The Scottish Government is being urged to overhaul “outdated and unjust” prostitution laws, with a new campaign calling for paying for sex to be criminalised. 

A Model For Scotland, a campaign led by an alliance of people who have been involved in prostitution and frontline services, also wants to see legislation that criminalises street soliciting repealed in an attempt to protect the women involved. 

The proposals, revealed on Monday as the campaign is launched, would also make it illegal for people to run online sites advertising sex for sale. 

The group is calling on the Government to “shift the burden of criminality off victims” and place it on to those who perpetrate of “profit from sexual exploitation”. 

The Government says it is committed to challenging demand for prostitution while also keeping women safe. 

Diane Martin, who was a victim of sex trafficking and prostitution, said more action needs to be taken urgently to protect women and girls. 

She said: “Now is the time for Scotland to develop a new approach to prostitution, ensuring victims no longer face criminal sanctions but are provided with tailored support to exit; and where pimps, sex buyers and pimping websites are no longer able to operate and exploit with impunity."

In Scotland, it is currently legal to sell or pay for sex but there are a number of laws prohibiting certain activities, such as brothel keeping and publicly soliciting or loitering in a public place to buy or sell sex. 

Sex trafficking and procuring someone into becoming a prostitute are also prohibited. 

The legalities of the sex trade have been much debated in recent years and were the focus of a Scottish Government consultation last year. 

The results of that study, published in June, revealed mixed views on the best way to protect and support the women involved. 

Some groups, such as Scot-PEP, a sex worker-led charity, believe criminalising those who pay for sex will only push prostitution further underground, making it more dangerous. 

However, the Government’s strategy on the issue takes the view prostitution is a form of violence against women and the SNP’s manifesto pledged to develop a model that challenges men’s demand for purchasing sex. 

A Model or Scotland believes its own proposals offer the best way to 
do that. 

Heather Williams, coordinator  of the Encompass Network, which supports people involved in the  sex industry, said: “The Network supports the most vulnerable and silenced women involved in selling or exchanging sex in Scotland.

"We advocate for policies and measures that give all women and girls a real choice not to be bought or sold for sex and believe this package of measures will help achieve this.

“Only when nobody is forced by coercion or by circumstance to sell or exchange sex can we have a more equal society.” 

Bronagh Andrew, operations manager for Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance, said: “Vulnerable women are being sexually exploited on a daily basis across Scotland by our domestic sex industry.

"They are exposed to significant risk on a daily basis, including being criminalised, whilst the male buyers continue to remain invisible and act with impunity.  

“A Scottish model that recognises the inherent gender inequality and harm of prostitution and takes robust action against those who choose to pay for sex and those who profit from this exploitation is necessary so we can prevent further harm."
She added: “We need to enable women to recover from the trauma they have experienced whilst addressing harmful attitudes towards women which have no place in a modern and progressive Scotland.” 

The campaign is being backed  by Labour MSP Rhoda Grant, who is co-convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Commercial Sexual Exploitation. 

She said that while the Scottish Government recognises prostitution is violence against women, the laws in Scotland do not reflect that. 

“Scotland’s laws on prostitution are stuck in the dark ages,” she added. “This needs to change and we need laws that penalise those who create demand and decriminalise those who fall victim to this abusive trade.

"I look forward to Scotland following the lead of more enlightened countries who already take this approach which protects all women by creating a more equal society.” 

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The results of Scotland’s first consultation on prostitution, which were published in June, underlined the importance of a wide range of support to address the multiple, underlying needs of women involved in prostitution. 

“We will build on the findings  of the consultation and develop the right model for Scotland to challenge men’s demand for prostitution whilst keeping women’s safety at the centre of our efforts.”