Women’s NGO lobbies for a prostitution-free Europe

 

The European Women’s Lobby was joined by a coalition of 53 MEPs last week to call for an end to what they describe as “an obstacle to equality between women and men and a violation of human rights”.

This obstacle is prostitution and the EWL’s campaign, ‘Together for a Europe Free from Prostitution’ has so far attracted the support of around 200 organisations in 32 countries since launching in December 2012.

EWL has stressed that it does not mean to criminalise sex workers, but is instead calling on EU member states to crack down on those who enable prostitution: pimps, traffickers – and clients.

Other recommendations include the development of alternatives and exit programmes for sex workers, the prohibition of the purchase sexual acts, public awareness and education, prevention policies in the countries of origins of trafficked women and the promotion of equality and positive sexuality.

“We believe that, for the overwhelming majority, women don’t choose prostitution,” says Pierrette Pape, Campaign Coordinator for the EWL. “Otherwise why would one need, even in countries where prostitution is legalised, exit strategies?

“You don’t need an exit programme for bankers, teachers or policemen, [so] why would you need it if being a prostitute is just a job like any other?”

For this reason, Pape says there is no middle ground when it comes to tackling something that the EWL considers a form of abuse.

“In the EU there are two opposite approaches to prostitution: regulationism, in countries such as Germany and the Netherlands, where prostitution is decriminalised; and abolitionism, implemented in Sweden, Norway and Iceland, where pimps and prostitute users are prosecuted.

“We are all in favour of the latter, as it’s crystal clear that prostitution is, at the end of the day, a form of violence against women.”

 

“Total disregard”

This hardline stance is completely rejected by the International Union of Sex Workers, a UK-based trade union affiliated with the GMB (the general workers’ union).

In an open letter to the EWL published at the beginning of October, IUSW accuses the organisation of showing “a total disregard for the lives of women in the sex industry.

“Criminalising clients will not stop prostitution, nor will it stop the criminalisation of women. But it will make more dangerous and stigmatising for those of us who work as prostitutes.”

The IUSW also accuses the EWL of perpetuating a number of false convictions on prostitution without taking the opinions of sex workers into account.

But the EWL says that it is working to dismantle the twin myths of the ‘happy prostitute’ and the idea that legalising prostitution serves as a silver bullet to the problems it poses.

“If there are happy prostitutes,” says Pape, “they are a tiny minority, and laws should be beneficial to society at large.

“As far as decriminalisation is concerned, we’ve seen how the Dutch model does not work, and only produces more crime and more exploitation.”

According to figures quoted by the EWL, 80 to 95 per cent of women working as prostitutes suffered some form of violence beforehand, such as rape, incest or paedophilia.

EWL also claims that nine out of ten prostitutes would like to stop but don’t know how to leave.

But the IUSW refutes this claim, charging that the statistics quoted by the EWL were not peer reviewed and come from unreliable sources.

With regards to the role of the European Union, Pape is calling on member states to “take a joint position to put an end to this plague.”

She refers to Article 83 of the Treaty of Lisbon and to the 1949 UN Convention for the suppression of the traffic in persons and of the exploitation of the prostitution of others as legal grounds for action.

“Eighteen member states have already signed the convention but when we talk about effective implementation it’s a different story,” she says.