Sunday, December 24, 2000. Issue 2039

David Bamber
Home Affairs Correspondent

Brothels should be legalised, says Home Office

PROSTITUTION in brothels and massage parlours should be regulated by local councils and the police, a Government report recommends.

Ministers are considering the report, from the Home Office's Policing and Reducing Crime Unit, which effectively calls for the legalisation of such establishments. It says that, in many areas, the police already tacitly recognise brothels, even though they are illegal, because it is thought preferable for women to work inside rather than plying their trade on the streets.

The report, For Love or Money: Pimps and the Management of Sex, says: "Officers worked with parlours and working flats, offering advice and support. The police monitored the parlours to ensure the unwritten rules were being observed." The authors add: "We support this type of pragmatism. Ensuring that sex markets take the least unacceptable form is a more realistic policy goal than eradicating them."

Their report goes further and recommends that the effective legalisation and tighter regulation of brothels would safeguard the women who work there and help local residents deal with problems.

"Recently there has been a steady rise in the number of off-street sex-market establishments," it says, adding: "Many of these are ignored by the police unless a complaint is received, and are therefore largely unregulated. There are likely to be clear benefits in tighter control and regulation. Not the least of these is that if these markets are well-managed, enforcement efforts can be focused on street sex markets and protecting vulnerable individuals who become sex workers."

Several cities, including Birmingham and Sheffield, have experimented with "toleration zones", where police turned a blind eye to prostitution. The zones were aimed at getting prostitutes out of residential areas, rather than meeting any wish to legalise the trade.

London and Manchester already effectively allow brothels to operate as massage parlours or saunas. As long as local people raise no objections, officers do not halt the vice trade there and even make regular visits to police the premises. Advertisements for the establishments are accepted by local newspapers and the brothel-owners pay taxes.

Support is also growing in Parliament for the legalisation of prostitution. Last month, Jane Griffiths, Labour MP for Reading East, called for brothels to be legalised. She said the move would allow the police "to crack down on unlicensed operators and combat the street sex trade, frequently run by pimps who have criminal records".

Last week, ministers announced 11 pilot projects — each backed by £100,000 of funding — aimed at getting prostitutes off the streets.

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Created: December 24, 2000
Last modified: December 24, 2000
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