The Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Commercial Sexual Exploitation has launched an inquiry into websites being used for sexual exploitation.
The group will investigate sexual exploitation advertising websites, which are websites dedicated solely or partly to advertising individuals for sexual exploitation.
MSPs are concerned that laws allow website operators to act like pimps by advertising victims of sexual exploitation to sex buyers, making Scotland a magnet for sex traffickers.
The websites are free to use by sex buyers, who use the sites to locate people to pay for sex, but generate profits by charging individuals to place an advert or boost the prominence of their advert on the site.
Currently, such websites operate openly and free from criminal sanction in Scotland, but they have come under increasing scrutiny internationally due to concerns that they fuel sex trafficking and organised crime.
Sex trafficking is the most common form of human trafficking in the European Union, with 95 per cent of the victims female.
Trafficking for sexual exploitation is also believed to be the most profitable form of modern slavery, with a victim of sex trafficking generating average profits of $36,000 a year, while on average a victim of modern slavery will generate $3,978 a year for their exploiter.
In 2019 81 adults linked to Scotland were referred as potential victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation to the National Referral Mechanism, the framework for identifying and referring potential victims of modern slavery.
The Cross-Party Group, co-chaired by the SNP’s Ruth Maguire and Labour’s Rhoda Grant, will hold a series of evidence hearings and publish their findings and recommendations to the Scottish Government later in the autumn.
Maguire said: “We have launched this inquiry because behind closed doors there is an epidemic of sexual exploitation and sex trafficking in Scotland.
“Organised crime groups are luring vulnerable women to Scotland, often with promises of a better life, only to ruthlessly subject them to rape and sexual assault by the small minority of men in this country who pay for sex.
“Crucially, there is growing international evidence that the organised crime groups and sex buyers who commit this abuse are getting a major helping hand from sexual exploitation advertising websites.
“These are commercial pimping websites where victims of sexual exploitation are advertised to sex buyers.
“Right now, hugely lucrative pimping websites operate openly in Scotland.
“The Cross-Party Group on Commercial Sexual Exploitation will investigate the role that these websites are playing in fuelling sexual exploitation in Scotland and identify what action the Scottish Government must take.”
Grant said: “The sex trade is insidious; it visits violence on women.
“Those who advertise prostitution are actively encouraging violence against women.
“They profit from the misery of that individual and they hold all women in contempt, seeing them as commodities rather than people.
“That they do not care whether the people they are advertising for sale are enslaved and being raped underlines their lack of empathy. They only care about their profits.
“It is time we stood up to them, called them to account and ensured that no woman is for sale in Scotland today.”