Jeremy Corbyn has attracted criticism from Labour MPs for saying the “sex industry” should be decriminalized.
The Labour leader told students in London he wanted a society “where we don’t automatically criminalize people”, The Guardian reported.
Ex-Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman said prostitution was “exploitation and abuse” not “an industry”.
Labour sources said Mr Corbyn had been answering a direct question, not making a policy announcement.
They added that he believed sex workers should not be seen as criminals.
The Labour leader had been taking part in a question and answer session at Goldsmiths University, in London, on Thursday.
According to the Guardian, he said: “I am in favor of decriminalizing the sex industry. I don’t want people to be criminalized. I want to be [in] a society where we don’t automatically criminalize people.
“Let’s do things a bit differently and in a bit more civilized way.”
In 2014, Northern Ireland became the first part of the UK to pass legislation making the purchase of sexual services illegal.
In the rest of the UK, paying for sex is not against the law but many activities linked to it, such as brothel-keeping, kerb-crawling and soliciting sex in a public place, are outlawed.
Backbench Labour MP Jess Phillips criticized Mr Corbyn’s comments on Twitter.
“Man says we should decriminalize a known violence against women. Why did it have to be this man,” she wrote.