A Thai student allowing his flat in the west end of Edinburgh to be used as a brothel was sentenced to nine months in prison on 31 October.
Tanasak Sopatai, 27, who was staying in the UK on a student visa, let Thai prostitutes operate a brothel from his flat on Castle Terrace. A police surveillance sting led to a raid which uncovered sex toys, cash, multiple mobile phones and almost 700 condoms.
Graeme Runcie, Mr. Sopatai’s defence agent, told Edinburgh Sheriff Court that: “There were girls working there, they were Thai, their English was limited. Mr. Sopatai met them in London, his English was better but by no means perfect.”
“His purpose was to meet up with a landlord and to sign a lease. There was no financial input for Mr. Sopatai. The money for the rent was paid by the girls. They were using his mastery of the English language.”
Sopatai pleaded guilty to charges of letting the flat be used for the purposes of habitual prostitution.
According to fiscal depute Melanie Ward “directed surveillance” was performed on the flat in June.
Police officers watching the flat observed an exchange between a man trying to gain access to the premises, and a woman who had recently left the building.
“The female then described that she was wearing very little and told him she wanted £140 for one hour of sex,” said depute Ward.
The police later saw the same woman opening the door of the building for the man when he left the premises, and proceeded to identify themselves, stating that they had a warrant to search the premises, said Ward.
Searching the flat, the police found Mr. Sopatai, two other women, and the assorted mobile phones, cash, sex toys, and condoms.
Mr. Sopatai’s arrest and sentencing recalls Edinburgh’s uneasy relationship with the sex industry and the legal grey area in which it operates.
While the sale of sex services is not illegal in Scotland, it remains illegal to solicit on the streets, operate a brothel, and act as a pimp.
However, following the Civic Government Act (Scotland) of 1982, which authorised saunas as “places of entertainment”, brothels became effectively decriminalised due to the interpretable nature of the phrase “for entertainment” which allowed saunas to sell sex without overstepping their terms of authorisation.
Since then, Edinburgh’s authorities have tolerated “saunas” in the city, which unofficially serve as brothels. The saunas account for the safety of the prostitutes, and keep them off the streets.
Attempts in the past to contain and ensure the safety of those soliciting sex on the streets included establishing a narrow tolerance-zone on Salamander Street in Leith, but these were abandoned when the area became less derelict and the practice led to complaints.
It is estimated that around 75 per cent of Edinburgh prostitutes work from saunas and that in the UK 85 per cent of prostitutes are from overseas.