Wednesday October 30, 2002

Kirsty Scott

Scotland edges towards legal red light areas

Scotland has moved a step closer to introducing tolerance zones for prostitutes with the publication of a bill which would legitimise red light areas.

The private member's bill lodged in the Scottish parliament by Edinburgh-based Scottish Nationalist MSP Margo MacDonald would allow local councils to designate special prostitution zones after consultation with residents, health officials and the police.

The document has been welcomed by prostitute support groups and has received some cross-party backing. But police, unions and some councils have attacked the proposals, arguing they could increase prostitution in certain areas.

Ms MacDonald said the legislation would not require councils to set up red light areas but would enable those wanting to take part to do so.

Under the bill's proposals police would no longer prosecute women for soliciting in a particular part of town. The area would be carefully defined and would only apply at certain times. Objections could be lodged against the area or time of operation, but general opposition to the idea of tolerance zones would not be grounds for appeal.

Edinburgh operated an unofficial prostitution tolerance zone in the docks area of the city for 15 years. But it was abandoned last year after a switch to another part of the docks provoked complaints from local residents.

Campaigners say since then attacks on prostitutes have increased and the "nuisance factor" has worsened, with drug dealers and protection racketeers moving in.

Ruth Morgan Thomas, of the Edinburgh prostitute support network Scotpep, said: "We have seen a significant increase in attacks against women because they are not able to work collectively. They are working in isolation.

"We have had drug dealers coming into the area, we have had protection racketeers, we have had men bringing women down and introducing them to street prostitution, and we are aware of three under 16-year-olds who have been involved in the 11 months since we lost the zone. In the previous two years, we had had none."

She added: "The women hope very strongly that this bill will pass."

The Scottish Police Federation rejected the plan as unworkable, and voiced concerns that the zones could attract prostitutes from other areas. SPF general secretary Doug Keil said: "We think that creating a particular area where something that would ordinarily be an offence was deemed not to be an offence just in that area is simply perverse. There is no precedent for that type of arrangement in our law."

Consultation on the bill ended in the spring and it will now go to committee stage.

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Created: November 14, 2002
Last modified: November 19, 2002
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