Margo MacDonald is an independent MSP for Edinburgh and
Lothian and a member of the Scottish executive’s prostitution
expert group. Last February, she unsuccessfully introduced the
Prostitution Tolerance Zones (Scotland) Bill to the Scottish
parliament, but has since reintroduced it
The argument for tolerance zones:
(below James Coleman gives the opposing
“The Prostitution Tolerance Zones Bill is a
pragmatic measure to enable local authorities to designate an area
where soliciting for sex would not be illegal. Councils would not
be obliged to introduce such a zone, but if they did it would be
set up in partnership with police and health authorities.
Residents, community councils and interested groups, including
female sex workers, would also be consulted.
The bill neither condones prostitution nor puts it out-of-sight and
out-of-mind. Scotland’s two acknowledged non-harassment or
tolerance zones – one operates in Aberdeen and the other was
operating until the end of November 2001 in Edinburgh –
indicate that the bill would provide a better means of exercising a
duty of care towards street sex workers. It also minimises or
eliminates nuisance and embarrassment to the public.
During the years of Edinburgh’s informal tolerance zone,
attacks on women averaged less than one per month. In the first
eight months of 2003, when the zone no longer existed, 54 attacks
were reported to Lothian and Borders Police.
Since the tolerance zone ended, police report that much less
intelligence is received about the crime associated with street
prostitution such as extortion, theft, coercion and pimping. To
avoid being spotted and reported for soliciting, women are no
longer working together and are spread across Edinburgh.
As a result of there being no codes of conduct agreed between the
authorities and the women, there have been reports of underage
girls working. None were reported in the last two years of the
The sex worker welfare organisation Scotpep was contracted to
provide a needle-exchange scheme in the zone by Lothian Health
Board. At the time, about a third of Edinburgh’s street sex
workers injected drugs. Now that figure is approaching 100 per
cent, as it is in other cities. The suspicion is that younger women
are now being coerced into street prostitution by their drug
In Edinburgh, there are now regular residents’ patrols to
clear women and their kerb-crawling clients from residential areas.
Police, health and voluntary services admit they cannot deliver
relevant services to sex workers because there is no fixed point of
contact. But the council cannot commit resources to implementing a
tolerance zone without a basis in law.
In September, I reintroduced the bill, along with new evidence, to
the Scottish parliament. The local government committee will
reconsider it in February 2004. Legally, it poses no problems. It
simply amends a section of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act
Neither does the bill pose insurmountable political problems as
even people opposed on moral grounds to the zones support harm
reduction. The problem lies in finding a suitable area. The bill
does not prescribe answers to all problems in the sex industry; it
only enables councils to better combat the violence and nuisance in
Councillor James Coleman is deputy leader of Glasgow
council. Representatives of the council sit on the Scottish
executive’s prostitution expert group.
The argument against tolerance zones:
“Between 1991-8 there were six murders of women
involved in prostitution in Glasgow. It was recognised that a
co-ordinated and proactive approach by all the agencies involved
with these women was needed. Glasgow council agreed that allowing
prostitution to flourish unchallenged was not acceptable given its
commitment to social inclusion.
The establishment of prostitution tolerance zones and the licensing
of brothels is an out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach. Evidence from
abroad suggests it does not protect women and can encourage sex
tourism on a scale previously unknown in the UK. There is also
overwhelming evidence that the money from prostitution goes
straight to drug dealers, so the women can ensure their own, or
their partner’s, drug supply. This is not a situation that I
am happy to tolerate in my city.
Glasgow is at the forefront of providing high quality support
services for women involved in the sex industry. Claims by our
opponents that the council is not in tune with the needs of women
working in the sex trade are ill-informed. Our policy of opposing
sex shops, lap-dancing clubs and prostitution does not mean the
council is anti-sex or that its members are taking the moral high
ground. It is simply designed to offer maximum protection to
Glasgow’s Routes Out of Prostitution project aims to prevent
further harm and social exclusion by stopping young women becoming
sex workers in the first place. Offering viable alternatives to
those who want to stop, and supporting them, is a priority. The
scheme has been successful in arranging safe housing, child care
support, drug programmes, and training and employment. It provides
non-judgemental support that gives women a genuine opportunity to
take control of their lives. Some women are at college or in
employment after using the service.
The project recognises that violence, abuse, poverty and drugs are
at the root of street prostitution. Women normally have no other
viable means of earning the money required to maintain a drug
dependency. Statistics show that women in Glasgow are among the
most disadvantaged in the UK and sex workers are further
disadvantaged in respect of poverty, poor housing, poor health,
unemployment and low educational attainment.
Many have a history of sexual abuse and physical violence, drug
dependency and mental health issues dealt with by our social work
Many women working in this so-called industry will have suffered
the loss and stigma of having their children looked after by
others. Our view is in line with government policy aimed at ending
the social exclusion of women, and few people are as disadvantaged
as sex workers. This is why it is so important that we do not
waiver in our opposition to tolerance zones.
Glasgow’s view is based on respect for women involved in the
sex trade and concern for their safety and well-being.
I believe that demand for a damaging criminal activity like
prostitution does not justify providing a supply. Turning a blind
eye to it will not help the women involved or discourage the
criminals who control this destructive and dangerous