Prostitution in the United Kingdom

Prostitution in the United Kingdom is not formally illegal, but several activities surrounding it are outlawed.

One of the most famous, but controversial, guides is the McCoy's British Massage Parlour Guide. There is also a representative list of red light districts including some in the UK, within Wikipedia itself.

England and Wales

In England and Wales:

The last offence replaced the similar "living on earnings of prostitution" under the Sexual Offences Act 1956.

There has been long and widespread debate as to whether the toleration of prostitution similar to that seen in The Netherlands and Germany should be extended. Local police forces have historically wavered between zero tolerance of prostitution and unofficial red light districts.

The Government announced on January 17, 2006, that in England and Wales it was considering allowing small brothels, whilst continuing the crackdown against kerb-crawling, which is seen as a nuisance.

Prostitution in Scotland

A similar situation exists in Scotland, with prostitution itself not illegal but associated activities are. Street prostitution is dealt with under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982, section 46(1), which states that:

a prostitute (whether male or female) who for the purposes of prostitution either
  1. loiters in a public place
  2. solicits in a public place or in any other place so as to be seen from a public place or
  3. importunes any person in a public place
shall be guilty of an offence

These offences are not imprisonable, but are instead subject to a fine of up to 500. However some women eventually end up in prison for non-payment of fines. Prostitution is classed for statistical purposes as a "crime of indecency", a sex offence in the same category as sexual assault. Disclosure of a conviction for this offence can act as a barrier to employment, particularly in child-care and related sectors, although there is no specific prohibition. The Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 also gives local councils the power to issue licences to premises for public entertainment. This has been used by Edinburgh city council to issue licences for "saunas" (many of which are in reality brothels). However running brothels and "living off immoral earnings" remain criminal offences under section 11 of the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995.

There was formerly no specific offence directed at clients in Scotland in contrast to the "kerb crawling" offence in England and Wales in the Sexual Offences Act 1985. However the Prostitution (Public Places) (Scotland) Act 2007 introduced a kerb crawling offence in Scotland, the maximum penalty for which is a 1000 fine. This came into force on 15 October 2007.


There are an estimated 1000 women in prostitution in Edinburgh, with approximately 75% engaged in indoor prostitution through saunas, escort agencies and private flats. Saunas (brothels) are regulated through entertainment licences granted to these establishments — thus involving the local council in the management of prostitution.

Street prostitution was tolerated in the area of Leith for approximately 20 years, where the police did not target prostituted women, but worked to ensure their safety. Specialist services for prostituted women were also provided in the locale. It was promoted as a model of prostitution management — no underage girls were working in the area and there was no open drug dealing occurring. With the increased use of the area for residential purposes and in particular the gentrification which occurred in the 1990s, objections to the prostitution increase, and the policy of non-harassment by the police ended in 2002. Attacks on prostituted women increased, and there has been a return to the targeting of the women by police.

Edinburgh has a very large and quite public prostitution industry. Although street prostitution is less visible now than when the non-harassment policy was in place, the brothels are well known and quite visible — there is also a large sex-industry in Edinburgh beyond prostitution. There is evidence of domestic trafficking of women from Glasgow to Edinburgh to work in the brothels.


Glasgow City Council has taken the opposite route to Edinburgh. They have a zero tolerance policy towards prostitution, although there is an unofficial red light zone in the city centre, where women elect to work because of the presence of cameras. There are approximately 1000 women engaged in street prostitution, 95% of whom are estimated to have addiction problems and an additional 100 are estimated to work indoors in "saunas" or private flats. There is evidence of non-UK women being trafficked to Glasgow to meet the demands of the industry.

Until recently Glasgow city council had ignored prostitution as an issue, however with the spate of murders in the 1990s a new approach was required. This has three aspects, an organisation to assist women exit prostitution, a drop-in centre to facilitate harm reduction and an interventionist policing strategy which has involved targeting the women.


There is estimated to be 175 women working in street prostitution in the industrial docklands area of the city where prostitution is tolerated. The women are given strict guidelines such as when they can congregate and how many people are permitted in the area. Approximately 90% of the women are estimated to have addiction problems, and issues have arisen with drug dealers congregating in the area.

Reform to Prostitution Laws

A Prostitution Tolerance Zones Bill was introduced into the Scottish Parliament but failed to become law. Following the report of an Expert Group which it established, the Scottish Executive brought forward a Bill in late 2006 which would have created an offence applicable to both prostitutes and their clients. After considerable debate in Parliament, the Prostitution (Public Places) (Scotland) Act 2007 was passed, which leaves the law relating to prostitutes unchanged but introduces a new offence committed by their clients.

Human trafficking

There has been a growing awareness of human trafficking, in particular the trafficking of women and underage girls into the UK for forced prostitution. A particular high profile case resulted in the conviction of five Albanians who 'trafficked' a 16 year old Lithuanian girl and forced her into prostitution. According to Home Office figures, there are over 1,000 cases of trafficking each year. The UK government signed the The Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings in March 2007, but has not yet ratified it.

See also

External links

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This article is based on "Prostitution in the United Kingdom" from the free encyclopedia Wikipedia ( It is licensed under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation Licencse. In the Wikipedia you can find a list of the authors by visiting the following address: