Prostitution law challenged by Leeds Met research
The journal article, 'The Police, Sex Work, and Section 14 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009', published in the Howard Journal and authored by Dr Sarah Kingston and Professor Terry Thomas, examines the use of Section 14 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009 to see whether or not, and how, the new strict liability offence of paying for sex from a coerced (i.e. trafficked) person is being used.
The Leeds Metropolitan University researchers submitted Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to all 43 police forces in England and Wales and found that Section 14 was not being used by the majority of the forces and, in one instance where it was used, it was being used inappropriately.
In the FOI requests, the police forces were asked for the number of times section 14 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009 had been used since the Act became law, details of the use of this section of the Act as well as the outcome of the use of this section of the Act.
Speaking about their findings, Dr Sarah Kingston said: "This research demonstrates that the majority of police forces have not used section 14 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009, which raises questions about the need for this law and/or the inherent difficulties the police have in identifying women who have been trafficked for sexual exploitation. The lack of police use of the law also challenges some of the fundamental principles upon which the legislative changes were made. In particular, the rationale for reducing the demand for prostitution, because it is often considered to be fuelling sex trafficking, is under scrutiny.
"Supporters will no doubt suggest that the lack of application of the law demonstrates very clearly that the law is working, that demand has been reduced as clients are deterred by the legal changes and potential punishments they may face. Yet previous research has demonstrated that police crackdowns on kerb crawlers, for instance, have meant that they often 'simply go elsewhere' rather than end their offending behaviour. Similarly, sex workers have been known to displace to other areas when the police target a particular location, which can sometimes undermine their ability to stay safe. Other than the non-use of the strict liability offence, no other evidence suggests that this law has been effective in deterring demand or reducing the prevalence of prostitution."
The research also questions the suggestion that the law was needed to protect vulnerable individuals, given that the extent of trafficking for sexual exploitation has not been found to be as endemic as originally thought.
Last year Dr Kingston published a book which examines the impact of prostitution in residential areas. The book, 'Prostitution in the Community', explores what communities really think about prostitution; analysing the nature, extent and visibility of prostitution in residential communities and business areas.
It considers how different policy approaches employed by the police and local authorities have shaped the nature of sex work in different communities and considers the legal and social context in which prostitution is situated and the community responses of those who live and work in areas of sex work.
Dr Sarah Kingston is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology and Course Leader of the BA (Hons) Criminology degree at Leeds Metropolitan University. Her research interests focus on the sex industry, sexuality and prostitution policy. Her PhD research explored the perceptions and impact of prostitution on residential and business communities. Her previous publications include New Sociologies of Sex Work (Ashgate, 2010), for which she was co-editor.
Sarah additionally has experience of working for the Citizens Advice service as a generalist adviser and has undertaken numerous work placements with the prison service, solicitors' practices and barristers' chambers. Dr Kingston also works as an Associate Lecturer for the Open University on a first year module, 'Introduction to the Social Science'.