SHOULD WE SWEEP THIS SLEAZE UNDER THE CARPET? : The Alternatives: THE VICE CITIES; Will Legalising Prostitution Protect Women or Simply Turnrotect Women or Simply Turn Scotland into Yet Another Venue on the Sex Tourism Trail?

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Byline: By Jean Rafferty who has spent a year researching prostitution across the world

THOUSANDS of women sell sex on Scotland's streets but legalisation is still a dirty word for many.

And it leads to hard questions for the public about their attitudes to prostitution.

Do we sweep it under the carpet and pretend it will go away?

Or do we recognise it as a dangerous industry, where workers run the risk of being beaten, murdered or raped?

The truth is that nobody consents to having prostitution in their street. You don't have to be posh to dislike discarded condoms tossed into your garden or used syringes in the back lane.

As 97 percent of Glasgow's street prostitutes are drug addicts, these are nightly events in the areas where they work.

If nobody consents to prostitution, why do we have 1000 women working on the streets of Glasgow?

The answer is that selling your body for sex is not a crime. It's all the activities around the act which are soliciting in a public place, living off immoral earnings.

It's a legal conundrum and it's why the Government and the police deal with prostitution only in terms of its nuisance to the public.

Ruth Morgan-Thomas, who runs Edinburgh's prostitutes' support organisation, Scotpep, said: 'Legislation is never about protecting the women. It's about ensuring the sex industry is kept away from the rest of society, that the women are kept out of society.

'Most of the problems associated with sex work are not to do with the clients. They're to do with how society interacts.'

In Scotland, society is currently debating the introduction of tolerance zones.

Independent MSP Margo MacDonald has had her bill defeated once but has promised to keep pressing for its adoption.

The bill allows local councils to designate zones where women can work without being harassed.

MacDonald said: 'If you use these measures you find that, far from encouraging prostitution, you can meet the women and help them if they want to get out. The whole scene in Edinburgh has deteriorated dramatically since they closed the tolerance zone.'

Edinburgh's zone was in Salamander Street, a major highway with lorries thundering past, huge commercial buildings and few houses anywhere in sight.

There was no CCTV and little evidence of police patrolling the area.

It did cut down the number of attacks but it was grim, lonely and still dangerous. One night I visited there, a woman had been raped a couple of days previously.

After the abolition of the zone in November 2001, serious attacks on the women almost trebled.

There were 11 in 2001, but the next year the number had risen to 31, including an attempted murder.

Glasgow, on the other hand, claims to have a zero-tolerance approach to prostitution and opposed MacDonald's bill. She found that odd, given that Glasgow's Bothwell Street is probably the safest tolerance zone in Scotland.

Women are allowed to work there between 8 pm and 4 am, with CCTV cameras recording their every move.

MacDonald said: 'Glasgow's approach has been very difficult to follow. I don't understand it.

'It's very unfair of them to operate their own system, but prevent other councils from setting up theirs.'

Glasgow's approach was formed after a series of prostitute murders in the 1990s.

Seven women died in as many years, prompting public fears of a serial killer. …