Preyed on by sex for rent landlords: Men touting rooms01/01/2021
Preyed on by the sex for rent landlords: How pandemic has left women vulnerable to men touting rooms in exchange for sexual favours
- Predators taking advantage of women advertising ‘free’ lodging in return for sex
- Research suggests 30,000 women in UK have been propositioned since March
- Over 20 men contacted by undercover reporters posing as a 21-year-old student offered free accommodation in exchange for sexual acts
Thousands of women are being exploited in a growing ‘sex for rent’ scandal during the coronavirus pandemic, the Daily Mail can reveal.
Predators are taking advantage of young women by advertising for ‘free’ lodging, in exchange for taking part in sexual acts.
American billionaires behind US website Craigslist are profiting from the exploitation of vulnerable young British women.
Men use the site to target university students – with some even specifying they seek ‘Oxbridge’ or ‘first class’ graduates.
Research from the charity Shelter suggests 30,000 women in the UK have been propositioned with explicit ‘arrangements’ since March. The arrangements are illegal and those convicted can be jailed for seven years, but there has never been a prosecution. Our investigation reveals:
Disgusting adverts are posted every day from across the UK – with a surge going online during the last national lockdown;
Former developer Fredrick Allard, 70, offered a bedroom in his six bedroom Wiltshire house in exchange for weekly erotic massages
More than 20 men contacted by undercover reporters posing as a 21-year-old student offered free accommodation in exchange for sexual acts;
An HMRC worker, a former member of RAF Support Command and a retired builder made disgusting propositions for a ‘free rent’ agreement;
Shameless Craigslist bosses have ignored letters from MPs and Government ministers asking them to stamp out the problem.
Labour MP Peter Kyle last night accused Craigslist of behaving like ‘pimps’ and demanded the ‘squalid practice which sexually exploits and enslaves young people’ be stopped.
‘Just because they are frappuccino-drinking tech gurus doesn’t hide the squalid way they are making their money,’ he said.
‘These predators see every crisis, both personal and public health, as an opportunity for exploitation. These people shouldn’t be free to advertise their crimes, they should be before a jury answering for their crimes.’
The room in Edinburgh offered by David Price 28 in exchange for sex
Mr Kyle is calling for a change in the legislation to make it easier to prosecute offenders who are currently ‘laughing at the law’. Landlords who offer tenants rent-free accommodation in return for sex are committing a criminal offence under Section 52 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.
A YouGov poll commissioned by Shelter asked 1,266 private renters in England whether they had been propositioned by a landlord. A total of 0.7 per cent said they had, and Shelter says that suggests 30,000 female private renters were offered ‘sex for rent’ arrangements between March and September. It comes after research in 2018 found 250,000 women in the UK had been offered free or reduced rent in exchange for sexual favours over five years.
A quick search for ‘free rent’ on Craigslist brings up pages of sordid offers across university cities, including Oxford, Bristol and Brighton. Rogue landlords also operate in villages and towns – with disturbing ads in Kent, Wiltshire and Devon.
In a shocking example of brazen exploitation, one advert offering sex for rent was titled: ‘Has Covid-19 stolen your future?’ Another, based in West London, advertised for an ‘eager to please and eager to succeed university student or recent graduate who may have found herself without accommodation… because of the pandemic’. The men, often over the age of 40, predominantly target women between the ages of 18 and 25. Posing as a 21-year-old student, Mail reporters said they had lost their job due to Covid, could no longer afford rent and needed a place to stay.
Fredrick Allard, 70, sent texts demanding massages in exchange for accommodation in his six-bedroom Wiltshire home
All of the men immediately requested pictures. After sending pictures of their face, reporters were repeatedly asked for ‘full body’ photos as well as their height and bust size. Disgusting predators also asked whether they had a boyfriend and if they were ‘open-minded’. Many began sending disgusting messages outlining their expectations.
Via WhatsApp video calls and Zoom, reporters spoke to three men who gave them a tour of the accommodation. They included developer Fredrick Allard in Tidworth, Wiltshire, who said he expected naked massages in exchange for a room in his six-bedroom semi-detached house.
HMRC worker David Price, 28, offered a room in his flat in a trendy part of Edinburgh in exchange for sex ‘once or twice a week’. And former RAF Support Command member Lyndon Savage, 55, said the reporter would be sharing his bed and that he enjoyed ‘pleasure’.
Craigslist, a classified adverts website founded by Craig Newmark in 1995, hosts hundreds of disturbing posts. Mr Newmark, 68, who is thought to be worth £1 billion, stepped back from managing Craigslist in 2000, handing over the reins to current chief executive Jim Buckmaster.
