A man who is the first person to be convicted over so-called “sex-for-rent” offences in England and Wales has been imprisoned for a year.
Christopher Cox, a 53-year-old landlord, posted adverts searching for women to wear bikinis in the house and provide sexual services in exchange for free rent.
Guildford Crown Court heard how Cox “targeted vulnerable young women” who were in need of a roof over their head – including one woman who was homeless, “unwell and desperate”.
Cox previously pleaded guilty to a charge of controlling prostitution for gain and two counts of inciting prostitution for gain.
Judge Robert Fraser told Cox his actions constituted a “cynical attempt to take advantage by dangling a carrot to those who had little choice” and that he was involved in “very deliberately targeting homeless women who were vulnerable”.
“Sex for rent” refers to rent-free housing being given in exchange for sex.
Cox posted adverts on classifieds website Craigslist looking for young or homeless women to stay with him at his then home in Cranleigh which is in Surrey.
His advert was aimed at “a girl in need” and asked “if you are a young girl 16-plus who is stuck at home and wants to get away or maybe you are homeless seeking a safe route out, I have a room available in my home for a young girl”.
In return for a place to stay, the young woman was expected to “cook, clean, do laundry and possibly more”.
He asked them to send him photos of themselves and said they should wear bikinis and provide sexual services in exchange for a room.
Cox sought women to wear bikinis around the house, to take part in bondage, BDSM, spanking and to sleep in his bed.
The charges, between May 2018 and November 2018, relate to three separate women.
Upon meeting the women who replied to his adverts, Cox soon became aware that they had triggered the interest of two undercover reporters who launched a sting operation.
Ross Talbott, prosecutor, told of how the journalists were working on a programme fronted by presenter Jeremy Kyle, who confronted Cox and told him that “what he was doing in targeting young vulnerable women for sexual favours was morally wrong and criminal”.
In a message to his friends, Cox later described his behaviour as his “dirty secret”.
He also told his friends: “I got myself into a bit of hot water due to my sex-for-rent tenants.”
But even after he was confronted by TV cameras, Cox still continued sending out his adverts.
The judge told Cox: “It is remarkable and says something about your determination to continue that you posted further advertisements. It perhaps says something about the strength of your sexual intention.”
While Defence lawyer Rupert Hallowes said that when Cox set up his explicit renting scheme and had sex with one of his tenants, he “was of the belief that this arrangement being consensual was lawful and that a friends with benefits arrangement was not illegal”.
Mr Hallowes added: “This defendant has finally come to the realisation that there was distorted thinking and the balance of power was never going to be consensual.”
He said: “The defendant was lonely. He wanted company and frankly sexual benefits.”
Cox saw himself sentenced to six months on each of the two charges of inciting prostitution for gain, as well as also being imprisoned for a year for controlling prostitution for gain.
In a previous article for The Independent’s Voices section, Polly Neate, chief executive of leading housing charity Shelter, said: “When power meets desperation, and gender is in the mix too, there will be men who will take advantage in sinister ways unless steps are taken to keep women safe. If that seems harsh, look at the facts.
“According to our research, approximately 30,000 women since March 2020 have been sexually harassed by landlords, demanding sex in exchange for a place to live – making so-called ‘sex for rent’ terrifyingly common.
“This disgusting crime is one of the worst manifestations of our housing emergency. It has created the perfect conditions for this gross abuse of power.”
Additional reporting from Press Association