The detective who led the response to a string of prostitute murders has called for the buying of sex to be banned in Scotland.
Crimebuster Alan Caton spearheaded a radical approach to tackling prostitution after five sex workers in Ipswich were murdered by punter Steve Wright.
He is today helping launch a male-led campaign calling for a Nordic-style law change in Scotland.
Caton, an ex-detective superintendent of Suffolk Constabulary, said: “There is currently a minority of men in Scotland who feel entitled to sexually exploit vulnerable women by paying them for sex.
“My experiences in Ipswich taught me that society must never turn a blind eye to the abuses these men are committing.
“Men who pay for sex cause immense harms to the women they exploit, while their demand also drives a brutal sex trafficking trade.
“Prostitution is violence against women yet the law in Scotland currently gives men license to pay for sex.
“That cannot be right. It’s crucial that the law sends out the unequivocal message that paying for sex is never acceptable, and that law enforcement agencies have the powers to hold perpetrators to account.”
After the Wright murders in 2006, Caton helped co-ordinate a plan to help women leave prostitution safely while also taking a zero-tolerance approach to the purchase of sex.
A multi-agency approach – which included social workers, health authorities, housing associations and drug-treatment charities – eradicated street prostitution in Ipswich.
There was also a preventative approach to identify young girls who might be vulnerable to sexual exploitation.
The same policy has been adopted in a number of countries and is referred to as the “Nordic model” after first being introduced in Sweden. It led to a cultural shift of intolerance of prostitution by men as well as a reduction in sex trafficking.
The Scottish Government considers sex work to be an act of violence against women and has committed to “undertake to develop a model for Scotland which effectively tackles and challenges men’s demand for prostitution”, although it has stopped short of the Nordic model.
Although street prostitution remains in Scotland, the sale of sex is now predominately carried out online or from brothels.
But Caton said if police were backed by legislation they could trace and arrest buyers exploiting online markets selling sex.
He says it is impossible to make prostitution safe and a ban on punters would not drive it more underground – a claim made by the pro-sex work lobby.
Seven women were murdered in Glasgow between 1991 and 1998, and all were working in the sex industry at the time of their deaths. Caton said: “I don’t know how much more underground it can get than for women to get into the car of a man they don’t know in the middle of the night.
“Wright was a known sex buyer. The women knew him and felt safe with him and we know now what he was capable of.
“He killed five women in very quick succession so we know the dangers of street prostitution.
“But equally women are disproportionately likely to be raped or murdered if they sell sex on a premises.
“And as long as the purchase of sex is legal, law enforcement has its hands tied to some degree.”
He said making the purchase of sex illegal would send out a message to society that the purchase of women was not tolerable.
Caton added: “To combat violence against women, we need future generations of boys to grow up in a society where they do not have a right to sexually exploit others – and where they learn that sexual consent cannot be purchased.”
The new campaign is also being backed by men working in various fields including sexual health and anti-trafficking.
Julian Heng, a health worker who founded a support service in Scotland for men who are sexually exploited, said poverty was a key factor in driving the facilitation of sex work.
He added: “The core harm created by prostitution is the repeated submission to perform unwanted sex.
“Prostitution is caused by demand, fed by economic inequality and takes advantage of all forms of discrimination.”
Valiant Richey, the special representative and co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings at the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, said tackling demand was key to ending sexual slavery.
He said: “If we are serious about ending trafficking, we must address its root cause – the demand that incentivises it. Addressing demand is critical in both protecting victims from harm and disrupting the business model of trafficking.”