MINISTERS are under pressure to order an official state inquiry into Scotland's "sex for rent scandal" amid claims thousands of women are being targeted by predatory landlords.

According to campaigners, rogue property owners are demanding sexual favours in exchange for free or cut-price rent, and homeless women and those employed on low-paid and insecure zero-hour contracts are accepting the arrangements out of desperation. Tenants' union Living Rent estimated that between 1,000 and 2,000 women in Scotland have received "sex for rent" approaches annually in the last five years.

Last night, women's equality campaigners backed tougher government action to protect women from what they said was a form of abuse. Psychologist Dr Mairead Tagg, an expert in male violence against women, said: "People being entrapped into selling their body for rent is not acceptable. That's abuse of somebody vulnerable. It's despicable and it ruins lives so, yes, an inquiry is called for into this horrific exploitation."

Dr Marsha Scott, chief executive at Scottish Women's Aid, added: "There is an intersection of poverty and violence against women. You cannot address one without the other and of course I support anything that helps address those issues."

The Sunday Herald spoke to one woman targeted by a rogue landlord, amid claims that the abuse is endemic.

Erin McAuley a student teacher, has launched a campaign for an independent investigation into "sex for rent" after she and her friends were targeted in sleazy online adverts. The 20-year-old says a landlord offered her cheap rent in return for sex and performing domestic cleaning. McAuley rejected the advances she says were made by the owner of a property on the outskirts of Glasgow. However, the University of Stirling student said she knows other women in low-paid jobs and facing sky-high rents who had been driven into accepting similar terms.

McAuley said: "I do know someone who went into this in the short term. A lot of people don't know where to go with this. The concept of choice goes away when you are vulnerable and where there is a real housing shortage and people are working in zero-hour contracts."

McAuley said women were increasingly being offered sex for rent deals in online adverts. However, McAuley said a failure to call an inquiry could see the practice escalate. She said: "It could get worse because it could get under the radar."

Meanwhile, campaigners say women are also being asked to "carry out household chores naked, or in sexy lingerie" in exchange for free accommodation. They singled out Craigslist – an American classified advertisements website for jobs, housing and sales.

The site is being used to advertise rooms to rent in exchange for "erotic arrangements", "intimacy" and "friends with benefits", the campaigners say.

Scottish Government Ministers are now being urged to ask experts from the housing and social work sectors, as well as tenants representatives, to lead the investigation.

A resolution to the forthcoming youth conference of the Scottish Trades Union Congress says a probe could identify the extent of the "exploitative" and "reprehensible" approaches to women.

The motion from the Unite union says: "There is a dangerous attempt to establish deeply exploitative relationships off the back of homelessness and a toxic combination of low pay, zero-hour contracts, insecure work and exorbitant rents, which makes for a desperate situation, whereby vulnerabilities of many people in need of a room are exploited, and concept of choice disappears."

Campaigners should “place pressure on the Scottish Government to launch an independent investigation into the current crisis, documenting the widespread impact of the sex for rent scandal throughout Scotland,” the resolution says.

It adds: "Conference also notes some male landlords use websites, such as Craigslist, to advertise available rooms to rent in exchange for ‘erotic arrangements’, ‘intimacy’, ‘friends with benefits’, ‘keep me company’, or ‘for a women to carry out household chores naked, or in sexy lingerie’."

McAuley, a Unite union activist, will present the resolution at the STUC youth congress in Glasgow on June 30 and July 1.

Her motion points out that a YouGov poll of female tenants, commissioned by the housing charity Shelter, shows that 250,000 women across the UK have had a landlord ask for sexual favours in exchange for free or discounted accommodation in the past five years, including 140,000 women in the past year.

A large percentage of those targeted are thought to be in London, where there is a huge rental market. Craig Paterson, a spokesman for tenants' union Living Rent, estimated that between 1,000 and 2,000 women in Scotland have received "sex for rent" approaches.

Paterson said that was based on anecdotal reports the group had received, as well as extrapolating from Shelter's UK-wide findings.

He said: "There are these 140,000 cases of people having this put to them in the UK in the last year alone.

"But I'd say that if you look at the representative figure, there could have been between 1,000 and 2,000 women in the last year in Scotland who have been propositioned in that way."

The Sunday Herald approached Craigslist for a comment about claims that its website was being used to promote "sex for rent" offers.

Craigslist has now discontinued its 'personals' section in which a number of these adverts previously appeared.

The Herald:


WHEN 20-year-old Erin McAuley was working in a sales job on a zero-hours contract 18 months ago, she was approached by a much older man offering cheap rent in exchange for sexual favours. The deal meant also agreeing to do his domestic chores, including dish washing. Now, she is speaking out in a bid to help other vulnerable women.

McAuley, a student teacher, received the message from an advertiser on an online property website after she had enquired about a spare room, and she says she was shocked about how casual the proposition was.

“One guy openly advertised for sexual favours,” she says. “I was more appalled than anything else about how casualised his language was. It was quite appalling, the boldness and casualisation on his part, saying that in exchange for low rent that you would give him sexual favours and do domestic duties like washing the dishes."

Although she rejected the landlord’s advances, McAuley speaks of her fears for women living in poverty-stricken conditions who feel they have no other option but to agree to “sex for rent” arrangements.

“I was on a zero-hours contract and I was trying to find accommodation,” she says. “I totally understand why some women might fall into that vulnerability.”

Zero-hours contracts allow firms to hire staff with no obligation to guarantee a minimum number of hours, and have become controversial over concerns about workers’ rights and financial insecurity.

McAuley says her own experiences convinced her "sex for rent" offers were widespread: “I've spoken to friends who have been targeted in this way.”

She also believes that wider crises, such as housing shortages, have contributed to driving desperate women to extreme measures, and says homeless women and those from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community are particularly vulnerable to approaches.

“If we had a better housing situation, women would be better protected,” she says. “There's a concern that young homeless women are being targeted. I'm also concerned about people from the LGBTI community could be vulnerable.”


“With rents continuing to rise and a shortage of affordable social housing we are seeing more and more tenants being exploited by unscrupulous landlords. We fully support the motion being put forward by the Unite youth committee on 'sex for rent' and back the call for an investigation into this abhorrent practice.”

Emma Saunders, Living Rent chair

“We take this issue extremely seriously and wrote to Craigslist earlier in the year to make our concerns clear and help ensure people are protected from exploitation. Forcing someone, in any way, to participate in sexual activity is a crime and the behaviour detailed in this report is completely unacceptable. We encourage anyone at risk of coercion to seek advice or contact the police immediately.”

Angela Constance, Scotland’s cabinet secretary for communities, social security and equalities. Last autumn's annual SNP conference passed a resolution calling for the Scottish Government to create a new law making it illegal to offer free accommodation in return for sex.

Police Scotland thoroughly investigate any complaints received and, if any criminality is established, a report will be submitted to the Procurator Fiscal.”

Police Scotland Detective Superintendent Stuart Houston

“The overwhelming majority of landlords in Scotland are responsible and operate within the extensive regulation which is rightly applied to our sector.”

John Blackwood, chief executive of the Scottish Association of Landlords