Call for action as ‘sex for rent’ ads increase during lockdown

The Scottish Government has been urged to do more to prevent an increase in adverts which offer sex from tenants in lieu of rent.

Call for action as 'sex for rent' ads increase during lockdown

According to surveys by housing charity Shelter and ComRes, as many as 30,000 women were propositioned with ‘sex for rent’ offers across the UK since the start of the lockdown last March, with US-based platform Craigslist singled out as a notorious source of such posts.

One existing ad posted to the site within the last month said a double room was available during the festive season in Lanarkshire with a ‘no cost option available for females’.

Another offered a single bedroom in Inverclyde with ‘very low’ rent for ‘females only’.

While it is illegal for a property owner to demand sexual favours in return for rent or accommodation, Labour MP Peter Kyle said no one has been arrested or convicted for it.

The shadow UK justice minister and MP for Hove said the problem is particularly acute in high rent areas such as Oxford, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, London and Brighton. 

And the problem is exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis.

He said: “These predators see every crisis, both personal and public health, as an opportunity for exploitation. These people shouldn’t be free to advertise their crimes, they should be before a jury answering for their crimes.”

Singling out Craiglist in particular for criticism, Mr Kyle added: “They are profiting from the sexual exploitation of young people. Journalists have tried contacting them, government officials have tried, and I have numerous times but they don’t bother responding.

“Put simply, they’re acting like pimps so why aren’t we treating them as such?

“They make millions out of a squalid transaction which if it were in a street or neighbourhood will trigger immediate police action, but because it’s online… nothing. Yet the abuse, coercion and exploitation is very, very real.

“This is a big problem and I hate what it says about the challenges many find in society right now.”

Sean Clerkin from the Scottish Tenants Organisation said vulnerable women, especially those who are in a homeless situation, have to be protected from the “predatory” adverts.

He added: “We are calling on the Scottish Government to contact the UK Government to urge the American authorities to ban this platform advertising sex for rent in Scotland and throughout the rest of the United Kingdom to protect vulnerable women. These predatory landlords have to be eradicated.”

The Scottish Government said any private landlord offering to rent properties in exchange for sexual activity should be reported to the relevant local authority. 

It said evidence of this type of arrangement should be taken into account in determining whether a landlord is a fit and proper person under the law relating to landlord registration and licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation. Where a local authority determines that an individual is not, or is no longer, a fit and proper person, they cannot lawfully let their property.

Housing minister Kevin Stewart told Scottish Housing News: “Any exchange of sex for accommodation is exploitation and forcing someone to engage in sexual activity without their consent is criminal under the existing law. Anyone at risk of coercion should seek advice and contact the police immediately.

“Offers or expectation of sex for rent is one of the issues being addressed by a multi-agency group set up by the Scottish Government to tackle the harms caused by commercial sexual exploitation.

“We have previously written to Craigslist, Gumtree and Vivastreet regarding adverts like these. Gumtree committed to removing adverts of this type wherever reported.”

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