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Page last updated at 09:24 GMT, Sunday, 20 January 2008

Sex survey - law to change?

Paola Buonadonna
By Paola Buonadonna
The Politics Show

It could be the man in the car that ends up in the cuffs

Public opinion in Britain might be ready for a shift towards criminalising those who buy sex. In an ICM survey commissioned by the Politics Show, 52% of respondents said they thought that paying for sex should be made illegal. Overall 65% felt that buying sex is an act which exploits women.

Sweden is currently the only country in Europe where the punters are targeted through fines and jail sentences, while prostitutes are not prosecuted.

Authorities in Sweden say hitting the demand has slashed street prostitution and made the country less attractive to people traffickers.

As recently as 2003, the Home Office assessed the Swedish model as part of a consultation on prostitution - but dismissed it as too radical.

However, the debate on whether or not Sweden might have the answer, has now been reignited as Home Office Minister, Vernon Coaker, paid another visit to Stockholm, at the start of another six month review on how to deal with prostitution.

Young support

The Swedish model may be influential

The results of our survey will be sure to give the government further food for thought.

There was a slight difference between men and women respondents, with 49% of males agreeing to the criminalisation point, as opposed to 55% of women agreeing to it.

But real differences in attitudes emerged in different age groups, with 65% of young respondents between the ages of 18 and 24 being the most enthusiastic supporters of criminalising the punters.

As for geographical differences in attitude, the survey shows that Scottish respondents were the most in favour, with 60% agreeing that buying sex should be made illegal.

This is perhaps a reflection of satisfaction with a recent toughening of kerb-crawling measures there. Wales and the South West were the least convinced with 37%.

Theresa May, the Shadow Minister for Women, told Politics Show that she was sceptical about the effectiveness of the Swedish model and urged the government to apply, and if necessary strengthen, the legislative tools already in place.

Greater awareness

But Mr Coaker told the programme that he felt public opinion in Britain had become more and more aware of the exploitative side of the sex trade, be it the drug addiction plunging thousands of young women into street prostitution or the straightforward slavery inherent in the trafficking of human beings for sex.

Six months of review could bring in changes in the UK law

A climate of compassion towards women selling sex and horror at the degradation they face was further fostered, in his view by the cases of the five young women murdered in Ipswich in 2006.

The trial of their alleged killer has just got underway at Ipswich Crown Court.

Mr Coaker added that, while not wishing to pre-judge the outcome of the six month review, he was impressed by the Swedish zero tolerance approach as a "statement of the sort of society we want".

ICM Research interviewed a random sample of 1,023 adults, aged 18+, by telephone between 16-17 January 2008. Interviews were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults.

ICM is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

The Politics Show, with Jon Sopel on Sunday 20 January 2008 at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.

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The East Midlands Politics Show asks if the time has come to follow Sweden's lead and make it illegal to pay for sex.


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