scottish law on sex work

The Law in Scotland

Selling sex is legal as long as it is between two consenting adults.  However, some practices relating to sex work are still illegal.

Please note that having sex in a public place is illegal

The Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 (section 46)
The Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 states that it is an offence for any sex worker, whether male or female, who, for the purposes of prostitution, engages in any of the following activities:

  • loitering in a public place;
  • soliciting in a public place or any other place so as to be seen from a public place; or
  • importunes any person who is in a public place

The maximum penalty for conviction under s46 of the 1982 Act is a fine not exceeding £500.


What do you mean by loitering and soliciting?

  • Loitering means remaining or hanging around an area for no obvious purpose other than soliciting for prostitution
  • Soliciting/importuning means:  approaching punters and asking for business, tempting potential punters through words, winks, glances, gestures, smiles or provocative actions etc for the purposes of obtaining business


What do you mean by ‘public places’?

A ‘public place’ means any place to which the public have unrestricted access to or permitted access to, whether on payment or otherwise, and includes:

  • Doorways or entrances of premises
  • Common passages, closes, courts, stairs, gardens or yards
  • Public toilets, carparks, lay-bys, back alleys, beaches, train stations etc.


The Prostitution (Public Places) (Scotland) Act 2007
The Prostitution (Public places) (Scotland) Act 2007 came into force on 15th October 2007.  This Act contains specific statutory offences which criminalise the purchase of sex on Scotland’s streets.

This act states that it is an offence for any person, whether male or female, who, for the purposes of obtaining the services of someone engaged in prostitution, is involved in any of the following activities:

  • Loiters in a public place in such manner that it may reasonably be inferred that the loitering is for the purpose of obtaining the services of someone engaged in prostitution; or
  • Solicits in a public place or any other place so as to be seen from a public place

 This Act further states that it is an offence for a person to solicit, as above, in a relevant place regardless of whether or not they:

  • Are in or on public transport
  • Are in a motor vehicle which is not public transport
  • Are a person engaged in prostitution

 The maximum penalty under s1 of the 2007 Act is £1,000. 


Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995 (c.39)
The Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995 (c.39) states that it is an offence for any male person to knowingly live wholly or in part on the earnings of prostitution, or persistently solicits or importunes for immoral purposes (i.e. to encourage prostitution).  This is regardless of whether the male actually stays in or just visits the property from which prostitution is taking place.

A constable is authorised to enter and search a house and arrest that male person if there is reason to suspect that the house or any part of the house is used by a female for the purposes of prostitution, and that the male in question is living on the earnings of the prostitute in some way.


How can they prove if someone is ‘knowingly’ living on the earnings of a prostitute?

Unless he can satisfy the court to the contrary, that male person will be deemed to be knowingly living on the earnings of prostitution if there is evidence to suggest the following:

  • He is living with or is habitually in the company of a prostitute, or
  • He has proven to have exercised control, direction or influence over the movements of a prostitute in such a manner as to show that he is aiding, abetting or compelling her prostitution with any other person.

 Likewise, it is an offence for any female who, for the purposes of gain, has exercised control, direction or influence over the movements of prostitute in such a manner as to show that he/she is aiding, abetting or compelling her prostitution with any other person. 


The Law and Brothels

Brothels are illegal.

What is a brothel?

Working with other sex workers from the same property makes the premises a brothel, regardless if the women are all working independently and at different times of the week.   That’s true whether or not they work there at the same time, whether or not they offer sexual intercourse and even whether or not they charge.

If you are touring with a friend for companionship only and that friend is not a sex worker, it may be difficult to prove this.  However, the Police will consider each case differently and if there is no evidence of a brothel being run then they will leave you to it.

If the premises are made up of different rooms, and let separately to different individuals, they may still be treated as a brothel if there are shared facilities such as toilets, washing facilities etc.

With regards to brothel keeping, The Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995 (c.39) states that it is an offence for any person to:

  • Keep, manage, act or assist in the management of a brothel
  • Be the tenant, lessee, occupier or person in charge of any premises and knowingly allow such premises or any part thereof to be used as a brothel or for the purposes of habitual prostitution
  • Be the lessor or landlord of any premises, or the agent of such lessor or landlord, and lets the property with the knowledge that the premises or some part of the premises are or is to be used as a brothel, or is wilfully a party to the continued use of such premises or any part as a brothel

Section 45 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 came into force on 13 December 2010, raising the maximum penalty for offences under section 11 of the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995 (brothel keeping etc) to 7 years imprisonment or a fine or both on conviction on indictment (i.e. in front of a jury).


