Ever increasing rents in London impact on our communities, especially on the most vulnerable. Reports in the media describe how low income tenants are  experiencing decreasing incomes and rising rents, forcing them to choose between paying bills, eating well, or paying the rent to ensure the stability of a roof over their head. https://www.theguardian.com/money/2014/dec/23/private-tenants-cut-back-food-rent-survey

However, recent articles in the media have highlighted how this is becoming even worse. Some landlords are reported to be taking advantage of this situation by offering housing specifically for women either free or at a reduced rate in exchange for sex.  As a commentator from Shelter points out;

‘This isn’t just in bad taste or ‘creepy’. It is a dangerous attempt to establish deeply exploitative relationships off the back of homelessness.

Of immediate concern is the matter of who is being targeted. Through these adverts, men are intentionally targeting desperate women who feel they have no other options – and women who may already have experienced sexual or domestic violence.

Research shows that many homeless women have experienced domestic or sexual violence, and homelessness can be a consequence of women who are fleeing violent situations as they have few places to go for help and support (Rebuilding shattered lives, St Mungos, 2014). 

Offering a place to stay in exchange for sexual access to women is clearly an abuse of power. It is another way in which vulnerable women who are homeless or have few alternatives can be drawn into sexually exploitative situations in order to survive and gain access to the most basic of needs. 

The recent article in the Londonist (October 2016) about this highlights how men placing the adverts are fully aware that their actions are exploitative:

I put it to Mark that if women wouldn't agree to the arrangement if they were better off financially, doesn't that suggest they don't 100% want to do it? He says, "Look, I get access to women that I wouldn't normally get access to — so yes, you're probably right."

Being exploited in this way to have somewhere to stay can contribute to women drifting into prostitution which can compound an already difficult set of circumstances. 

Safe, appropriate and affordable housing solutions would provide women with other alternatives at an earlier point so they don’t have to choose between homelessness and sexual exploitation, but that alone is insufficient. 

It is essential that we don’t simply accept that there will always be some men looking to exploit vulnerable women.  It is important to challenge the narrative that it is OK for men to purchase sexual access to women and to raise awareness about how this perpetuates inequality between men and women in society.  In doing so, we can help reduce the number of women from becoming involved in or trapped in situations that cause harm and often require intensive support to get out of and recover from.