Sexual exploitation for rent is modern slavery

Having a home is a basic human right. However, every day millions of people live in desperate fear of being stripped of that right especially during a cost of living crisis. Shelter found that 59,000 women were targeted by current or prospective landlords between March 2020 and September 2021. The process of targeting vulnerable women is easy: landlords will post an advert on mainstream websites with euphemistic language, such as “come to an arrangement” or “open minded,” making the expectations clear: you get a roof over your head and I get access to your body.

While all genders have been documented as targets of this, women are perceived as particularly vulnerable, thus are increasingly preyed upon by predatory landlords. Campaigners have raised concerns that the current law requires a woman to declare herself a prostitute in order to get a conviction. However, we all know the controversy of prostitution and their lack of trust in law enforcement. Therefore, how can we expect victims of predatory landlords to come forward when there is a real fear they will be prosecuted as well. Under current legislation, there has only been one prosecution, despite claims the practice is on the rise. Baroness Alicia Kennedy, the Director of Generation Rent said that “The fact that there has only even been one charge for this crime shows how inadequate the law and CPS guidance are in this area.”

The CPS can only prosecute under Section 52 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, making it an offence to “intentionally cause or incite a person into prostitution.” However, while this appears ‘adequate’ on paper, to get a conviction, the victim must be legally defined as a prostitute. The legal grey area that prostitution exists is enough to deter victims from seeking justice. Despite efforts from the Labour Party, the government has failed to prevent predatory landlords from targeting vulnerable women without the consequences they deserve.

Right to Equality fully supports Generation Rent’s campaign to make real changes in criminalizing sexual exploitation of vulnerable and marginalised women in exchange for shelter. Baroness Williams speaking on behalf of the government insisted sex-for-rent was, “an abhorrent phenomenon which takes advantage of very vulnerable people, and it doesn’t have any place in our society.”

At Right to Equality, we will not stand by and allow women to be degraded and exploited by homeowners. Safety is a basic human right, one that many women in the UK are being denied. The law needs to change now. This is yet another example of the law failing to centre women’s experiences of abuse and modern slavery, which allows it to continue with impunity. 

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