A senior policeman has warned that new legislation intended to protect women forced into prostitution may be too complex to work in practice.
Chief Constable Tim Brain, the Association of Chief Police Officers’ spokesman on vice, said that the complexity of the law will make it difficult to gain sufficient evidence to prosecute.
He said his concern was that “the deterrent effect the government was hoping to bring about will be lessened”.
The Government’s planned change to the law in England and Wales creates a new offence of paying for sex with a woman “controlled for another’s gain”.
Men prosecuted for the offence will not be able to plead ignorance of the woman’s circumstances as a defence.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “There will be no more excuses for those who pay for sex.”
“We want to send a clear message to force sex buyers to think twice before paying for sex and are confident this new offence will be a strong deterrent.
“We are determined to shift the focus onto the sex buyer, the person responsible for creating the demand for prostitution markets which in turn creates demand for the vile trade of women being trafficked for sexual exploitation.”
Chief Constable Brain said he supported such a change in the law but wanted to make sure it works.
“The idea that men should be responsible, to have a wider knowledge of the harm that they can cause by paying for sex in such circumstances, is an absolutely sound principle,” he said.
“Our concern is around gaining sufficiency of evidence to merit a suitable number of prosecutions to act as a deterrent.”
He strongly emphasised: “I believe the direction of travel is the correct one. We are talking about problems around practicalities not principle.”
Previously the Home Office had raised the prospect of effectively legalising small brothels. But this plan has now been ditched as the Government pursues a tougher line on prostitution.
However, the Home Secretary has no plans for an outright ban on paying for sex because, she says, of difficulties in enforcing such a move.
According to Home Office estimates there are about 80,000 prostitutes in Britain, around 4,000 of whom have been trafficked into the country for exploitation.
It further estimates that more than one in ten men pay for sex, making the prostitution trade worth £1 billion.