How best to support women who sell or exchange sex to access their rights:
First, a note on the law and prostitution. While in Scotland selling sex in itself is not a crime, the circumstances around it can be considered an offense. Some key things services must be aware of are:
Some things you can do to respond sensitively to women’s needs when engaging with the criminal justice system include:
- Understand that selling sex it’s not a crime in Scotland – but some aspects of it may be, such as soliciting or loitering, or if two or more women sell sex from the same flat.
- Women have rights and it is vital that as a frontline worker you know and understand what these are so you can make the women you support aware of them.
- If a woman has experienced violence, believe her and explain her options. It is up to her to decide whether she wants to report but knowing her options can help her make an informed decision.
- If she decides not to report, let her know of other options such as submitting information via apps like Client Eye and Ugly Mugs. If she experienced sexual violence, she has the option to undergo a forensic medical examination to obtain evidence (usually up to 7 days following the rape – more information here).
- Make sure to provide advocacy when a woman wishes to contact the police or if she needs to attend court – if this is not something your organisation can provide, put her in touch with specialist organisations who can, such as Rape Crisis Scotland or Victim Support Scotland (who also have a victims’ fund for women who sell or exchange sex)
- When a woman has to attend court as a witness, make sure she knows of safety measures that can be put in place – for example, if a woman is experiencing intimidation from the perpetrator or his associates, requesting a screen in court and being able to leave using a different exit can help to reassure her.
- Women may have had negative experiences with the police in the past, such as criminalisation. If this is the case, help her cope with the experience and provide support if in the future she decides to engage with the justice system.
- If a woman you are supporting is convicted and put on remand, make sure supports are in place once she is about to leave – such as having a person to accompany her home, getting supplies for food and clothing, having a place to stay – all of this to minimise the vulnerabilities that may push her to start selling sex again or for the first time.
- Consider that women may carry criminal convictions related to prostitution and that these can become a huge barrier when considering reporting crimes to the police or when looking to move into employment or education – especially in the health and caring sectors where a disclosure may be required.