A main point of contention in the policy areas of prostitution and sex trafficking is whether the purchase of sex should be criminalised, whether fully (in all circumstances) or partly (only under specific circumstances). Particularly, Europe has seen several countries either fully criminalise buying sex or insofar as the person in prostitution is subject to exploitation or coercion. An example of the latter, since 2010, it is an offence in England and Wales (UK) to buy sex with a person in prostitution who has been coerced or exploited by a third party. While the offence was heavily debated before it was adopted, there has been little empirical research on its implementation, particularly by police who are on the front line of implementation. While police statistics on the offence are of questionable reliability, indications are that there has been little application of the offence. This paper explores several potential reasons for this in the context of interviews with 10 police representatives in four areas of England. Factors such as police’s knowledge and awareness of the offence, difficulties with its application, and to what extent and in what way policing of prostitution and trafficking for sexual exploitation are taking place, may all be playing a role, but do not explain lack of use in all of the areas examined in this research. The notions that there are not enough victims for the law to be applied or that police may be resisting applying the offence because they find the strict liability element of the offence unfair were not supported by these interviews. This research is unique in finding that there may be an issue with police misunderstanding fundamental elements of the offence and what seems to be a lack of awareness of the offence. These findings have implications for the assessment of the enforceability of this and similar offences and policy discussions around such offences.
- SPS Centre for Gender and Violence Research
- Sex work