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U.K. unveils plan for sex trade crackdown

The British government announced plans Wednesday to make it illegal to pay for sex with women forced into prostitution and to name men who solicit sex on the streets.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The British government announced plans Wednesday to make it illegal to pay for sex with women forced into prostitution and to name men who solicit sex on the streets — measures that prostitutes say will put more women at risk.

As part of the Home Office's "name and shame" campaign, people who pay for sex with a prostitute "controlled for another person's gain" could face criminal charges and a fine of 1,000 pounds ($1,500).

The crime would be a "strict liability offense," which means men would be held accountable even if they didn't know a woman had been trafficked or was working for a pimp, according to the Home Office.

"What I disapprove of is women being exploited in this country, coerced, trafficked into the country, effectively treated as slaves," Home Secretary Jacqui Smith told British Broadcasting Corp. radio on Wednesday.

The government also planned to hold lap-dancing clubs to the same licensing requirements as sex shops and sex cinemas. The clubs are currently regulated like pubs.

Smith said the measures — which would need to be approved by lawmakers — are aimed at lessening the demand for paid sex and to cut down on human trafficking.

'Very dangerous moral crusade'
Sex trade workers, however, said the wording of the proposed law would make it illegal for men to use prostitutes who work for other women at brothels or in other voluntary arrangements.

"This is a very dangerous moral crusade," Cari Mitchell, spokeswoman for the English Collective of Prostitutes, said Wednesday. "What this will ultimately do is drive the sex trade further underground and put the focus on criminalizing clients that, for the most part, women aren't complaining about. This plan is of no benefit to women."

The sex trade is already heavily restricted in Britain, unlike in many of its European neighbors where prostitution and solicitation are tolerated in some form.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the son of a Presbyterian minister, has already backed a series of sin taxes on alcohol and cigarettes, called for tougher drug laws and scrapped plans for Britain's first Las Vegas-style casino.

Smith said there was no public support for a "wholesale ban" on paying for sex and the measures were aimed at cutting down on exploitation.

The Home Office said it would "name and shame" men who solicit sex on the streets as they do in the London borough of Lambeth, where police send warning letters to the homes of drivers whose license plate numbers are caught on closed-circuit television picking up street walkers.

Under current laws in England and Wales, it is illegal to loiter and sell sex on the streets or elsewhere in public. Keeping a brothel is unlawful, but a lone woman selling sex inside is not. Similarly, paying for sex is legal. But solicitation has largely been tolerated.

Ipswich murders
Britain made headlines in 2006 when a man murdered five prostitutes in Ipswich, 70 miles northeast of London. Recent headlines, however, have focused on police raids on brothels where women from eastern Europe, Asia and Africa have been forced into the trade.

There is growing debate on whether a crackdown would lessen violence or cut down on human trafficking.

Scottish cities such as Edinburgh used to have "tolerance zones" where prostitutes were allowed to work freely.

But when the zones were scrapped in several cities years ago and men soliciting sex on the streets was made illegal, reported attacks on sex workers increased because prostitutes were forced to work in more isolated areas, according to the Scottish Prostitutes Education Project, which represents workers in the sex industry.

In the Pacific nation of New Zealand, where prostitution was decriminalized in 2003, sex workers said the change has given women greater legal protection.