By Kevin Keane
BBC Scotland reporter
New laws on kerb-crawling were introduced last year
Prostitution in Aberdeen has spread into the city centre since a tolerance zone was abandoned because of a change in the law, it has been claimed.
The introduction of kerb crawling laws last year meant police were unable to continue the managed area, carried out on streets around the harbour.
Police said women had begun working on Market Street and Union Street.
Convictions for soliciting in the city centre tripled in the six months after the tolerance zone was scrapped.
Six people were convicted between 15 April 2007 and 14 October, when the new law was introduced.
The police then allowed three months as a settling down period.
Between 15 January and 14 July, 18 people were convicted in the city centre under the new laws.
The new law criminalises anyone caught soliciting prostitutes in any public place. In the past, it was the prostitutes alone who risked prosecution.
The Scottish Government said it was expecting a degree of displacement.
Police estimate there are up to 250 women working in prostitution in Aberdeen.
Insp John Soutar said: "The girls found the management zone to be an area where they felt safer because they saw that the police were giving it a fair bit of attention.
"Now that the management zone has gone because of the introduction of the new legislation, we have found that the girls have migrated towards the city centre."
'Pubs and clubs'
Luan Grugeon, from Aberdeen Drug Action Team, said: "They view the police as having a role in enforcing the law. So they try as much as possible to hide from the police. They are now working in dark streets and up dark lanes, as well as hiding amongst crowds in the city centre."
One prostitute, called Jane, said: "The one thing they did not want to do in the first place was push everyone into the centre of town in places that they could not keep an eye on us.
"And it's made it more dangerous for us as well because we're having to hide in alleyways now."
The Drug Action team believes more prostitution is taking place in Aberdeen as a result of the law change.
Ms Grugeon said: "Women are now propositioning men outside pubs and clubs. These men would never in the past have gone looking for prostitution."
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme that the new law had been brought in to change the "perverse" situation where women who were soliciting for sex could be prosecuted, but the men using them could not.
He pointed out that 70 men had been reported to the police in Aberdeen since the law had been changed, with 18 prosecuted by July of this year.
Mr MacAskill added: "Those areas where people used to to have their mothers, daughters, grannies going out for a pint of milk or simply for a walk who were then stopped by men soliciting for sex found it intolerable, so there will be areas where there is some element of displacement.
"We have to make sure that those girls who are brought into prostitution are helped and treated to get out, and equally those men who seek to exploit those vulnerable women must be prosecuted - that is why we make no apology for this legislation.
"There is certainly no evidence anywhere else in Scotland that I am aware of it increasing.
"We also have to protect our communities and I think if you go around Blythswood Square, Leith Links, Glasgow Green, communities that were blighted by so-called tolerance zones where women going about their lawful business were subject to kerb-crawling, people propositioning them, that was frankly intolerable and unacceptable and we had to protect women and indeed the entire community from that abuse and harassment."
Independent MSP Margo MacDonald said: "It's now proved beyond doubt that the warnings given by myself, and others, that the stupid so-called 'kerb-crawling' legislation has made things worse in Aberdeen and Edinburgh and no better in Glasgow.
"In trying to defend the indefensible, Kenny MacAskill shows an ignorance of the changed patterns of prostitution and a disregard for the welfare of street prostitutes as well as the right of the general public not to be alarmed or embarrassed by inappropriate soliciting."