Content warning: sexual offences
After a successful campaign by Generation Rent, the Online Safety Bill will target predators seeking exploitative arrangements often referred to as ‘Sex for Rent’.
‘Sex for Rent’ is a practice whereby a landlord or letting agent offers free or discounted rent in exchange for sexual conduct.
According to research conducted by Generation Rent and Mumsnet, over 200,000 female private renters could be offered discounted rent in exchange for sexual acts at some point in their lives, 4% of all female private renters in the UK.
The Online Safety Bill has now passed in parliament and is set to become law very soon. It will work to target harmful ‘Sex for Rent’ adverts and hold online platforms responsible for preventing them from being posted to websites such as Gumtree and Craigslist, which have been used by predators to seek out these arrangements.
The Bill will ensure that illegal content, including ‘Sex for Rent’ adverts, will have to be removed. If social media platforms do not comply with these rules, Ofcom could fine them up to £18 million or 10% of their global annual revenue, whichever is biggest.
The campaign to end the practice of ‘Sex for Rent however continues on.
What needs to happen next?
‘Sex for Rent’ was affirmed as a sexual offence in 2017 by the Ministry of Justice. However, despite the prevalence of the practice, only one person has ever been convicted in a ‘Sex for Rent’ case.
The law itself has made it extremely difficult for victims in Sex for Rent cases to seek justice. According to this law, victims must be legally defined as ‘prostitutes’, which acts as a huge deterrent for victims seeking justice.
After a concerted campaign by Generation Rent for a dedicated ‘Sex for Rent’ law to address this issue, the UK Government launched a public consultation in April 2023, which aimed to understand the scale and nature of ‘Sex for Rent’ within the UK. Campaigners are still waiting for the government’s response to the consultation.
The government will use submissions to the public consultation to decide whether a dedicated ‘Sex for Rent’ law is needed. We are advocating for a clear and dedicated ‘Sex for Rent’ law in order to target predators and protect vulnerable renters.
However, these changes alone will not end the overriding issues that force vulnerable people into ‘Sex for Rent’ arrangements. The government must act to ensure that benefit payments are enough to cover the rent, that people can access and remain in safe and secure homes, and that that renters are supported through the cost-of-living crisis.
We are calling on the government to…
1. Make ‘Sex for Rent’ a specific criminal offence.
2. Increase legal aid so that all can access representation, support and justice.
3. Provide proper support for financially vulnerable renters by raising Local Housing Allowance, scrapping the benefits cap, and increasing Discretionary Housing Payments funding to local authorities.
You can read the full report here.
More information about the only ‘Sex for Rent’ case can be found here.