Ipsos MORI recently undertook a two-part survey for the Government Equalities Office on the subject of prostitution. The first survey, carried out among a representative sample of 1,012 British adults between 11-12 June 2008, found that attitudes towards prostitution are mixed, with almost half (49%) agreeing with the statement "most prostitutes are only in that role because they are victims of exploitation" and a third (34%) disagreeing. However, almost six in ten (59%) agree with the statement that "prostitution is a perfectly reasonable choice that women should be free to make", while a quarter (27%) disagree.
The June survey also found that more than a third (37%) say they would not feel ashamed if they found out a family member was working as a prostitute, although 60% say they would feel ashamed. When asked whether they would support or oppose making it illegal to pay for sex as part of an attempt to reduce trafficking of women and children from abroad into prostitution in the UK, almost six in ten (58%) support the measure, while three in ten (31%) oppose it.
The August survey, carried out among a representative sample of 1,010 British adults between 29-31 August 2008, shows that public acceptability of both buying and selling sex drops off when people consider that the buyer or seller is a relation. For example, two in five (39%) feel that it is very or fairly acceptable for a man to purchase sex with a woman, and more than half (52%) find this very or fairly unacceptable. However, when the question asks "Please imagine that the man purchasing sex is related to you, for example your brother, son or father. In this case would it be acceptable or unacceptable?", acceptability drops to 10 points 29% and unacceptability increases 10 points to 62%.
Similarly, while 38% of the public feel it is acceptable for a woman to sell sex to a man (and 53% find it unacceptable), these figures shift to 22% acceptable and 69% unacceptable when respondents were asked "to imagine that the woman selling sex is related to you, for example your sister, mother or daughter".
There is no difference in attitudes towards the legality of purchasing or selling sex: 50% feel the purchase of sex by men should be legal (and 43% think it should be illegal), and 51% feel the sale of sex by women should be legal (and 42% think it shoudl be illegal).