Until April 2010, it used to be simple to write: "In the UK, paying to be sexual with an adult is legal."
Now, thanks to the introduction of the Policing and Crime Act 2009, it is more complicated.
s14 introduced a new section (53A) into the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (and an equivalent one for Northern Ireland):
53A Paying for sexual services of a prostitute subjected to force etc.
(1) A person (A) commits an offence if—
(a) A makes or promises payment for the sexual services of a prostitute (B),
(b) a third person (C) has engaged in exploitative conduct of a kind likely to induce or encourage B to provide the sexual services for which A has made or promised payment, and
(c) C engaged in that conduct for or in the expectation of gain for C or another person (apart from A or B).
(2) The following are irrelevant—
(a) where in the world the sexual services are to be provided and whether those services are provided,
(b) whether A is, or ought to be, aware that C has engaged in exploitative conduct.
(3) C engages in exploitative conduct if—
(a) C uses force, threats (whether or not relating to violence) or any other form of coercion, or
(b) C practises any form of deception.
(4) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.
What's that mean? Well, it's easier to say what its intention is: to put people off being clients. As originally introduced, the clause was going to criminalise paying to be sexual with anyone 'controlled for gain'. As 'control' has no implications of coercion, force, or anything else abolitionists go on about, that would have included every single person working for an agency or in a brothel!
Fortunately, this replaced by the current wording. As far as is known, it has yet to be tested in court, so the following is speculation and, as ever, does not constitute legal Advice. It could well be right though
OK, looking at the new clause:
1. The offence is committed by the person who pays for sexual services, whether or not they receive them, with someone who has a third party – who expects that they (or someone else) will gain as a result – use coercion, threats or deception in order to encourage them to provide those services.
2. This is the most offensive bit. Part (a) extends this to everywhere in the world and, highly controversially, part (b) makes this a 'strict liability' offence. There are very few of these – motoring offences like speeding are the main examples – and it means that there is no need for the prosecution to prove that you knew (or didn't care) that it was happening.
The effect is to make it impossible to know for sure whether any particular booking is legal. The clear intention is to discourage paying for legal sexual services, in a way that avoids having numerous Parliamentarians vote to make their own 'punting' illegal.
3. Defines 'exploitative conduct'.
4. Says this is something to be dealt with in a Magistrates Court, without a jury. The maximum fine is currently £1,000..
.. should anyone be found guilty of this.
What are the chances of that? Well, they'd have to find them first, prove they paid for sex (only the person paying commits this offence), and that the worker had been exploited, in a way that encouraged them to do something they would not otherwise have done. None of that is going to be easy.
Even if that can be done, many clients have requirements beyond the actual act itself: they don't just want 'oral sex' as a service, for example. Instead they want – and pay for – 'oral sex from a person who fits a particular description'. Most 'punting' message boards are appallingly homo- and transphobic and most of the men using them only want to buy sexual services from people they count as women, i.e. part of the sexual service they buy is 'oral sex from a non-transgendered woman'. (Typically, there will be a list of other additional clauses to the desired service, individual to each client, covering issues such as age, appearance, etc of the other person.)
So one argument may be that the sexual service required involved, for example, being an entirely willing partner. (Reliable research on clients demonstrates that very few clients want to be sexual with someone who is not.) How do you coerce someone into providing that service? By definition, it's impossible.
So there may well not be many convictions, even without considering the low level of exploitation, but this law is an example of the worst kind of gesture politics: getting convictions isn't the point.
Back to what's easy…
- paying for sexual services of a child. If they're aged 13-17, a 'reasonable belief' that they were at least 18 is a defence to the charge which carries a maximum penalty of 7 years (if they are 16 or 17) or 14 years (if they are 13-16). If they're under 13, you have no such defence, and the maximum penalty is life imprisonment.
- kerb-crawling – soliciting from or near a motor vehicle you have just got out of. Since kerb-crawling was originally made illegal in 1985, the powers of the police have been increased: you can now be arrested for kerb-crawling and lose your vehicle. Some areas publish details of people who have been convicted or accepted cautions for kerb-crawling.
- persistently soliciting in general for the purposes of prostitution. This involves approaching multiple people on the street or similar area, or pestering the same person multiple times. A case in February 2011 established that, if you're on foot, approaching one person once for sexual services is not an public nuisance offence, even if done in an area known for prostitutes working on the street.
Making it illegal to pay for otherwise legal sex with a 16 or 17 year old was part of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. One of the big changes in the male escorting scene in the 1990s was that the 'age of first sale' shot up dramatically. When the Streetwise Youth service was created in the 1980s, if someone hadn't sold sexual services by the time they were 18, they were unlikely to use the project. By the turn of the century, it was vastly more common to have made a choice to start selling in the early 20s and hardly any new service users had started under 18.
Thank you, Ian. Back to the commune:
Being a good client
In general, receiving a good service from a sex worker comes down to your attitude.