Mr Buckmaster, 58, is a ‘social anarchist’ who used to grind his own soybeans to make tofu. Despite being worth more than £1 billion, he paints himself as a man of the people: riding the bus to work and wearing flip-flops to business meetings.
Lyndon Savage, 55, offered to share his one bedroom flat with undercover reporters and give them £150 per week in exchange for sexual favours
The issue of ‘sex for rent’ was raised by Mr Kyle three years ago. In 2018, the Crown Prosecution Service issued revised guidance on ‘prostitution and exploitation of prostitution offences’ to include ‘sex for rent’ cases. The guidance suggests such arrangements could be committing the offence of causing prostitution for gain under Section 52 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.
But under the current legislation, victims must be legally defined as prostitutes, adding a deterrent to vulnerable individuals who may be reluctant to come forward over fears it will adversely affect their futures.
Nick Dent, criminal defence lawyer at Kingsley Napley, said he doubted there will be any successful prosecutions under the existing legislation. He said: ‘If people want this to be criminalised and investigated and prosecuted then I think it probably does require a specific statutory offence which makes it clear that that’s what the purpose is.’
While platforms such as Gumtree tackled the issue as soon as it was brought to their attention, Craigslist is yet to respond to requests to stop hosting criminal posts.
The firm, which employs about 50 people in its San Francisco headquarters, is thought to be worth up to £7.5 billion. It makes money by charging a small percentage of users to post adverts, while keeping the service free for the majority. In 2010, the New York Times reported Craigslist was set to earn £23 million from sex-related revenue that year – nearly a third of its estimated annual sales of £80 million.
Shelter’s Polly Neate said: ‘Private renting is deeply unstable but the impact of the pandemic means many more people, especially women, are facing serious financial hardship. This makes them vulnerable to exploitation. Sexual harassment by landlords is a gross abuse of power.’
Craigslist, Mr Newmark and Mr Buckmaster did not respond to requests for comment.
Lyndon Savage, 55, offered to share his bed with a young woman in exchange for sexual favours
CASE STUDY 1:
Wanted to be ‘pleasured’
A former member of RAF Support Command offered ‘free rent’ to women left unable to afford accommodation due to Covid if they ‘pleasured’ him.
Lyndon Savage, 55, sent explicit messages to undercover reporters who responded to his Craigslist advert for ‘female only long-term house share’.
But his offer for ‘free rent’ entailed sharing his bed and engaging in sexual activity with him. He offered to give a Daily Mail journalist posing as a 21-year-old student a car, a smartphone, presents and £150 a week in return for ‘long-term friendship and companionship’.
Savage, from Uxbridge, west London, promised he’d ‘look after’ the reporter if she ‘pleasured’ him. He outlined in graphic detail the sexual acts he expected them to engage in.
Savage did not respond to requests for comment.
HMRC worker David Price, 28, video called an undercover reporter on his lunch break to discuss a sex for rent arrangement in his Edinburgh flat
CASE STUDY 2:
Asked for breast size and pictures
David Price, 28, posted an advert on Craigslist for a ‘lockdown flatmate – free room’ in October.
Edinburgh resident Price, who works for HMRC, said: ‘Man looking for female flatmate for companionship and more during lockdown’.
Reporters responded, posing as a 20-year-old student who had lost her job.
Price then asked for pictures of the reporter including a ‘full body pic’.
He also asked about her breast size. Speaking via WhatsApp, Price said he would expect ‘company and sex’ once or twice a week instead of rent.
When approached, Price said he posted out of ‘curiosity’ with ‘no intention of going through with it’ and was not aware it was an offence.
Scottish law is different and illegality cannot be assumed without police investigation.
Former developer Fredrick Allard, 70
CASE STUDY 3:
‘I’d be expecting something in return’
It began how any video call between a landlord and a prospective tenant might. Starting at the top of his six-bedroom home, house-proud Fredrick Allard showed off the rooms he was advertising. Complete with double beds, TV, wifi, and a new bathroom, they were a ‘great deal’, he said.
But after giving a 20-minute tour around the semi-detached house in leafy Tidworth, Wiltshire, the retired builder went to his bedroom, lay down, and made it clear he was expecting something in return. ‘Nothing is for nothing in this life,’ he said.
Allard, who claimed to be 50 but is 70 according to the electoral roll, had posted an advert for a ‘free room’ for a ‘single attractive young female’ on Craigslist in October.
Posing as a 21-year-old graduate who had lost her job due to the pandemic, our undercover reporter contacted the homeowner about the listing. Allard immediately requested a picture of the reporter, before texting: ‘You do understand the room’s not completely free, I would be expecting something off you in return.’
Asked what he meant, he said: ‘It’s a good deal, no bills or deposit or rent… ime sure your not shy what you offering [sic].’
