There is no right to buy sex

Women@thewell are delighted to announce that on the 22nd of October the Court of Appeal overturned a decision of the Court of Protection which would imply a “human right” to buy sex. The case known as re C was considered by three judges, led by the Lord Chief Justice, who examined whether care workers would be committing a criminal offence if they procured sexual services from a woman in prostitution for a man who lacked capacity.

Caroline Hattersley – Director of women@thewell said “When I first heard about the case, I knew immediately that it was imperative that we, as an organisation committed to abolition of the sex trade, intervene. Our experience of supporting women entrapped in the sex trade tells us that prostitution is violence against women. The act of buying sexual access is always damaging for the women involved.”

Women@thewell gave evidence setting out the realities of prostitution, providing statistics such as; “Ninety-five percent of the women we support tell us that they were exploited into the sex trade before the age of sixteen. Their entry into prostitution was not from a place of free choice, but from a place of disadvantage, abuse and exploitation.”

Supported by a legal team at Centre for Women’s Justice, women@thewell gave evidence alongside Nia, setting out the realities of prostitution and highlighting the abuse, disadvantage and exploitation experienced by women entrapped in the sex trade.

It was clear that the previous judge had made his decision without any evidence before him of the realities facing women involved with prostitution. As a support service for women involved in prostitution, providing daily holistic support and advocacy women@thewell felt it was of the upmost importance to intervene and give the women we support a voice.

As an intervener women@thewell argued that Mr Justice Hayden had failed to take into account the operation of a different provision of the Sexual Offences Act, Section 53A, which makes it a criminal offence to pay for the “services” of a prostituted woman if she has been subject to exploitation.

The Court of Appeal significantly noted that:

“It is an undoubted fact that many of those working as prostitutes have been exploited, for example as victims of modern slavery or trafficked to the United Kingdom. It is the regular experience of the courts to come across such cases in both the criminal and immigration contexts. Interveners before this court (charities called Nia and women@thewell) attest to its prevalence. It is irrelevant to liability under this section whether a defendant knew or had reason to believe that the prostitute in question had been exploited. …. Based on the arrangements contemplated there would necessarily be a risk that both C and his carers might commit an offence under section 53A.”

The Centre for Women’s Justice stated “Thus, the issue highlighted in our submissions and the evidence of our clients was not simply that increasing demand by creating a right to pay for sex increases exploitation (though that is also true) it was also that by creating a situation whereby care workers arrange for such conduct, the Court was putting both the care workers and those they care for at risk of being prosecuted for serious criminal offences. The statements provided by Women@thewell and Nia are compelling and, for many readers, they will be eye-opening.”

The court of appeal also significantly noted that there is no evidence that the European Court of Human Rights have “recognised that article 8 entails a positive obligation on the state to allow the purchase of sex without fear of criminal sanction.”

This win is a small step in the direction of abolition of the sex trade. Sexual access should never be a saleable entity, women@thewell strive for a society which recognises that you cannot buy consent.

Women@thewell continue to lobby and campaign for abolitionist legislation, which protects women and girls from exploitation, abuse and disadvantage.

Here at Women at the Well, we have worked closely with and support Sarah Champion MP, Chair of the APPG prostitution and global sex trade in her following letter to the Home Office, and the Press Release for Prostituted People.

Sarah Champion MP writes “We write to seek reassurance that the Home Office is responding to the heightened risks faced by prostituted people during the Coronavirus emergency by enabling them to access support and exiting services”

The Coronavirus emergency has put prostituted people in particularly vulnerable circumstances. We support the call to the Home Office to protect those made most vulnerable by prostitution, especially during the time when access to support and exiting services may be vastly reduced. The lives of women involved in prostitution must not be ignored during this emergency. The barriers to exiting prostitution are complex and we call upon the Home Office to provide specialist support to people experiencing these increasing barriers and difficulties during this time.

Press Release – For immediate release

Sarah Champion MP
Member of Parliament for Rotherham
Thursday 2nd April 2020


Sarah Champion MP, Chair of the APPG prostitution and global sex trade, has joined forces with a cross party group of MPs, Peers, former Met Police Chief, Church and women’s groups to urge the Home Secretary to support prostitutes in the UK.

“We write to seek reassurance that the Home Office is responding to the heightened risks faced by prostituted people during the Coronavirus emergency by enabling them to access support and exiting services.

Sexual exploitation is gendered: it is predominantly women and girls who are subjected to sexual exploitation, and it is overwhelmingly men who pay to sexually exploit them. Sexual exploitation drives modern slavery in the UK. The overwhelming majority of women reported to the National Referral Mechanism are brought here to be prostituted.

Prostitution is a profitable business. We are therefore hugely concerned that when the exploiters are unable to use the women to make money because of coronavirus, the women’s lives literally become worthless to them.

We welcome the Home Secretary’s strong position on tackling Domestic Violence during the pandemic. As part of this campaign, it must be recognised that forcing women into prostitution is a recognised form of coercive control used by abusive partners. We ask that the commitment given to tackle domestic abusers is applied to anyone trying to profit from sexual exploitation, and that similar support is given to the victims.”

The letter has three asks;

  • Victims of sex trafficking and modern slavery be granted reliable accommodation and support services.
  • The police are advised to consider sexual exploitation when responding to cases of Domestic abuse.
  • Specialist services for victims of sexual exploitation receive the funding they need to continue to deliver exiting support and adapt to likely emerging service user needs due to Coronavirus.

Commenting on why she wrote the letter Sarah Champion said; “I’ve become increasingly concerned about the plight of the most vulnerable in our society due to Covid19, prostituted people are just such a group, but one we find easy to overlook. Unless the Government is pro-active in supporting prostitutes, they will be failing in their duty to safeguard some of the most marginalised in our society.”


Notes to Editor

Letter to Home Secretary attached

For more information or an interview with Sarah Champion MP please contact 01709 331035

List of signatories:

Sarah Champion MP, Chair of the APPG on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade Baron Hogan-Howe QPM Kt, former Head of London’s Metropolitan Police Revd Vivienne Faul 56th Bishop of Bristol, Church of England lead on Modern Slavery

Lord Alton of Liverpool

Baroness Gale

Baroness Grey-Thompson DBE

Lord Kennedy of Southwark

Lord McColl of Dulwich

Rt Hon Diane Abbott MP, Shadow Home Secretary

Fiona Bruce MP, Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission and

Vice Chair of the APPG on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade

Ronnie Cowan MP

Angela Crawley MP

Carolyn Harris MP, Shadow Minister Women & Equalities

Dame Diana Johnson MP

Pauline Latham MP

Jess Phillips MP

Fiona Broadfoot, survivor


Not Buying It

Nordic Model Now!

Dionne Reid, CEO Women Work

Rosemary Hack, Director, Press Red

Equality Now

Lynda Dearlove, CEO, Women at the Well

Harriet Wistrich, Centre for Women’s Justice

Zarin Hainsworth, National Alliance of Women

Phil McCarthy, CEO Caritas Social Action Network