You may be surprised to know that in Scotland, you aren’t breaking the law if you are an online pimp. It is also legal for men to pay for sex, while historically women who sell sex have been prosecuted – regardless of the poverty, human trafficking or commercial sexual exploitation that may have led them there. This is despite the fact that the Scottish Government recognises that prostitution is “a form of violence against women”.

Thankfully, there may finally be some changes ahead. Over the past few months, momentum has shifted in the Scottish Parliament and these issues are rising up the agenda. Two debates in the parliament (Prostitution Law Reform, 3 November 2021 and Online Pimping, 10 February 2022), have shown how farcical the current legal situation is:

Commercial pimping websites operate openly and legally, and they are fuelling sex trafficking across the country. Those highly lucrative websites make their money by hosting advertisements for prostitution – they are, in effect, the red-light district of the internet. Men who want to sexually exploit women can anonymously and freely peruse ads on those sites, select women from an online catalogue according to their own location and preferences, and order them as easily as they might order a takeaway.” (Elena Whitham, SNP)

Most people in Scotland would be surprised to know that in our country, our current laws mean that criminal gangs that profit from sexual exploitation of women can hide in plain sight by using so-called adult services websites. A quick glance at one of those sites will show that in this city, right now, there are women who have been trafficked…who are being subjected to abuse, violence and humiliation to satisfy the demands of a minority of men. It is happening not only in Edinburgh, but right across the country.” (Ruth Maguire, SNP)


However, the issue is not just in our big cities, with women for sale today in all but 2 of our 32 local authority areas. Some of the content is deeply disturbing. A cursory look yields an advert containing the word schoolgirl’. There are women from many countries, including…Romania…The seedy websites are a window on a deeply disturbing and dangerous world. Services and prices are displayed alongside photos of the women, whom we are expected to believe have made the choice to do what they are doing.” (Russell Findlay, Conservative)

For years, that group [Global Network of Sex Work Projects] has led an international campaign to remove all criminal laws relating to prostitution and to oppose attempts to criminalise paying for sex. In 2015, the group’s vice president was exposed as a sex trafficker and jailed for 15 years. The organisation continues to lobby the Scottish Government not to criminalise paying for sex.” (Rhoda Grant, Labour)

Rarely has there been an issue that Jesus so obviously would have stood up to and challenged.

None of these proposed law changes are particularly radical either. Scotland would be following in the footsteps of Sweden (1999), Norway (2008), Iceland (2009), Canada (2014), Northern Ireland (2015), France (2016), Republic of Ireland (2017) and Israel (2018) and join an ever-increasing list of states and regions that have criminalised the purchase of sex.

The campaign group A Model For Scotland has proposed that the law should change in four ways, of which we at the Evangelical Alliance are wholly supportive:

  1. criminalise paying for sex;
  2. make online pimping a crime;
  3. decriminalise victims of sexual exploitation;
  4. provide support and exiting services.

This package of law changes is often termed in shorthand the Nordic Model” as it was originally pioneered in Sweden. Since the laws were changed there, Sweden has seen a reduction in human trafficking, prostitution and positive societal changes in relationships between men and women – paying for sex has become culturally unpalatable.

This is in sharp contrast to states like Germany, the Netherlands and New Zealand, which all have laws that leave paying for sex decriminalised. As would be expected, the opposite effect has occurred, and former New Zealand Prime Minister John Key admitted their laws had been a failure on the building of a 15-storey super brothel” nearby a school in Auckland on the 10-year anniversary of the law changes.

Not only this, but since paying for sex is illegal in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, this by definition makes Scotland, England and Wales more attractive places for would-be human traffickers and online pimps.

We await to see how the Scottish Government will formally respond to the parliament’s work, especially the Cross-Party Group on Commercial Sexual Exploitation’s report into online pimping.

When the prophets of Micah and Amos were bringing Israel to account for their hypocrisy and lack of compassion towards the poor, the marginalised and the needy in their land, they sternly reminded Israel’s leaders that the only reason they were in a good position was because God by His grace brought them out of slavery in Egypt and into the promised land – despite all their rebellion in the wilderness years and through the period of the Judges. Tackling commercial sexual exploitation is an issue and a campaign that the church can support and play its role in, in order to fulfil those famous words of Micah:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8NIV)

The gospel is restoration of the relationship between humanity and their creator God. In this mostly unseen issue of commercial sexual exploitation in Scotland today, surely we can play our role in restoring the lives of women who have been trafficked, abused and brutally marginalised – and bring the hope of Jesus through doing so.