09/10/2017 17:10 BST

How 'Sex For Rent' Ads Are Swamping The Internet Amid Homelessness Crisis, SNP Conference Hears

There are fears the problem could worsen as Universal Credit is rolled out.

Ruth Maguire MSP
Ruth Maguire MSP: 'There is no difference between sex for rent and sex for cash to pay rent'

Law-makers must stamp out ‘sex for rent’ deals amid fears thousands of poverty-stricken women are being exploited, SNP delegates have said.

Ads offering accommodation in exchange for sex, are appearing online every day, the conference in Glasgow heard, before members backed a motion calling for new legislation to tackle the exploitative arrangements.

Math Campbell, the SNP member who put forward the motion, said women facing homelessness were taking up the arrangements out of desperation and he feared the problem could worsen as Universal Credit was rolled out. 

He said: “For those of you, like me, who hadn’t heard of this disturbing trend, it is quite simply exploitation.

“People in desperate situations, who have been made or are about to be made homeless, often young women, occasionally men, often students, in their desperation search for a new place to live on the internet and then amongst genuine adverts for ‘flatmates with a good sense of humour’, ‘student digs available now’, they stumble on an ad like this.”

Campbell described one ad as offering a “free room offered to single girl in exchange for sexual favours a couple of times a month.”

He went on: “This would be a private room in a small flat you will live in. I will pay the rent for in exchange for sex. You will live there on your own, I have my own place.” 

Another advertised: “Room for rent: one pound per month with fun when the wife is out” and a third: “Room for rent to pretty young girl. Please send pictures.”

The ads have appeared on Craigslist and other sites. It comes after after it emerged homelessness has more than doubled since the Conservatives came to power.

Campbell said: “It’s quite clear to us all what this is but in their desperation with no other place to go and private rents more unaffordable than ever and the threat of being homeless hanging over them and nowhere else to turn, sometimes they agree.” 

He added: “It gets worse because no money changes hands. This is legally a very grey area because it is not considered prostitution but also because often the people perpetrating it aren’t considered landlords and the victims have no recourse under Scotland’s tenancy laws.”

“This could happen to anyone. Around one third of Scots live pay cheque to pay cheque, for many homelessness is never far away.” 

The SNP conference backed a new law “making it an offence to solicit sex in exchange for providing accommodation”. 

Although it is illegal for landlords to enter into a ‘sex for rent’ arrangement, those behind the ads weren’t always landlords. 

The Justice Secretary has said any landlord flouting the law would face prosecution when it was raised separately by a Labour MP in the House of Commons.  

MSP Ruth Maguire, who represents Cunninghame South, wanted delegates to go further and back an amendment to the motion, which would recognise sex for rent as part of a wider trend towards increasing levels of commercial sexual exploitation.  

She said: “There is no difference between sex for rent and sex for cash to pay rent. The same deeply rooted gender inequality is at its heart.

“The toxic combination of poverty and patriarchy that underlines the arrangement. The power imbalance at play is the same. The daily risk of violence, rape and exploitation is the same.

“The wider harm done to women and girls is the same.”

The amendment, however, did not get enough votes. 

SNP member Math Campbell Sturgess, said all of the adverts he listed were found the night before his speech.

He said: “I just want to reiterate again the crushing, disgusting horror that is being perpetrated right now on our streets.

“Some of those adverts we had pulled off the internet last night. This isn’t something that’s happening elsewhere, this is happening today, right now in this city.

“There are people right now being exploited.”

Stuart MacMillan hit out at Theresa May’s conference speech trumpeting the “British dream” when the backdrop appeared to be exploitation such as sex-for-rent deals.

He said: “Conference, as we know, Britain is broken, Britain is broke and also the British dream is a nightmare and hell for many, many people.”

“Sex for rent is wrong, it’s cruel, it’s immoral and also it preys on the most vulnerable in society. Let’s show the world we care and we will do something about this shameful practice.