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Exclusive: Government to vote against plans to make 'sex for rent' a specific offence

28 February 2022, 08:20 | Updated: 28 February 2022, 12:01

The Government is expected to force its MPs to vote against amendments that would crackdown on “sex-for-rent” predators
The Government is expected to force its MPs to vote against amendments that would crackdown on “sex-for-rent” predators. Picture: Alamy
Rachael Venables

By Rachael Venables

The Government is going to force its MPs to vote against amendments that would crack down on "sex-for-rent" predators, and fine websites which openly host their sick adverts.

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It is more than two years since we launched our LBC investigation into the practice of landlords openly advertising free or discounted accommodation in exchange for sexual services.

With the help of an actress, 'Gemma' we filmed a meeting with one man, who we called 'Jonathan.'

He explained he had engaged in this arrangement twice before; many years ago with an Australian friend who couldn't afford London rent, and more recently with a vulnerable woman he had found on Craigslist.

That story in particular set off real alarm bells for us, as he explained she was hiding from an abusive ex, and was too scared to work so couldn't pay rent.

He told Gemma that the young woman stayed with him at the start of the 2019 and they would engage in "daddy/daughter" type scenarios.

Research by Shelter found that 59,000 women were targeted by current or prospective landlords between March 2020 and last September.

Ruth Ehrlich is policy manager for the charity: "We heard from women during the pandemic whose landlords would offer them a month's free rent, if they had hit financial difficulties, in exchange for having sex with them.

"That just sums up how broken the system is, when you know that people are so vulnerable and so desperate to keep a roof over their heads, that criminal landlords feel there is an opportunity to exploit them."

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Other ads were much more explicit.
Other ads were much more explicit. Picture: Craigslist

Adverts on Craigslist are also prolific. A quick search of free rooms to rent immediately brings up a request for a lodger who is "fit, safe and hopefully virus free."

Some ads are more subtle: "Low rent considered on exchange for light home help and companionship."

While others are much more explicit, one man in Southwark looking for "ladies only" offers a place for someone whose "fantasies involved being manhandled, being used for his pleasure."

But despite how open these people are about it, there has only ever been one charge in a 'sex for rent' case.

Alicia Kennedy from Generation Rent says because of the way the law is written, it's really difficult to get a conviction: "For it to be a successful prosecution the woman has to define herself as a prostitute, which is of course is completely unacceptable and woefully inadequate.

"People are being completely exploited, and the current law doesn't protect them."

Last month, with a majority of 30, the House of Lords voted to create a new and specific 'sex for rent' offence that would make prosecutions easier.

They also supported plans to punish websites that host these adverts with fines of up to £50,000.

Adverts on Craigslist are prolific.
Adverts on Craigslist are prolific. Picture: Craigslist

But, today I understand the Government is going to vote against the amendment, potentially setting up a 'ping pong' between the Commons and the Lords.

The Government has previously said it plans to target "sex for rent" adverts in its upcoming Online Safety Bill.  

In a statement, a Home Office spokesperson said: "Exploitation through 'sex for rent' has no place in our society and there are existing offences in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 which can, and has, been used successfully to prosecute this practice.

"We are committed to ensuring the police and courts have the powers to keep the public safe and expect every victim reporting these offences to be treated with dignity and supported."