Escorting and The Law

Working as an Escort

It is legal to work as a sex worker for an escort agency.

Be careful which agencies you decide to work for as some will try to rip you off and offer no protection whatsoever.  Shop around for agencies which look out for your safety, offer reasonable terms and conditions and have been recommended by other workers.

Working as an independent escort is also legal.

If you work with a ‘maid’, who doesn’t provide sexual services, this is also legal.  As long as the maid is not selling sexual services nor has no element of control over the business, then he/she can get paid.  Please note that duties such as cleaning, making coffee and taking rubbish out do not amount to control.

If the maid assists with the management of the business or has any control over it’s running in any way, she/he is breaking the law and is liable for prosecution.  Control can consist of banking, paying bills, advertising services or helping to set prices.


Police Scotland

Quay Services have liased with Police Scotland regarding their approach to off-street sex workers after we received questions from women working independently as escorts who had experienced police officers turning up at their place of work.
Below is a summary of the response from Police Scotland regarding their approach to women working off-street.  By having this information on our website we hope to better inform women of the local police approach in the local area:

Police Scotland stated that they wish to establish a good rapport with women working in the sex industry.  They want to help prevent crimes happening against you e.g. punter robberies, brothel involvement etc. 

However, they stated they are also under duty to respond to any concerns regarding potential criminal activity from members of the public.  If someone e.g. housekeeping/hotel staff, neighbours etc alert the Police to any activity that is deemed by them as suspicious e.g. different individuals coming to and from a flat etc then the Police may visit the property.

This is because they are looking for any criminal activity related to prostitution and looking to ensure the safety of off-street sex workers.

Police Scotland’s main objectives in contacting indoor sex workers are:

  • Ensuring women’s safety
  • Ensuring that there is no coercion/force i.e. human trafficking and making sure that the women present are working of their own free will
  • Confirmation of identity i.e. women are who they say they are
  • The prevention of bigger crimes - Police Scotland are of the opinion that this method of engaging with off-street sex workers may help to prevent larger scale crimes such as robberies and attacks on women by punters.  It is hoped that by building a better rapport and trust with Police Scotland, women may feel more comfortable and able to inform Police about crimes committed against them, and ultimately feel more protected by Police Scotland
  • Police Scotland are keen to share information with off-street sex workers regarding Ugly Mugs and also wish to provide safety advice
  • Ensuring that you are working within the boundaries of the law

If Police Scotland do visit your property and have established that you are working there of your own free will they will then take your photograph – they do this because if something happened to you then they would be able to identify you more quickly and would help inform their investigation.  The photograph is only seen by a small team of Officers who are working within the sex industry department of Police Scotland. Police Scotland have stated that any information gained by officers regarding women working off-street is kept confidential within a small team in Police Scotland.  The information cannot be accessed by other law enforcement teams and as such would not appear on a PVG check.

The Police will also take your contact details and run them through the Police National Computer (PNC check), a computer database system that is used by law enforcement agencies across the UK.  They are looking for any outstanding warrants or any previous criminal convictions that they should be aware of. 

If you are with a client when Police Scotland visit your property, they will also take a photograph and personal details from your client.  Their details are also run through the PNC.  This is for your safety, to ensure that the client is not a dangerous criminal or is wanted by the Police. 

Police Scotland have stated that as long as there is no evidence of criminal activity or brothel keeping, then the Police will take no action.  After Police Scotland have visited and are satisfied that you are working independently, they will ask you to call or text them next time that you are working in Aberdeen.   Police Scotland stated this is because if a hotel or serviced flat, for example, do contact them again with the same issues such as individuals coming to and from the property, then they will be able to confirm that you are not doing anything illegal.  Then it is up to the individual establishment to decide whether they wish to take any action, such as asking you to leave.

The decision to ask you to leave is made by the venue and not at the insistence of Police Scotland, unless they have had a specific complaint.

By communicating with the Police about when you are working in Aberdeen, they endeavour to be able to pass onto you any information that is relevant to your wellbeing, such as giving details of a dodgy punter for you to look out for.  And vice versa.

A common concern raised by women is how confidential the storage of their information is once Police Scotland have taken their details and any future implications having contact with the police may have e.g. on employment prospects. 


If you have any views on this approach, please get in touch and we will be happy to pass on any comments to Police Scotland.


For access to more detailed information about the law in Scotland, please follow this link.

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