Call for state inquiry into Scotland’s ‘sex for rent’ scandal

Campaigners have demanded that ministers order an official state inquiry into Scotland’s ‘sex for rent scandal’ amid claims thousands of women are being targeted by predatory landlords, The Sunday Herald has reported.

According to campaigners, rogue property owners are demanding sexual favours in exchange for free or cut-price rent, and homeless women and those employed on low-paid and insecure zero-hour contracts are accepting the arrangements out of desperation. Tenants’ union Living Rent estimated that between 1,000 and 2,000 women in Scotland have received “sex for rent” approaches annually in the last five years.

Women’s equality campaigners have now backed tougher government action to protect women from what they said was a form of abuse.

Psychologist Dr Mairead Tagg, an expert on male violence against women, said: “People being entrapped into selling their bodies for rent is not acceptable. That’s abuse of somebody vulnerable. It’s despicable and it ruins lives so, yes, an inquiry is called for into this horrific exploitation.”

Dr Marsha Scott, chief executive at Scottish Women’s Aid, added: “There is an intersection of poverty and violence against women. You cannot address one without addressing the other and of course I support anything that helps address those issues.”

The Sunday Herald spoke to one woman targeted by a rogue landlord, amid claims that the abuse is endemic.

Eirean McAuley, a student teacher, has launched a campaign for an independent investigation into “sex for rent” after she and her friends were targeted in online adverts. The 20-year-old says a landlord offered her cheap rent in return for sex and cleaning work. McAuley rejected the advances she says were made by the owner of a property on the outskirts of Glasgow. However, the University of Stirling student said she knows other women in low-paid jobs and facing sky-high rents who have been driven into accepting similar terms.

McAuley said: “I do know someone who went into this in the short term. A lot of people don’t know where to go. The concept of choice goes away when you are vulnerable and where there is a real housing shortage and people are working on zero-hours contracts.”

She said women were increasingly being offered sex for rent deals in online adverts and argued that a failure to call an inquiry could see the practice escalate further. She said: “It could get worse because it could get under the radar.”

Meanwhile, campaigners say women are also being asked to “carry out household chores naked, or in sexy lingerie” in exchange for free accommodation. They singled out Craigslist – an American classified advertisements website for jobs, housing and sales.

The site is being used to advertise rooms to rent in exchange for “erotic arrangements”, “intimacy” and “friends with benefits”, the campaigners say.

Scottish Government ministers are now being urged to ask experts from the housing and social work sectors, as well as tenants’ representatives, to lead an investigation. A resolution to the forthcoming youth conference of the Scottish Trades Union Congress says a probe could identify the extent of the “reprehensible” approaches to women.

The motion from the Unite union says: “There is a dangerous attempt to establish deeply exploitative relationships off the back of homelessness and a toxic combination of low pay, zero-hour contracts, insecure work and exorbitant rents, which makes for a desperate situation, whereby vulnerabilities of many people in need of a room are exploited, and concept of choice disappears.”

The resolution says campaigners should “place pressure on the Scottish Government to launch an independent investigation into the current crisis, documenting the widespread impact of the sex for rent scandal”.

It adds: “Conference also notes some male landlords use websites such as Craigslist to advertise available rooms to rent in exchange for ‘erotic arrangements’, ‘intimacy’, ‘friends with benefits’, ‘keep me company’, or ‘for a women to carry out household chores naked, or in sexy lingerie’.”

McAuley, a Unite activist, will present the resolution at the STUC youth congress in Glasgow on June 30 and July 1. Her motion points out that a YouGov poll of female tenants, commissioned by the housing charity Shelter, shows that 250,000 women across the UK have had a landlord ask for sexual favours in exchange for free or discounted accommodation in the past five years, including 140,000 women in the past year. A large percentage of those targeted are thought to be in London, where there is a huge rental market.

Living Rent spokesman Craig Paterson estimated that between 1,000 and 2,000 women in Scotland have received “sex for rent” approaches.

He said his was based on anecdotal reports the group had received, as well as extrapolating Shelter’s UK-wide findings.

Paterson said: “There are these 140,000 cases of people having this put to them in the UK in the last year alone. If you look at the representative figure, there could have been between 1,000 and 2,000 women in the last year in Scotland who have been propositioned in that way.”

Craigslist said it has discontinued its “personals” section in which a number of these adverts previously appeared.