The reporter sent a picture of her face, but he requested more photographs, asking her to send ‘a nice picture of yourself as if you interested [sic]’. He said he was seeking a ‘weekly arrangement’, adding: ‘I like giving massages and pleasuring a woman. Anything else would be nice. What are you prepaired to do for me? [sic]’
When the reporter asked him to explain what he was expecting, he said Craigslist was a site for more ‘personal’ arrangements, adding: ‘Normally you would go on a site like SpareRoom.com or roomtolet… but obviously you’re not in a position where you can do that because they’d want, like, a month’s money up front plus a deposit plus references and normally a guarantor… I don’t charge anything. I pay all the bills myself.’
Allard was reluctant to outline what he would want in exchange for the lodging. He said he had to be ‘careful’ and he was concerned he might be being recorded.
He added: ‘You are a college student so you should’ve been around the block a few times… nothing’s free in this life is it, you understand? What I expect from you. Well, we’re both adults, well nearly anyhow, you’re nearly an adult.’
Allard said he would like to give and receive a weekly massage from the reporter ‘with a little bit of friendliness and a little bit of touching’ in exchange for the room.
He assured her he wouldn’t ‘push’ for anything else, adding: ‘Trust me, I’m a gentleman.’
When reporters later tried to contact Allard, he claimed they had the wrong number, hung up and blocked the callers.
We must fight back against this abuse
Commentary by Peter Kyle MP
An internet search for ‘free accommodation’ brings up hundreds of ads such as these: ‘Sofa bed free for homeless girl’, ‘Share my bed for free’, ‘Free room for woman, 18-30’, ‘Seeking female housemate, no bills, £0’.
The advertisements, mostly placed via the online small-ads service Craigslist, are as sick and brazen as they appear. Predators are offering rooms or beds for free to young people, usually women, in return for sex.
And although both the website and the Government are aware it is going on, they are not making the slightest effort to prevent it.
Men openly include their phone numbers, and sometimes their names and addresses, or even their photographs – yet not one in this country has been arrested and prosecuted.
These sex offenders are so blatant, even Inspector Clouseau could find them and lock them up. It staggers me that ministers will not take action.
When a journalist alerted me to the practice, and the dangers it poses to vulnerable young people, I hesitated to believe it. The evidence on the screen seemed too outrageous, and I took some convincing that it wasn’t a hoax.
I could not understand how the law allowed this to happen. In my naivety, I also assumed that, once the Government and the police were made aware of it, action would be taken.
In 2017, I wrote to then Justice Secretary David Lidington. He replied that offering to accept sex in lieu of rent was an incitement to prostitution and so was illegal under Section 52 of the 2003 Sexual Offences Act.
But six months later, nothing had been done. The Ministry of Justice had not provided me with evidence that any perpetrators had been brought to justice or given so much as a caution.
I challenged the Government, asking why it was not enforcing the law, and I wrote to then Home Secretary Amber Rudd. She set up a meeting, and was as horrified as I had been. A Home Office inquiry was instigated, but this has disappeared with no action taken.
Subsequent home secretaries Sajid Javid and Priti Patel have failed to engage with me to tackle the issue. Any work done to date has been simply ditched. It is incredibly frustrating. There are three steps that should be urgently taken.
First, ministers must make sure the law as it stands is enforced. This is a clear offence and it is endemic thanks to a shortage of cheap accommodation, especially in university cities. Second, the law has to be changed so those putting out adverts to exploit people in this manner are guilty of a standalone offence.
At the moment, incitement to prostitution carries a prison tariff but it also imposes a label on the victim. For a perpetrator to be found guilty, the young woman or man he exploits will become defined in law as a prostitute.
It is completely understandable that with the law as it stands, victims of this crime prefer not to press charges.
Who would want to come forward and go through that sort of trauma, especially in a test case likely to attract media attention? Make no mistake, this is abuse and exploitation. Victims can leave, but then they might be homeless. They can’t turn to friends and family for help without admitting how they have been living. They frequently find themselves in a deeply unpleasant trap with no obvious means of escape.
Craigslist executives could address the issue right now, but they are showing not the slightest degree of concern. That’s why the third thing I am calling for is for the Government to bring the Californian tech company to heel immediately.
Craigslist’s managers refuse to acknowledge my phone calls, emails and letters.
I feel a special venom towards this arrogant company. It seems that Silicon Valley tech bosses facilitate these awful crimes on their website but ministers just go weak at the knees instead of taking them to task. If we continue to allow this scandal to fester, countless others will be entrapped, abused and endangered. The time has come to take a stand.
- Peter Kyle is Labour spokesman for victims and youth justice
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