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13 October 2017updated 09 Sep 2021 5:18pm

Sex for rent is the latest evidence that our housing system is broken

And the laws have not caught up. 

By Kirsty Blackman

Sex for rent is a modern-day exploitative practice that is occurring in our towns and cities. A quick search on the internet highlights a number of advertisements looking for an “uninhibited young girl” or “a guy that is comfortable and enjoys hanging out naked at home” – with rent that’s either free or negotiable.

Most of us would steer clear of these adverts, because we are able to find money to pay the rent rather than having to perform “sexual favours” in return for somewhere to sleep. Imagine though, if you are unable to afford a deposit to privately rent. Imagine if the local authority doesn’t have anywhere to put you, or if they’re unwilling to take you on because of previous rent arrears. Imagine if you desperately need the safety of a roof over your head and a place to go home to. You might feel you were left with very little choice.

People who take up these offers, often women but sometimes men too, find themselves in a situation where they hold none of the power. The “landlord” can kick them out at any time. Because money is not changing hands, no one is recognised in law as a landlord. And also because money is not changing hands, there’s a legal grey area over whether or not this is prostitution. But make no mistake, these tenants are being exploited, controlled and abused. The system needs to change to afford them protection.

Any non-consensual or forced sexual acts are traumatic and leave emotional scars long after they take place. 

The BBCthe Herald and journalist Vonny Moyes investigated this issue in April. Reporters following up the adverts have spoken to landlords who seemingly make a regular habit of inviting vulnerable people into their homes.

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Scottish National Party member Math Campbell was so horrified to learn this was occurring across the country that he brought the matter to SNP conference. Delegates agreed with the motion that resolved to “ask the Scottish government to look into introducing new primary legislation making it an offence to solicit sex in exchange for providing accommodation, or advertising accommodation for ‘free’ with the intent to solicit sexual relationships”.

Obviously this is not just an issue in Scotland. Across the nations of the UK, sex for rent offers can be found online. And new primary legislation is not the only way to tackle it.

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If we ensure that people who are homeless have better access to advice and support, this will reduce the likelihood of them becoming so desperate that they take up one of these offers. The Scottish government has recently created a new homelessness panel to improve our system. 

A lack of affordable and social housing is also a significant issue. In Scotland we are building as many new social houses as we can, but we are working against a backdrop of decades of Right to Buy, which removed homes from public ownership. Across the UK, private rents have become unaffordable for far too many people. Young people are staying with their parents longer than they used to, they cannot afford to save, and they are spending a higher proportion of their income on rent than previous generations.

Sex for rent is a symptom of a broken system. It is utterly unacceptable and we must do everything we can to stamp it out. Nobody should ever feel that the only way they can get a roof over their head is through sex with a stranger. And nobody should feel it is acceptable to coerce someone into sex, in any circumstances.

Kirsty Blackman is the SNP MP for Aberdeen North and deputy leader of the SNP in Westminster