Imagine being forced into a career, due to coercion or circumstances of poverty, where physical and emotional violence is rampant, and where becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol is a common consequence of your profession.
Imagine further that you have been trafficked, taken from your home, shipped from location to location so that others can pay to abuse you.
Or imagine this happening to your daughter, your sister, or any woman who is close to you. The brutality is hard to picture, but it is a reality for unspeakable numbers of women across the globe, and women in Scotland are no exception.
Prostitution is among the biggest sources of gender-based violence. In order to tackle it, we must first admit and accept that prostitution is violence against women. Secondly, we must enact legislation that protects women and punishes the perpetrators who inflict harm upon them.
At this weekend’s SNP conference, I will introduce the motion: “Scottish Model of Legislation on Prostitution”, which emulates the Nordic-model found in Sweden, Iceland, Norway, Finland and, more recently, Canada, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and France.
This model reduces commercial sexual exploitation by decriminalising the sale of sex while criminalising the purchase of sex, and offering a support system for those wanting to exit prostitution.
In essence, it protects the exploited and punishes the exploiter. It is in line with the Scottish Government’s Equally Safe strategy, which aims to tackle all forms of violence against women and girls, including prostitution.
Such a move in Scotland is needed now more than ever. Countless studies show that where prostitution is legal, there is a larger influx of human trafficking and organised crime in general.
With Scotland now surrounded by countries that have adopted a Nordic-style approach to prostitution, it risks suffering from a displacement effect where traffickers move to nearby countries that have not criminalised the purchase of sex.
That is not the kind of country Scotland aims to be. This country, particularly under the leadership of the SNP, stands for diversity, equality, and freedom.
But these qualities are unfamiliar to women trapped in prostitution. Rather, a big reason why women enter prostitution is their economic inequality in society. Once in prostitution, their freedom is usurped by punters and pimps.
I am very aware of those on the other side of this argument, who see prostitution as fair work and even a galvanisation of feminism.
However, a complete decriminalising of prostitution, as in the New Zealand model, does nothing to empower women. In fact, a 2008 report found those involved in prostitution in New Zealand felt the law could do little to curb violence, which they viewed as an inevitable part of the industry. Full decriminalisation has also been linked to significant increases in prostitution and organised crime.
The reality is that violence is a common theme of the industry. A 2010 study in Glasgow found 78 per cent of women involved in street prostitution had experienced violence from men purchasing sex. Furthermore, EU research that questioned 736 punters found one-third of them had encountered exploitation of minors, but few considered taking action about it.
Prostitution is a clear degradation of human rights.
To get an idea of just how degrading, one need only read testimony from the The Invisible Men project, which uses real online reviews by punters in the UK, such as: “Do not waste your hard-earned money on this lazy chubby woman.”
“No real lookers just a herd of seasoned tarts that have been round the track a bit.”
“Surely she would make a little effort and warm up as the hour went by? But she refused every single thing except the sex.”
Money does not buy consent. Just because a woman is involved in prostitution, that does not mean she wants sex.
Instead, a survivor of prostitution has described it as “pay-as-you-go rape”.
Should Scotland continue to stand for laws and a culture that uphold a man’s unlimited access to a woman’s body? That results in violence, mental health issues, and unyielding emotional anguish? That enables a free-for-all for pimps and Johns to exploit and traffic women and girls for profit?
I say no. Never in Scotland. I implore SNP delegates at conference to say the same.