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Let’s end Sex for Rent

Sex for Rent represents the harsh reality of a broken housing market and a callous welfare system, says Katie Howells.

As the Housing Women Cymru campaign to end Sex for Rent has shown, the sickening practice of people offering free rent in exchange for sex or sexual acts is a real issue in Wales.

The issue has been highlighted over the last year through the increase of disgusting adverts appearing online blatantly offering this sort of ‘arrangement’, targeting people’s vulnerabilities. The fact is that disadvantaged people are being sexually exploited by predatory individuals who have the luxury of a having a roof over their heads. It is completely abhorrent and ILLEGAL.

There is no doubt in my mind that the increase of online adverts is a direct consequence of the harsh reality of a broken housing market coupled with a callous and heartless welfare system, which continues to push the most vulnerable in our communities to choose between arrangements such as sex for rent or sleeping on the streets.

The fact that websites such as Craigslist are allowing these adverts is another issue that needs to be dealt with, Peter Kyle MP recently raised the issue of Craigslist allowing these adverts to remain on its site during a debate in Westminster;

‘I do not understand why craigslist is allowed to act like a pimp but is not treated like the pimp that it is. When police come across pimps in the streets, they act. They have the power to act and they know what to do with that power. However, because craigslist pimps via an online platform, we seem spellbound into inaction. Just because the pimps are sandal-wearing, cappuccino-swilling Californians does not mean that we should let them get away with it; we should not stand idly by simply because tackling it is difficult.’

There is a specific, unique danger in the proposition made in these adverts. It is that people are being asked to enter a home which is completely controlled by someone else: a person who always has the right to be there, who can say who else can enter the property and a person who they are entirely dependent on for a roof over their head. It is an issue of power imbalance, where the home owner is holding all of the cards. Those entering these arrangements do not have a choice of affordable housing, to them it is this ‘arrangement’ or life on the streets.

From monitoring the adverts online, it would seem that young women and young gay men are often targeted by the adverts; but Shelter Cymru’s research shows that 3 per cent of women private tenants and 2 per cent of male private tenants in Wales have been offered sex for rent by a landlord within the last five years. This suggests there could be around 6,900 women and 4,600 men who have been offered sex for rent in Wales over that period.

The campaign was started to raise awareness of the issue. This is a housing issue and as a sector we need to be the driving force behind ending sex for rent in Wales. However, we cannot achieve this entirely on our own, and there are no simple quick fixes. We need to work collaboratively with the police, local authorities, support services and the welsh Government.

The campaign has deliberately targeted these organisations to ensure we are tackling the root causes of this abhorrent issue as well as supporting those living this terrible reality now.

The first phase of the campaign focused purely on raising awareness within the four sectors. The next phase will be to hold a number of round table events to collaborate a cross-sector approach to ensuring that this is no person’s only housing option.

We’ve seen the countless adverts, victims have told how they have been turned away by homelessness departments after reporting the issue, support services have told how they often know their service users are in these types of arrangements but feel they have no immediate alternative option to offer and there have been no known criminal convictions of perpetrators of sex for rent, despite the scale of the problem; these are the reasons the campaign is absolutely needed.

We want to see victims getting the correct support and advice and being empowered to report those offering this ‘arrangement’. We also need to see convictions brought against perpetrators, serious action taken against websites that refuse to tackle the adverts, tenants with real security of tenure and more truly affordable housing options.

Katie Howells is campaign lead for Housing Women Cymru. If you’d like to get involved in the End Sex for Rent campaign please contact her on email Katie.Howells@mvhomes.org.uk or Twitter @katiehowells__

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