Escorts are just like anyone else who provides a professional service. The nicer you are to them, the nicer they are to you and you both enjoy a better time.
Escorts offer a wide variety of services including companionship, advice, development of sexual technique and of course discreet sex.
What is it you want to get from the escort? For example, some people want sex with a particular sort of person, others want particular sorts of sex.
If it is your first time, it might be a good idea to ring or email a few different escorts to find out how they work and remember that safety should be a concern for both of you. This may mean them not engaging in long exchanges about services (this is typical of 'wank calls' from people after free phone sex).
Many escorts do not answer calls where the caller's number is withheld or respond to text messages, so if that will be a problem for you, email may be best.
As with any other deal it is important to agree the details. If you don't discuss your requirements, expectations, anxieties and the cost of the service, you might not get the service you imagined.
In particular, if you want a specific service, it is always better to find out in advance whether it is provided as this will save time for both you and the escort.
For example, most female escorts offer sexual intercourse as a service, but not all do, and many don't offer anal intercourse. Some male escorts only offer an 'active' service (they'll fuck you, but won't let you fuck them) etc etc.
Most will make this clear in their advertising or website, but if not, ask…. politely! If you're not polite, you'll sound like someone who's more interested in 'talking dirty' and end up talking to the dialling tone.
Similarly, if you have any particular non-sexual needs or requirements, let them know. Many escorts are happy to work with people with disabilities, for example, and more will find it difficult to work with people with certain disabilities but will be fine with others.
For most people, the less of a surprise you both have when meeting, the better.
Many escorts will ask you to confirm the appointment a short time before it is scheduled. Don't forget! If you don't confirm it, they may assume you are a 'timewaster' and make other arrangements.
If you are visiting them, some escorts will give directions to their general location, and ask you to ring when you get there. This is a sensible security measure on their part.
Please remember that the escort is another person, and make sure you've had a shower or bath and brushed your teeth shortly before meeting or on arrival if you're travelling to them.
When you meet the escort don't forget your manners! Saying hello and complimenting the escort help to soften the introduction.
If they or their agency has clearly misdescribed the person in front of you, now is the time to complain. On the other hand, if they were described honestly and you just change your mind on meeting, it is normal to give the escort around half of their fee to cover their expenses and wasted time.
If you haven't already agreed the details, the escort will usually establish what you want, how long you want the service for and how much it is going to cost.
Most escorts will expect to be paid immediately on meeting, or very soon afterwards. As very few will accept either a credit card or a cheque – never assume that they will unless you have agreed this in advance – you should have the cash available. If this is handed over in an envelope or pointed out, the escort will be able to discreetly check it.
If they have come to you, the escort will often check out the place. Don't worry, they're not 'casing the joint' for a burglary, but making sure that, for example, there's no-one there they weren't expecting.
The escort will usually make a call to someone (eg their 'security buddy' or agency) to say they where they are and how long they will be with you. This is for the escort's personal safety and is normal practise. When your appointment is over the escort will usually make another call to confirm that all is well.
If the agency (or buddy) has not heard from the escort they will typically call your number to speak to them, to see why the escort has not been in touch. If they do not get to speak to the escort they will implement their safety procedures, for example calling the police.
Don't be offended if the escort declines to have a drink or share some drugs, or declines to see you if you're clearly under the influence of either.
And so to bed?
Safer sex is safer for you and safer for the escort. It's also less expensive for the NHS and great news for a healthy future. If you have concerns that you might have been at risk for HIV or another Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) you could check out the Working Men Project website
When an escort insists on using condoms or more lube etc, they are not only respecting their own health and business they are also protecting yours.
Think about how it was for you. Did you get what you wanted? What enabled or stopped that? Do you want to do it again?
Escorts to be aware of
Many sex work projects think that stories of widespread trafficing in sex slaves to work as escorts in the UK are exaggerated. Not everyone from countries in Eastern Europe or the Far East is working here against their will.
But some are. (And only hiring British escorts is no guarantee that they're not being forced into it either.)
If as a client you come across someone you think is being made to work against their will, you have a duty to help them. If you don't want to tell the police directly, you can call the independent Crimestoppers charity on 0800 555 111 or let a sex work project know.
Remember, having sex with someone who doesn't want to have sex with you is rape, even if you've paid money for it.
What do sex workers look for in a good client?
Remember, good clients tend to have better times.
Showing them respect is one main way. That means accepting their limits, not trying to haggle on prices or do things that they have said no to.
Reliability is another, including being on time (much too early can be as bad as much too late).
… and what do they want to avoid?
Bad personal hygiene is the big one. Even if you're going to end up messy, starting the encounter clean.
(And if you've travelled on the London Underground on a hot day, you'll need a shower on arrival.)
People who treat them like sex toys, rather than people.
People who expect them to do all the work.. unless that's what's been agreed.
* 'Punters' is the name used for clients of sex workers by many escorts and clients themselves.