It’s been almost four years since I first started campaigning on the issue of ‘sex for rent’. But the years since I got government to confirm that advertising for accommodation in return for sex is a criminal offence there hasn’t been a single arrest, charge, or conviction.
Sexual predators, people who seek to exploit others for gratification and control, are very good at singing people’s vulnerabilities and ruthlessly targeting them. That’s why the ‘sex for rent’ phenomena has emerged as an issue. In parts of the country like our where there a shortage of housing and it’s very expensive, there’s an opportunity for exploitation.
Add into the mis covid and you have another. That’s why adverts have suddenly started emerging saying ‘are you having trouble paying the rent due to covid, I have a solution for you’.
I’ve been trying for ages to get a newspaper to really look into this in detail and give it the coverage it deserves. I know some people have very strong feelings about the Daily Mail but when I mentioned this issue to one of their journalists and showed them some adverts that were online at that moment, they promised me there and then that they’d get this story investigated and printed. To her absolute credit, she did despite taking months of very hard work.
So please read this story because it’s frightening yet happening.
I’m calling for three things to happen. First, for enforcement. Advertising accommodation in return for sex is a criminal act. Considering loads of adverts actually have the perpetrator’s phone number on, it seems ridiculous to me that the Home Office hasn’t been able to catch them!
Secondly there needs to be a specific offence for ‘sex for rent’. Currently the law applying to this situation is ‘incitement to prostitution’ which means a victim who successfully prosecutes a perpetrator is defined in law as a prostitute – a huge disincentive for coming forward, seeking justice and support as a victim.
Lastly is Craigslist. They are profiting from the sexual exploitation of young people. Journalists have tried contacting them, government officials have tried, and I have numerous times but they don’t bother responding. Put simply, they’re acting like pimps so why aren’t we treating them as such? They make millions out of a squalid transaction which if it were in a street or neighbourhood will trigger immediate police action, but because it’s online…nothing. Yet the abuse, coercion and exploitation is very, very real.
When young people leave home and head to a university town they experience so many new freedoms. Geographical freedoms, social and intellectual freedom, and sexual freedom too. Many don’t realise how vulnerable they are or how damaging a ‘sex for rent’ relationship can be. Shelter and ComRes estimate that 30,000 women were propositioned by perpetrators of sex for rent since March last year. This is a big problem and I hate what it says about the challenges many find in society right now.
Once people enter these relationships it’s sometimes hard to escape because victims often don’t have anywhere to escape to.
Thanks to the spotlight created by today’s coverage in the Mail, I’ve been able to get out onto the media to raise more awareness of the problem. I expect you were all in bed sleeping when I was on the Today Programme early this morning – I hope so – but I’ve also been speaking all day to different media outlets because I really care about this often ignored area of exploitation and I want people to know about it.