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M.Sc Thesis

University of Stirling

“I think this situation is going to get worse and worse”: New ideologies and the implcations of the Prostitution (Public Places) (Scotland) Act 2007 – What does the future hold for sex based sex workers in Aberdeen?


The inaction of the Prostitution (Public Places) (Scotland) Act 2007 on 15th October 2007 subsequently resulted in the termination of Scotland’s only prostitution ‘Management Zone’ in the City of Aberdeen. This dissertation examines the ramifications of this action. Findings suggest that as a result, the street sex market and women’s working strategies have altered significantly.

There currently exists a requirement for the local support agency and constabulary to develop an improved relationship in order to facilitate a safer atmosphere for women who continue to work. Despite political will to eradicate the phenomenon of street prostitution, little alternatives have been provided, with the current tactic of criminalising women not assisting in providing opportunities to engage in legitimate forms of employment.

There remains an urgent need for the provision of intelligent alternatives, combined with swift access to methadone programmes in order to realistically assist women in exiting sex work. Further research into the indoor market is required, with this sector of the market having the potential for expansion due to increased efforts to eradicate Aberdeen’s streets of sex workers and their clients.

Summary of Findings for study conducted in April 2008.

The following articulates findings uncovered by a qualitative research study undertaken with street based sex workers, support workers who work with them in Aberdeen, and a local Police Officer. The thesis concludes in the knowledge that further research must be conducted at a later  date in order to fully obtain the true impact the new legislation has had upon sex working women in Aberdeen, as the zone was only closed for a short period of time when research interviews were conducted.

1. The restructuring of a market: Shifts in women’s working practises

The research found strong evidence that the nature of the sex market has evolved since the enforcement of the new legislation, with women’s top concern now being to evade the attention of the police as opposed to concern for thier health and safety. Participants indicated that women were now more inclined to work out-with the zone and for a greater duration of time, with some working until the early hours of the morning in order to secure the income they needed. Prior to the zone’s eradication, women argued that it was ‘easier’ to make money as clients were more inclined to enter the area and do business.

Women are also finding that, due to increased competition for a small number of clients, they are having to consider bringing down prices for services. This means that women are having to service a greater amount of clients in order to stand a chance of gaining the monetary target they require.

Some women appear to be choosing to work from home as opposed to utilising the urban street arena, to avoid arrest by police. This could be viewed as problematic as some women have lost their tenancies due to attracting complaints from other tenants. Furthermore, this behaviour could potentially put women at risk of blackmail and assault, for customers will now possess knowledge of the women’s personal home address, thus making it more difficult for her to separate her working life from her personal. Should an attack take place, a women may be alone in her home and have no-one to call upon for help. Little is known about this phenomenon and there is a need for it to be addressed in future studies to assess how many women are taking this route and the implications it is having for them.

2. Sex workers, clients and new issues pertaining to health and safety

It was articulated by some that a number of men are capitalising upon the current situation by offering women less money for services and simply moving on to another worker should the amount be turned down. Some women are accepting lower fees as a result of lack of alternate options. It was also argued that some men are now offering higher prices for unprotected intercourse, with respondents suggesting that some women may be engaging in unprotected sexual activity in order to make money. No sex working respondants in this study participated in unsafe sex, however, they were asked for it by perspective clients.

 3. The need for realistic methadone provision

The women experience a range of problems pertaining to drug misuse. Clearly, there is a need for an intelligent and effective methadone provision to be put into place before women can be realistically be expected to leave sex work and consider alternative forms of income generation. There were reports of women being made to wait for extended periods in order to gain access to a methadone programme.

4. The Impending regeneration in ‘The Granite City’ – an opportunity for women or a new, more violent arena?

Respondants all showed concern pertaining to the impending regeneration of the Harbour area in the City, with a particular focus upon the types of people who would be attracted to the area. It was thought that such people would not be keen to share ‘their’ space with sex workers. This is an issue which must be closely monitored in the future in order to make sure residents in the area and sex workers do not come into conflict, as has occurred in other cities around the UK such as in Balsall Heath in Birmingham, where sex workers were subject to attacks and abuse by local residents who wanted to eradicate prostitution from ‘their’ area. It is currently not known the full impact the new development will have upon women, however it is hypothesised that police presence within the area may remain high in the future in order to appease residents.

5. Conflicting interests: Agency and Police

The study revealed issues pertaining to the current relationship between the local police force and the support agency. Both parties wished to improve this relationship, however for this to happen greater communication needs to be facilitated between both parties. Women’s relationship with some police officers has deteriorated, with allegations of improper behaviour towards women by some officers. Clearly, it is essential that positive attitudes towards women are fostered within the police force in order for women to feel more comfortable reporting crimes committed against them. Unfortunately, the provision of the legislation puts the police in a difficult position as they are required to charge women who solicit which does not assist in encouraging women to report crimes.

6. The wider issue for street based sex workers: The Criminalisation of street prostitution

The findings suggest that the current process of criminalisation of sex workers does nothing to alleviate their continuing marginalisation by society. The application of a criminal record acts as a further barrier to women securing employment, as employers are not keen to employ those who have a criminal record. Even if an employer does not check a woman’s record, she must cope with the constant anxiety that she may lose any employment should an employer decide to check at a later date.

The criminalisation process also deters women approaching police to report crimes for fear that they themselves may be charged with soliciting. It is thus very difficult for officers to facilitate any kind of positive relationship with women.

Criminalisation also means that women are moving to other parts of the city to work. This has the effect that support agencies find it more and more difficult to locate women in order to offer them assistance, such as safer sex materials and information pertaining to violent individuals. The migration of women into busy, populated parts of the city may not prove popular with those who are not seeking sex. Unfortunately, woman are now finding they must be proactive and directly target potential customers, who may not welcome this. This could result against unsavoury behaviour and attitudes aimed towards women.

7. The Management Zone in Aberdeen : the solution or simply a cover up of gendered inequalities?

Although the provision of working space for women in Aberdeen offered benefits, this study argues for increased opportunities to enable women to migrate towards other forms of income generation. All women interviewed were not happy working on the street and expressed an interest in earning money via an alternate avenue. The street market differs considerably to the indoor sector and there are stong suggestions within the study that women do not want to work on the streets. It is ascertained that simply criminalising women does nothing to help them, and, bizarrely, is ultimately only going to encourage further risky involvement in sex work as opposed to assisting leaving the work. It is suggested that women are no longer subject to criminalisation and instead, policy makers focus upon effective methadone programmes which can be delivered quickly and efficiently together with accessible services which can help them choose other avenues.

8. Leaving the streets and moving on….to where?

There is currently a lack of realistic provisions for women who want to exit sex work. This does not make sense considering the current political will for women to exit prostitution. It is the personal opinion of the author that women should not be engaging in sex work unless they genuinely have chosen the work, and are not working in the industry due to lack of any other options.

It is essential that women are provided with financial assistance whilst they are supported in order to discover alternative forms of income generation. One respondent was only receiving minimal benefit which would not be enough to support her even if she did not have an issue with narcotics. Her rent was not being paid. Currently, it is not possible for her to exit sex work, although she wishes to.

If you would like more information on this thesis, you are welcome to contact me.