Jean Urquhart MSP has criticized Edinburgh’s decision to delicense its saunas and massage parlours, and called for a debate on decriminalizing sex work in order to improve safety and decrease stigma.
Her intervention has been praised by the sex-worker-led charity SCOT-PEP as “courageous”.
In a motion to the Scottish Parliament, Urquhart praised Edinburgh’s formerly strong record of harm reduction policies on sex work, and urged the capital to reconsider.
Edinburgh has been unusual in granting Public Entertainment Licenses to sex work premises, a policy which improved health and safety and was strongly supported by sex workers themselves. Until 2001, Edinburgh also recognised tolerance zones for street prostitution.
The MSP highlighted calls from sex workers’ organisations for full decriminalisation, as practiced in New Zealand since 2003. Kiwi sex workers now report much greater safety and wellbeing. Decriminalization is supported by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
“Our first duty in dealing with sex work must be the protection of the safety and dignity of sex workers. Sex work can be dangerous; but those dangers are exacerbated, or in many cases even created, by criminalization.
“In Edinburgh’s case, delicensing will eventually lead to saunas being forced out of business by raids and arrests – which is presumably its intention. This will force sex workers into more dangerous work such as street prostitution or working alone from home.
“This is a continuation of a concerted shift against harm reduction in Edinburgh. One of the changes already made, in 2001, has been to abandon the use of tolerance zones for street prostitution. A subsequent crackdown on kerb-crawling in 2007 led to sex workers reporting a 95% increase in incidents of violence over 12 months.
“Edinburgh’s management of sex work was a success story. But instead of the rest of Scotland learning from their experience, we are seeing failed policies being pushed on the capital.
“Both the hard evidence and the testimony of sex workers themselves tell us that fully decriminalising sex work, as in New Zealand, is the best way to protect sex workers and their communities. This would allow co-operation instead of conflict with the authorities, improve the health and safety of sex workers, and create the best possible environment for the eradication of coercion, trafficking and underage sex work.”
The sex workers’ charity SCOT-PEP said:
“SCOT-PEP warmly welcomes Jean Urquhart’s motion on Edinburgh city council’s sauna decision, and on the wider legal context of sex work in Scotland. It is heartening to see an MSP focus on harm reduction rather than on ideology, and back a policy – decriminalization – that is supported by evidence, and international agencies including UNAIDS and the World Health Organization.
“We are delighted that Jean’s motion notes that decriminalization is the legal framework called for by sex workers in Scotland, and around the world. For too long, debates about sex work have been dominated by policymakers who seek to dismiss the voices of those most affected. Sex workers are the experts on the legal framework that best enables them to work safely, and to access health, human rights, and justice.
“We have long fought for policy that centres safety, human rights and evidence, and are pleased to see that, in a context for sex workers in Scotland that has recently brought setbacks, we nonetheless have courageous politicians”.
If Urquhart’s motion gains the support of MSPs from three of the five Holyrood party groups, including Jean’s Independent/Green group, it will be eligible for a debate in the Parliament. If you support a debate on the issue, please consider emailing, writing or phoning your MSP and asking them to sign the motion.
Urquhart’s motion to the Scottish Parliament:
Motion Number: S4M-08986
Lodged By: Jean Urquhart
Date Lodged: 06/02/2014
Title: Criminalization of Sex Work
That the Parliament regrets the decision of the Regulatory Committee of Edinburgh City Council, on 3 February 2014, to remove massage parlours and saunas from the Public Entertainment Licence regime; considers that this decision represents a move toward deeper criminalization of sex work and sex workers; believes that such criminalization exposes sex workers to greater danger and stigma; further believes that Edinburgh’s previous sex work policies, including tolerance zones for street prostitution and licensed saunas, demonstrated success in reducing harm, and notes calls for Edinburgh City Council to reconsider this decision and the Scottish Government to give consideration to policies to decriminalize sex work, as it believes has been requested by sex workers themselves.