End sex for rent – Advertising Standards Authority

As part of the ‘End Sex for Rent’ campaign I made fresh contact with the Advertising Standards Authority seeking their latest views about the online adverts that seek to attract people in to illegal arrangements. I received the following statement:



‘Sex for rent’ Adverts

The ASA will take action against ‘sex for rent’ ads whenever they fall within our remit, and I’m going to say a bit about the circumstances where that can happen.

The Advertising Codes, enforced by the ASA, regulate ads for legal products and services, leaving ads for illegal products and services to the criminal law.

Ads for prostitution and sexual massage services are specifically banned under the broadcast advertising rules , so they wouldn’t be pre-cleared for TV.

The non-broadcast rules don’t apply to classified ads (presumably where most of ‘sex for rent’ ads appear), which is an important limitation on the ASA’s remit that I should be clear about (this includes, for example, Craigslist).  The ad rules also don’t apply to fly-posting.  Since these activities are illegal, the authorities enforcing the criminal law will presumably have an interest in bringing proceedings.

If the ASA were to come across sex for rent ads that were legal and within remit of the Codes then we’d investigate them for breaches of the rules.  A potential outcome of that investigation would be that we’d ban them for being irresponsible/harmful/offensive.

We recognise that ads can play a part in introducing people to landlords who act illegally (and certainly immorally).  Crucially, though, as you’ll both know, sometimes ‘sex for rent’ ads aren’t explicit about the nature of the landlords’ conduct.  Phrases like ‘tenants with benefits’, ‘must reply with a picture’, ‘naturist lifestyle’ etc. may indicate potentially harmful activity, but these are not open-and-shut cases, so they’ll require investigation.  The ASA would consider those ads in the their context to reach a view on whether they’re irresponsible.

Some illustrations based on the outcomes of similar investigations:

https://www.asa.org.uk/rulings/w3-ltd-a15-304009.html  – in this case the ASA upheld complaints against an outdoor and on-vehicle ad for Vivastreet online classified ads service, which alluded to their personals section, which included a subsection for escorts as well as dating.  We banned the ads because they were found to be offensive and irresponsible.

https://www.asa.org.uk/rulings/worldwide-digital-media-ltd-a16-339890.html  – this case illustrates the importance of placement and context.  Ads for adult chat lines in a newspaper were found to be in breach only when on the back page where they could be seen by children – we said the ones inside the paper were not irresponsibly placed.

If you’ve come across ads that fall within the ASA’s remit, then please do send them to me and I will forward them on to our Complaints Team for assessment and investigation.

Director of Communications

Advertising Standards Authority


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