What are the current laws in the UK? 

Can I get a (digital) show of hands for who is aware of the laws regarding sexually exploited people in the UK?  

Ok, so let’s break it down a bit:  

England and Wales and Scotland 

  • Victims of sexual exploitation can face criminal sanction for soliciting (i.e. ‘selling themselves’ as it is often termed) in a public place – this allows for the punishment of sexually exploited people. 
  • Men who sexually exploit women by paying them for sex only face criminal sanction if they solicit a person in a public place or if they pay for sex with an individual ‘subjected to force, etc’ – you can imagine the loopholes around being in a public place – if someone is on the street, this is a public place; the moment they are in a car, this is no longer the case. And, of course, ‘subjected to force’ – perhaps a person is not having a gun held to their head, but they have been threatened with this by their pimp who is controlling what they do. In the eyes of the law, there is no use of force here. 
  • Third-party facilitation or financial gain from prostitution is illegal in some, but not all, circumstances – thus, it is not always illegal to traffic/exploit people. 

Northern Ireland are doing slightly better than the rest of us: 

  • It is not an offence in Northern Ireland for victims of sexual exploitation to solicit in a public place (women are not criminalised for being exploited). 
  • However, it is a criminal offence in all circumstances to sexually exploit a person by paying them for sex.

What are the impacts of these laws? 

As we have identified, the current policies and legislation in most UK nations relating to prostitution and sex trafficking do not work to deter demand for sexual exploitation. There’s a lack of clarity with an abundance of loopholes.  

The current legislative landscape also serves to punish women being sexually exploited for being just that, sexually exploited, acting as a barrier to them exiting sexual exploitation. It does not offer any sense of protection against or understanding of the realities they are experiencing. It tells them that they are the problem and that the demand from sex buyers is not (as long as it is not in a public place).  

Currently, different police forces and local authorities approach the issue of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation with varying attitudes, creating a dysfunctional patchwork of regulation that does not serve its purpose.  

The distinct lack of clear direction from the central government means that in some cities, the law as it currently stands is ignored, while in others, local authorities and police services are doing all they can do to prevent the exploitation of vulnerable women. And this is not sufficient. Not to mention, there is no strategy in place for ending the demand for sexual exploitation. 

Too many women have died because our legal system has not protected them. The most recent murder that we know about of one of the women that the Encompass team works with was in November 2023.   

What is Azalea doing to change this? 

 At Azalea, we are campaigning alongside the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Commercial Sexual Exploitation for change in legislation to protect the most vulnerable people in society. We are campaigning for an end to the demand for sex trafficking. Without demand, there is no need for supply. 

We are all aware of the terrifying and heart-breaking case of 33-year-old Sarah Everard, who was kidnapped from South London, raped and murdered in 2023. Her case is not the only one. We all know friends, sisters, and colleagues who have been sexually harassed or abused when out for a run, on public transport, or out at a bar.  

Some of the responses were: girls, run in 2s, send British transport police a text if you’re assaulted on the tube, don’t wear anything too provocative when you’re out with your friends.  

 However, so many people have called this out as wrong. So many men have identified that this is wrong.  

 Collectively, we are beginning to realise that the eradication of sexual abuse is not down to women changing their behaviour, staying in at night, and wearing ‘modest clothing’. The eradication of sexual abuse will happen when the behaviour and perspectives of men change.  

Women who have lived a life of sexual abuse and slavery should not be blamed or criminalised.  

At Azalea, we have been carrying out research, hearing testimonies, and submitting evidence to parliament about the demand for sex trafficking and the nature of it. Legislation must be shaped by those who have experience of the matters it is concerning. Three Flourish guests went to parliament in early 2024 to share their horror stories.  


At Azalea, we can go to the ends of the earth to support women being sexually exploited. But once we have helped a bunch of women enter, a new bunch will take their place. There must be a clear focus on ending the demand for sexual exploitation. And that is why we have Flint to support the men who create the demand for sex trafficking to change their perspectives and behaviours.  

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