Labour MPs have failed in their bid to win backing for a new clause that aimed to encourage more victims of ‘sex for rent’ adverts to come forward.

The clause to the already controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill proposed new and tighter framing of the offence but was voted down, while an associated clause which hoped to outlaw property portals and classified platforms from accepting “sexual relations as a condition of accommodation” adverts was also rejected during the Commons debate.

Shadow Justice minister Alex Cunningham told MPs that Shelter estimates 30,000 young women have been propositioned with sex-for-rent offers since the start of the pandemic, often on the website Craigslist, with phone numbers of landlords.

However, only a handful of charges have ever been brought against offenders using existing legislation because the current legal framework requires the victim to self-define as a prostitute in order to secure a conviction.

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Victoria Atkins, the Under-Secretary for the Home Department, said under the upcoming Online Safety Bill, tech companies would have a legal duty to prevent criminal activity on their services that host user-generated content or enable users to interact online. This would cover online marketplaces, classified ads sites and social media services.

Gumtree response

Gumtree, which in the past has been accused of carrying these kinds of ads, now works closely with government and industry groups to ensure online platforms are safe for consumers to use and supports policy changes that protect tenants from exploitation, a spokeswoman tells LandlordZONE.

She says its tools and filters prevent ads of this nature reaching the platform, while the dedicated safety team responds quickly to adverts which could put vulnerable people at risk.

“We have a ‘Report’ button next to all ads that we strongly urge users to use if they encounter any suspicious ads or behaviour.

“Gumtree can then investigate and take appropriate action such as removing adverts, blocking the user and, where necessary, supporting law enforcement.”

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