‘Sex for rent’ arrangements force people, especially women, into the most vulnerable of situations, often in enclosed, private spaces to which a perpetrator has constant and unrestricted access. They exploit the power imbalance between landlords and tenants, and should be made illegal.
In 2018, YouGov and Shelter estimated that 250,000 women had been asked for sexual favours by their landlords in exchange for free or discounted accommodation at some point between 2013 and 2018. More recent research by Shelter suggested that 30,000 women in the UK were propositioned with such arrangements between the start of the pandemic in March 2020 and January 2021.
While offering sex for rent is technically incitement to prostitution and a crime under section 52 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, at present the legal framework requires the victim to self-define as a prostitute in order to secure a conviction. Not only is this morally wrong, but I also believe it acts as a clear disincentive to victims of this repugnant crime coming forward to the police.
Sadly, despite repeated warnings from organisations such as Generation Rent, and the Opposition, the Government has done little to halt the sex for rent phenomenon.
I believe that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill currently going through Parliament provides an opportunity to do something about this. I have therefore been supporting efforts to introduce a new, specific offence covering this activity.
Indeed, the Opposition tabled an amendment to the Bill during its Committee Stage in the House of Commons last summer, which would have created the offence of requiring or accepting sexual relations as a condition of accommodation. The Government rejected the amendment and it was defeated at that time.
However, despite the Government continuing to reject this amendment, I am pleased that it was recently passed by the House of Lords on 12 January. Unlike section 52 of the Sexual Offences Act, the new offence in this amendment will not require a victim of sex for rent to self-identify as a prostitute in order to secure a conviction.
I can assure you that I will support this amendment when the Bill returns to the House of Commons soon and I hope that the Government will now finally accept it.