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Rent for Sex

Volume 650: debated on Monday 3 December 2018

10. What steps he is taking to tackle web platforms that publish advertisements offering to provide rent-free accommodation in return for sex; and if he will make a statement. (907960)

Offering accommodation in return for sex is illegal, and those who do so can face up to seven years in prison. The Minister for Policing has committed to engage with technology companies, including craigslist, and to press them to meet their responsibility to provide their services safely and to prevent them from being used for criminal activity.

When sexual exploitation occurs on the streets of this country, the police act, yet craigslist is facilitating and profiting from sexual exploitation through sex for rent, and nothing is happening whatsoever. They are acting like pimps; why are we not treating them like pimps?

That is a very strong message to craigslist and one that the Government are happy to engage with it on and ask what is going on with its website. One only has to look at some of the adverts to see the coded and yet all too obvious messages they contain. I thank the hon. Gentleman for the work that he is doing on this, but the difficulty, as he knows, is that the evidence for victims is pretty difficult to get hold of because, understandably, people can be reluctant to give evidence. One of the first jobs on our to do list is to speak to craigslist and other tech companies to tackle this.

Earlier today, Housing Women Cymru launched its “not a landlord” campaign, which aims to end the growing problem of sex for rent in Wales. Offering free and reduced accommodation in return for sex is illegal, and it is facilitated by online platforms. Those advertising are not landlords; they are criminals. What more will the Government do to review the laws around this to ensure better enforcement and to put an end to this sickening exploitation?

First and foremost, we should look at what is happening on the online platforms, which is why the conversations with craigslist and others are so important. As the hon. Lady knows, we are investing £150,000 in research into what prostitution in the 21st century looks like, and I very much hope that that research will look at this important subject, because we know that, sometimes, people who are extremely vulnerable are being exploited by their landlords, and that is simply unacceptable in this day and age.