Planned laws to tackle prostitution could be considerably weakened by amendments tabled by Conservative frontbenchers in the House of Lords.
The Government proposes to criminalise men who pay for sex with women being exploited by someone else, whether they know about her situation or not. This is known as a ‘strict liability’ offence.
The Government hopes this will reduce the number of men using prostitutes and damage the trade in sex trafficking into the UK.
It was estimated in 2008 that up to 18,000 women and girls – some as young as 14 – had been trafficked into the UK to work as prostitutes.
However, Baroness Hanham and Viscount Bridgeman have now tabled amendments which would significantly reduce the power of the new law.
Under the amendments, a man would only be guilty if he “knows, or ought to know” that the woman he had paid for sex was being exploited.
It is feared that without the ‘strict liability’ element the offence will lose much of its power to deter people from purchasing sex.
The plans are part of the Government’s Policing and Crime Bill. The new amendments are expected to be subject to debate when the Bill reaches Committee Stage in the House of Lords later this month.
More than half of UK prostitutes have been raped or suffered indecent assault and three quarters have experienced physical violence.
A majority of the prostitutes involved in one study said that they had feared for their lives at least once.
An international study published in the Journal of Trauma Practice found that 68% of prostitutes met the criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, with symptoms as severe as victims of torture.
The same study shows that nine in ten prostitutes want to escape prostitution but feel unable to do so.
Statistics from the ‘Crime and Disorder associated with Prostitution Initiative’ showed that 93 per cent of prostitutes were using non-prescribed drugs, including 88 per cent using heroin.