself out of a modern-day form of slavery.
While prostitution is technically legal in the UK, laws against soliciting, streetwalking, and brothels effectively make it illegal to sell sexual services, but not to buy them. The increase in trafficking cases might change the laws to put some legal responsibility on the purchaser as well as the provider:
Earlier this year the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, announced plans to introduce legislation to outlaw paying for sex with someone "controlled for another person's gain"...
If it becomes law it would mean "punters" would have a legal obligation to ensure women they pay have not been trafficked.
An increase in trafficking cases has also prompted calls for massive reform of laws regarding the sex trade in the UK. One group calling for prostitution reform explains the challenge this way:
Since I feel like I don't know what the best solution is, I'm curious to know other people's thoughts on how prostitution should be best regulated to prevent trafficking and abuse.
As explained above, the current laws tread an uneasy path between legality and illegality. Would it not be better in our enlightened society to decide once and for all "is there a place for prostitution in the 21st century"? This would lead to two outcomes:
- We decide there is a place for prostitution in the 21st century and legalise all aspects of the "profession". In addition we help prostitution to become an acceptable part of society by incorporating it into education, health and politics.
- We decide prostitution is largely an abuse of women (as was decided in Sweden). In order to protect women who have been forced into prostitution the law is changed to move the "blame" and illegality to the purchaser of sexual services.