Laws on prostitution have been easing over the year in the United Kingdom. However, the law is still quite ambiguous over what constitutes prostitution and what does not. Here is the gist of the situation.
Prostitution is not illegal in the United Kingdom.
However, many activities that surround prostitution, some of which you might think are just fine, are illegal.
If you are unaware of the laws, it is easy to become an offender without doing much wrong.
Many people find it difficult to make sense of the Prostitution laws in the UK, as there are many terminologies involved in them. We will have a look at the basic laws here.
The laws regarding age for prostitution in the UK are quite muddled. However, here is a breakdown that might help you.
Above 18 years: Prostitution above this level is completely legal. Unless you fall under the other offences surrounding prostitution, you are not doing anything wrong.
Under 18 years: Having sex in exchange for money with a prostitute less than 18 years of age is illegal. If the person is above 13 years of age and is unaware of the prostitute’s age, this is a legal defense. However, there are many cases where it doesn’t hold up in court, because there are too many scopes for lying about a client’s age. If you have sex with a person less than 18 years without exchange of money, it is not deemed illegal.
Controlling less than 18 years: If you are found to be controlling sexual activities of a prostitute less than 18 years for monetary gains, it is a serious offence. The penalty for the offence could be up to 14 years in prison.
Under 13 years: Having sex with anyone under the age of 13 years is illegal regardless of the client’s unawareness. Moreover, if a girl is under 13 years, the client can clearly make it out, so there is no defense.
Clients’ age: The laws in the UK don’t stipulate an age for a client in prostitution. However, it is unusual for sex workers to have clients who are below 16 years of age, although it is not illegal.
It is legal for a sex worker to work for a brothel or an agency. This is only true if the worker has not been coerced into such a job. Buying sex from a brothel is also illegal, even if the age restriction rules are met.
In an irony of sorts, running or managing a brothel is considered illegal. It is considered similar to pimping. Being a sex worker at a brothel is legal according to the UK law. However, managing a brothel for monetary gain is illegal. Now, if you work in a brothel as a sex worker, it is pretty easy to prove that you have some role in managing the place. This makes working in a brothel to some extent risky.
What exactly is a brothel?
A place or house is considered to be a brothel, if more than one couple has sex. This is true even if two couples have sexual intercourse at different times of the day. Besides, such a place is considered a house of prostitution even if there is no exchange of money involved. This only includes sex outside of marriages, of course.
This makes many places to be termed as brothels, even though they are not. The police have the right to close places that they consider to be brothels. In short, it is only considered legal if a sex worker provides services in isolation to a single client at a time.
Although prostitution is legal, anybody found soliciting another person for prostitution in a public place can be held guilty. Strangely, it is also considered soliciting if you are on a balcony or on a window. In such circumstances it is difficult to make out whether a person is soliciting sex or not, but it is illegal regardless.
It is also illegal to loiter around public places such as streets or even kerb crawls and offer sexual services. “Persistently” loitering around a given place is defined as “being found in the same place twice in three months”. The law here may seem to be a bit absurd, but it is meant to address behavior of soliciting in public places.
Kerb crawling means soliciting a person from a vehicle in a public place such as on the streets for sexual services. This act is considered to be a nuisance for women and people in the neighborhood. Persistent kerb crawling is a clear legal offence. Here too, many acts can be construed as kerb crawling and the law does not have provisions for such cases.
Kerb crawling could have the following repercussions:
Penalty of a maximum of £1000
Disqualification from driving
Charges of anti-social behavior, which carry their own penalty
Various measures have been taken in order to discourage kerb crawling such as;
Gating off of alleyways
Construction of barriers
Installation of CCTV cameras at public places, in such a manner that they are visible to everybody
Making people aware that they are being watched as they indulge in kerb crawling has proven to be a successful deterrent.
Advertising for sexual services publicly is not illegal. However, it is illegal if you do so near telephone boxes and / or near such a place. Many public places are also included in the list of areas where you cannot advertise prostitution.
The laws for advertising are not particularly stringent. There are many magazines, tabloids and periodicals in the UK, which advertise sexual services openly as this is considered perfectly legal.
Avoiding the law
There are a few things you can do as a sex worker or a client to avoid any legal issues. The best thing you can do is to keep a low profile. Keep your activities quiet, so that you do not disturb the general public around you. This removes a big reason for the police to consider your acts an offence.
Also avoid brothels, as many police forces explicitly state that they have absolutely no tolerance for mistakes them make. Before you visit a brothel, check with people around, as to how the police see the place. There are many cases where brothels operate, but people in adjacent homes don’t know about it for years.