The timing couldn’t have been more remarkable.

The day after the City of Edinburgh Council voted to maintain three sexual entertainment venues” in the city centre, the Scottish Government announced the creation of a national hub to help women exit prostitution, as part of their strategy to challenge men’s demand for prostitution” and, challenge the normalisation of men purchasing sex”.

In 2022, Edinburgh Council had led the way by taking decisive action and setting the maximum number of sexual entertainment venues” that could be licensed to zero. This decision was then legally challenged. Amidst the recent vote to change this position, concerns about the impact on violence against women and girls were dismissed by Councillors and a representative group as:

  • Making moral assumptions”
  • Emotions or moralistic views”
  • Should this committee be using this policy to send a message to wider society?”

These dismissals ignore the experiences both of women who are survivors of commercial sexual exploitation, and those who support women and girls caught up in it. The City of Edinburgh Council’s position that sexual entertainment venues should be maintained is untenable with the Scottish Government’s position that activities within them should rightly be viewed as violence against women and girls.


The government has committed to challenging men’s demand for prostitution. In the recently refreshed Equally Safe strategy – outlining how the Scottish Government is preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls – their position couldn’t be clearer:

This strategy’s definition of violence against women and girls includes the actual and threat of…commercial sexual exploitation, including prostitution, lap dancing, stripping, pornography” — page 11

On page 20, it says: Women are more likely than men to live in poverty, and violence against women and girls sustains this. For example, women experiencing abuse in the home will find it more difficult to leave their abuser if they are living in poverty. Poverty can be a factor in preventing women from accessing support for safety and wellbeing needs. It can also lead to some women becoming involved in commercial sexual exploitation, including prostitution, to support themselves and their children. Violence against women and girls also creates barriers to employment and other economic resources because of its negative effects on women’s health, wellbeing, earning potential, career progression and financial stability.”

What the City of Edinburgh Council have therefore done is maintain a regulatory framework for the commercial sexual exploitation of women, when standing up for the dignity and rights of women would be far more revolutionary. 

It may be that Councillors believe that the method of regulation they have chosen will be safer for women – but the risks of not factoring in hidden socioeconomic and gendered inequalities leave vulnerable women too exposed to exploitation.

Those who support the Council’s decision further might think that regulating and keeping legal the purchasing of sexual services in sexual entertainment venues” means that women are safer or not driven underground. However, this logic would never be applied to other crimes of rape, harassment, voyeurism, upskirting or operating a brothel.

"We care deeply about the lives of all women and denounce violence and disempowerment of women and girls wherever we see it in society."

Ultimately questions need to be asked as to the motivation of the men who are seeking to retain their access to the bodies of women and the motivation of the council to accommodate them.

This is why the Evangelical Alliance, Restore Glasgow, and 14 other co-signatories signed an open letter calling for the Scottish Government to take action on this issue. It is excellent that the Scottish Government recognises that prostitution constitutes violence against women and girls. Indeed there has been positive movement on this issue recently when First Minister Humza Yousaf responded to questions about the tragic and horrific murder of Emma Caldwell.

A lot of the work we’re doing around our Equally Safe Strategy in particular, but also to, frankly, challenge men’s demand for sex. It’s really important that we all recognise that prostitution is a form of violence against women and girls and is completely unacceptable…lessons learned from this pilot [the new prostitution exit hub]…will help to inform of course any legislative consideration whether to criminalise or not the purchase of sex.”

We are passionate about this issue, not because we want to curtail people’s sexual freedom, but because we care deeply about the lives of all women and denounce violence and disempowerment of women and girls wherever we see it in society. Jesus Himself, called out the powerful in society for their deep selfishness towards the most vulnerable (Mark 12:38 – 44) and His actions showed that He cared deeply about the lives of all women too, treating them with complete respect, and that women and men are both equally of inestimable worth as human beings made in the image of God.

We commend the Scottish Government for recognising the importance of this issue and would urge them to press ahead as soon as possible.