Sex for rent adverts aren't a new fad and have been around on websites like Craigslist for years now. Some are purposely dubious offering rent in exchange for “benefits” or “keeping me company” whilst others are less subtle - “free accommodation in exchange for an erotic arrangement" yet there have been no convictions in the UK yet.

Whilst the majority of offers are for accommodation in London which is notorious for extortionate rent prices, the issue is rapidly rising throughout the country with many saying that this is a by-product of the British housing crisis. Many are unable to afford shelter in the dysfunctional housing market of today which demands exorbitant sums and as a result, rogue landlords tend to exploit some of society's most vulnerable woman such as students, the homeless and domestic abuse survivors although it isn't women alone who are affected.

Indeed, 250,000 women across the UK say that they have been offered free or discounted rent in exchange for sexual favours in the past five years, according to a YouGov poll commissioned by the housing charity Shelter with 190,000 of them saying that they have been propositioned by prospective landlords in the last year.

Is sex for rent illegal?

Contrary to popular belief, such arrangements are illegal under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 which states that a crime is committed when a person causes or incites someone to become a prostitute, an offence which can carry a sentence of up to seven years in jail, according to Justice Secretary David Lidington. Although prosecutions are difficult as many women, especially those trapped in abusive relationships, are unlikely to go to the police. With no one being convicted by the court yet, charities are exposing the issue as sexual abuse and exploitation.

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Tenants' campaign group ACORN's organiser Nick Ballard said "Make no mistake, this is sexual abuse if not rape in the legal sense" whilst Shelter said: "This isn't just in bad taste or 'creepy'. It is a dangerous attempt to establish deeply exploitative relationships off the back of homelessness."

How do the perpetrators get away with it?

Meanwhile perpetrators claim to be doing nothing wrong with many believing it's not illegal, some simply turning a blind eye to it and one saying that it was a “win-win” situation as everyone goes into it "with their eyes wide open" and rejecting claims that it is sexual exploitation by comparing people working in jobs that they do not like as a form of prostitution. However, Andrew Wallis, of anti-slavery charity Unseen, said that the trouble is that when a vulnerable person becomes exploited, the concept of choice disappears. One woman told the media that after being touched inappropriately, she was "grateful" that she hadn't been raped adding that the idea of consent gets "mashed up" because a woman thinks she has to give a man this for shelter.

Is it illegal to post such adverts online?

Although asking for sex in exchange for rent it is not illegal for websites to post such listings with a BBC investigation revealing that there were 100 legal, sex for rent listings on Craigslist on one day alone. Paul Noblet, from homeless charity Centrepoint, suggested website owners could consider a voluntary code under which they could monitor and remove such adverts.

What has the government response been to this?

However Labour MP, Peter Kyle, said last July that websites should be forced by law to crack down on the problem by making such adverts illegal and prosecuting rogue landlords, saying that if they didn't he would push for legislation to do it for them. When this was brought up in the House of Commons by the Hove MP, Liz Truss who was Justice Secretary at the time said she agreed and would look into the scandal however the issue took a back seat as Theresa May's snap general election was overtaking the headlines.

Welsh Assembly Member Dawn Bowden has also called for action to stop the practice which she has called "inherently immoral" comparing the arrangements to modern-day slavery and saying that her "greatest concern" was that the practice would become more prevalent unless action was taken to put a stop to it.

The SNP conference in Glasgow last year also heard calls for tougher legislation after the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she was "horrified" to read reports of landlords offering rent-free accommodation in return for sex and said that the Housing Minister, Kevin Stewart had already written to websites in question and said that the SNP backed a new law “making it an offence to solicit sex in exchange for providing accommodation”. She also noted along with Green Party MP, Patrick Harvie, that not all cases involved a registered landlord and she struggled to see how anyone uploading such adverts would pass the "fit and proper person" test.

What do campaigners want to be done now?

Almost a year on from ##SexForRent that was making waves on Twitter and exposing the issue, little has been done to stop it. With Brits spending at least half of their income on rent and the housing market unlikely to stabilise anytime soon. Any forced sexual acts are traumatic and leave emotional scars long after they take place and as a result, without the new primary legislation which campaigners are asking for, it is likely that this issue will continue to snowball in yet another case of the exploitation of vulnerable women by society. #SexualAbuse #VulnerableWomen