UK to Get Tough with Somewhat Unclear Anti-Trafficking Laws

Aug 29, 2013 • Legal, Sex Industry

UK to toughen laws against human trafficking

Theresa May, the United Kingdom’s home secretary — the minister responsible for the department that deals with issues of immigration, security, and law and order — has been busy fighting slavery. She’s disturbed that prosecution rates are low given estimates about the number of trafficked persons in the UK. May and supporters believe this is due in part to uncertainty among law enforcement agencies. To this end, there is now a bill on the table that will create the office of the modern slavery commissioner, as well as toughen existing anti-trafficking legislation.

The bill will make offenders face prevention orders similar to those faced by sex offenders, which limit them from owning companies, visiting certain locations, or working with women and children. The Guardian reports that the bill could also enable prosecutors to impose higher sentences and penalties for existing crimes when these are shown to have a link to human trafficking. The paper offered prostitution as an example.

It should be noted that in the UK, the exchange of sex for money is legal, so long as it’s arranged privately. Loitering for the purpose of engaging in sex work, soliciting in a public place, pimping, owning a brothel and managing a brothel are considered crimes (a place frequented by men to have sex with only one woman is not considered a brothel, even if she doesn’t live there).

Previous legislation seeking to help victims of human trafficking in the United Kingdom has, unfortunately, been somewhat ambiguous, often creating problems for sex workers who are not in the industry due to coercion. The Sexual Offences Act 2003 doesn’t require coercion. A person commits human trafficking if they arrange or facilitate arrival into the UK, out of the UK, or within the UK of someone with the intention of committing a relevant offense (such as prostitution), or knowing someone else will commit a relevant offense. This approached is markedly different from that of the United Nations, which describes human trafficking as the acquisition of people by improper means such as force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them. None of this language is present in anti-trafficking UK law.

Since 2009, it has been illegal in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to arrange to pay for sex with someone who is “controlled for another’s gain,” even if the patron is unaware that the provider is in this situation. The Policing and Crime Act 2009 added the following to the Sexual Offences Act 2003:

53A Paying for sexual services of a prostitute subjected to force etc.

(1) A person (A) commits an offence if —
(a) A makes or promises payment for the sexual services of a prostitute (B),
(b) a third person (C) has engaged in exploitative conduct of a kind likely to induce or encourage B to provide the sexual services for which A has made or promised payment, and
(c) C engaged in that conduct for or in the expectation of gain for C or another person (apart from A or B).

(2) The following are irrelevant —
(a) where in the world the sexual services are to be provided and whether those services are provided,
(b) whether A is, or ought to be, aware that C has engaged in exploitative conduct.

(3) C engages in exploitative conduct if —
(a) C uses force, threats (whether or not relating to violence) or any other form of coercion, or
(b) C practises any form of deception.

It’s been argued by critics that ambiguous laws, often interpreted by people who do not care to see (or do not believe there is) a difference between prostitution and human trafficking, serve only to hurt sex workers who aren’t in the industry as a result of coercion, driving the entire industry further underground.

Header image by the UK Home Office.