Red light zones in Scotland: Yes, no, or maybe

New research carried out by Professor Neil McKeganey of the Centre for Drug Misuse Research at the University of Glasgow questions whether prostitution tolerance zones should be developed in Scotland. By voicing the views of women involved in the sex industry, this research adds the Scottish dimension to the national debate. The Home Office last week announced its 'get tough' stance on cracking down kerb-crawlers while legalising small brothels in England and Wales.

The report involved interviewing women in Glasgow, Dundee, Edinburgh, and Aberdeen who were selling sex on the streets in these cities. Only in Aberdeen is there currently a functioning prostitute tolerance zone. Apart from looking at their views on prostitute tolerance zones this research examined the nature of their work, contact with the police, reasons for starting and continuing to work as prostitutes.

The women in this research were working at enormous risk to themselves and faced violence, intimidation and abuse from clients, and from other women, on almost a daily basis. The women were clear that prostitute tolerance zones would make their work safer, although these would need to be closely policed if they were to operate effectively. Even where such zones exist, such as Aberdeen, there are indications that some women will still choose to work outside of these zones.

"Providing an area where women can work with a greater degree of safety is a challenging policy option," explains Professor McKeganey.

"Clamping down on clients and assisting women out of prostitution are important elements of the response to prostitution in Scotland, but these options still leave the problem of meeting the needs of women who are continuing to work in the sex industry. On the basis of the women interviewed in this research there is a need and potential benefit associated with providing an area where women can work without fear of prosecution."

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This research was carried out by Professor Neil McKeganey and funded by the Scottish Executive. The report Street Prostitution in Scotland the Views of Working Women will be published in the journal ?Drugs Education Prevention and Policy'. Professor McKeganey can be contacted on 0141 330 3616 or 07764 659006.

First published: 27 January 2006

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