The world’s oldest profession has been in existence as long as society itself. Prostitution was certainly an aspect of many early societies, and despite its negative reputation it was considered a necessary function by most. The legal status of prostitution in the United Kingdom (UK) is quite varied. There are basically two categories:
- Solicitation and brothel keeping, which are illegal;
- Outcall services, which tend to be legal, but unlicensed brothels may get into trouble with the law if they’re found to be too close to residential areas.
Whether prostitution is legal or not will depend on what organisation you ask. The law also tends to change according to society’s views of homosexuality in the UK. In England and Wales prostitution became fully legal in 2003, while Scotland did not follow suit until 2009. In Northern Ireland, prostitution is legal only if the prostitute works alone and does not work in a sauna.
The forms of prostitution that are legal include:
- Brothels and their related activities such as managing and staffing them. Also known as ‘house keeping’ or ‘management’ and the owner of a licensed brothel is called a ‘madam’, just like those in the United States. These are legal, although they can be raided by police if they turn out to be too close to each other.
- Street prostitution, usually called ‘outcall’. It is not illegal for women to sell sex on their own. However, soliciting for sex in public places is against public order. This form of prostitution has been legal since 1985 and travellers often advertise this service online.
- Escort services, which means to accompany someone on a journey or other form of travel for business purposes. If the prostitute is paid for this service, it’s illegal. If a client pays an escort without any sexual services taking place, it’s legal. This is the main reason why on most Escort Sites (and there are many especially in London) no specific services are advertised as you can see e.g. on Krypton Escort London.
- Sex workers who work as independent contractors (self-employed sex workers). Also known as ‘indirect employees’ in the UK, like strip club dancers and cabaret dancers. They can also advertise their services online and choose which clients they want to see. It is illegal for customers to rent their homes to such sex workers. It is also legal for sex workers working independently to advertise their services online.
The forms of prostitution that are not legal include:
- Outcall services in which a prostitute advertises their services and customers contact them directly. It’s illegal for customers to contact a prostitute in this way. But it is legal for prostitutes to advertise their services on websites and other media, just like any other business person would do.
- Working as an independent contractor (self-employed sex workers). If the client pays the sex worker directly, without the sex worker getting any income from a brothel or escort service, it’s illegal. This might be unknown to clients unless they make this mistake themselves, because some prostitutes advertise as if they’re self-employed when in reality they’re not. If a sex worker works in a brothel or other outlet, the client is paying for her services. The sex worker is therefore not self-employed and should be paid directly according to the law. But the client is not obliged to pay directly and can pay indirectly via another means. This means working as an independent contractor (self-employed sex workers).
- It’s illegal to use the services of illegal prostitution. If an illegal sex worker has sex with a customer in exchange for money, it’s illegal. But if the sex worker is working legally, but has been given to understand that they are doing legal work, and they don’t know they’re doing anything wrong, it’s not illegal.
- It’s legal for prostitutes to be together and to share out the business between them: a ‘trio’. It is not allowed for one person to control all the prostitution in a district or area. Therefore, groups of women operating within a brothel are not considered brothels or prostitution.
Historical evolution of legal status of prostitution in the UK
Analyzing the history of prostitution law, implementation, and criticism over the last 150 years adds an essential dimension to the recommended strategies. For starters, it can inform us regarding what has changed as a result of the new legislation and what has not.
This historical investigation showed the remarkably static nature of the United Kingdom’s prostitution-control strategy, as well as the extent to which it relies on out-of-date doctrines and exclusivist justice, it also proves that some of proposed policies, while long overdue, may be a step in the right direction. Historical context also cautions us regarding the consequences on the ground-level impact of the laws and policies in practice.
The legal status of prostitution evolved historically in the United Kingdom as a result of shifts in public opinion, shifts in the law and shifts in policing. A brief history of this evolution is as follows:
(1) Prior to 1860, it was illegal for a man to solicit a woman for the purpose of prostitution.
(2) 1860 – Prostitution was banned but was not made illegal for solicitations or for living off the profits of prostitution or for brothels.
(3) 1885 – Men were prohibited from living off the proceeds of prostitution. This ruling did not apply to women prostitutes who were already regulated by vagrancy ordinances.
(4) 1885 – Brothels were not banned but they were regulated by a licensing system.
(5) 1908 – Prostitutes became subject to vagrancy controls.
(6) 1914 – The law was changed to criminalize the operation of brothels and solicitation in public places.
(7) 1930 – Prostitution was fully criminalized under the Criminal Law Amendment Act, yet the bill which created the new offence of procuring, or attempting to procure, another for prostitution did not pass until 1931.