A staggering 30,000 female private property renters in the UK have been offered a rent-free home in return for sex for rent – sexual favours – in just the last two months. The figures were published a new survey commissioned by homeless charity, Shelter.
A survey in 2018 found that 250,000 women in the UK had been offered free or reduced rent for sexual favours over a five year period.
A female reporter working undercover for the Daily Mail purported to be a 21 year old student responded to adverts on American website Craigslist that offered free accommodation in exchange for favours, and more than 20 men offered her accommodation. They then went on to request pictures, personal measurements and other details before suggesting what might be offered in return for the arrangement to be accommodated.
The site targets young women, in the main students in university towns with some even hoping to attract Oxbridge or first class graduates, but women in rural towns across the country were also targeted.
Despite the openness of these adverts, it is illegal to enter into this type of arrangement.
Sex for rent was raised for debate by parliament in 2018 by Peter Kyle MP, who the previous year had received clarification of the legality of such an arrangement. It was confirmed that sex for rent “fell foul of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and carried a maximum prison sentence of seven years.”
Further clarification confirmed that “the Offence is established by Section 52 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which provides as follows: ‘(1) A person commits an offence if—(a) he intentionally causes or incites another person to become a prostitute in any part of the world, and (b) he does so for or in the expectation of gain for himself or a third person.’”
Why is the practice not stopped?
Yet, despite a resolution to clamp down on websites such as Craigslist, the adverts have continued to appear on this and some other websites, who have chosen to ignore requests from MPs and the government to eradicate the problem. The New York Times reported in 2010 that Craigslist would earn £23 million in sex-related advertising, accounting for a third of its estimated annual sales revenue. Some websites have taken action, including Gumtree, which removed adverts as soon as they were brought to their attention.
Under current legislation, for a prosecution to take place the victim must be legally defined as a prostitute, making it unlikely that anyone entering such an arrangement would come forward. If the perpetrator were to be found guilty, the person exploited would become by definition a prostitute.
Mr Kyle recently described tech companies as “pimps” for their role in such a “squalid practice”, where they were in the practice of using crises, such as the shortage in rental property, as an opportunity to exploit vulnerable people.
Despite his efforts to encourage enforcement of the current law and change it to stop the exploitation of those desperate for a home, nothing has been done and a succession of Home Secretaries had failed to address the problem.
Mr Kyle said: “I feel a special venom towards this arrogant company. It seems that Silicon Valley tech bosses facilitate these awful crimes on their website but ministers just go weak at the knees instead of taking them to task. If we continue to allow this scandal to fester, countless others will be entrapped, abused and endangered. The time has come to take a stand.”
Prosecution at last!
Four years after Mr Kyle first raised the subject in parliament, the first prosecution of a landlord for the crime has at last come to trial.
Christopher Cox “targeted vulnerable young women” and pleaded guilty to the charge of controlling prostitution for gain, including two counts of inciting prostitution for gain.
He advertised on Craigslist for young or homeless women to live in his home in Cranleigh, Surrey. He offered a “safe route out” of homelessness in return for domestic chores such as cooking and laundry, and “possibly more”. Charges related to his treatment of three young women.
Cox’s actions were uncovered by investigative reporters but, even after being challenged on camera, he continued to advertise. The judge described this as “remarkable”. Cox received concurrent sentences of six months for inciting prostitution for gain and twelve months for controlling prostitution for gain.