Critical Examination of Responses to Prostitution in Four Countries

January 1, 2003


This review was commissioned by the Routes Out Social Inclusion Partnership in order to identify the most effective strategies that have worked elsewhere and use them to inform the work of the Partnership in Scotland.

Aims of the review were to address:

  • The current approach to prostitution;
  • The previous approach to prostitution;
  • The impetus/rationale for change from the previous position; The long and short term aims of the approach;
  • The understanding in relation to the cause and effects of prostitution and to what extent this has influenced the approach;
  • The implementation of the approach and any issues that arose from this;
  • To describe the impact and implications for women involved in prostitution, police and health services;
  • To describe and analyse legal changes and highlight the impact on women involved in prostitution and the men who use them;
  • To draw out any implications of these legal changes for the Routes Out SIP.


CWASU used the strategy of commissioning country reports from individuals/groups based in each country. However the Swedish report was produced by CWASU and was based on interviews with key players and other secondary data, and all reports were supplemented by CWASU’s desk research.


  • Total legalisation is not a viable option;
  • Criminalising women is both discriminatory and ineffective;
  • Re-active, short lived interventions achieve little if anything;
  • The links between the sex-markets, drugs markets and organised crime are expanding;
  • Legalisation has not reduced or limited trafficking, and there is evidence that it has resulted in increased flows;
  • Tolerance zones in both the legalised and regulatory regimes have failed to deliver the hope for benefits;
  • Street prostitution is both dangerous for women and unpleasant and disruptive in local communities;
  • As increases numbers, inclosing trafficked women, enter the sex industry, prices fall, resulting in many feeling more pressured to offer ‘services’ such as unprotected and anal sex, which has serious implications for the health and safety of prostitutes;
  • Whilst off-street prostitution involves less violence, levels are still high, and when it is subject to limited control more likely to involve minors and trafficked women;
  • Only coherent, co-ordinated, multi-stranded and well-resourced interventions, linked to a clear longer-term policy direction make a positive difference.

It is worth highlighting that in the few surveys that asked the opinions of those involved in prostitution, few supported legalisation. The extent to which they also view violence as an ‘occupational hazard’ raises serious questions about whether prostitution can ever be considered as ‘just another form of employment’.

See Research Report: A Critical Examination of Responses to Prostitution in Four Countries: Victoria-Australia, Ireland,The Netherlands, Sweden

Grant Holder: CWASU

Sponsor: Routes Out, Supporting Women to Leave Prostitution, Glasgow City Council

  • Project Team:
    Julie Bindel, Liz Kelly