November 8, 2014

MEPs vote in favor of new sex work regulation

recent vote at the European Parliament backed a non-binding resolution which calls on member states to criminalise those who buy sex – but not sex workers.

Some 343 MEPs, from various political groups, backed a report by London Labour MEP Mary Honeyball, which recommends the adoption of the ‘Nordic model’ as a way of reducing the demand for prostitution in Europe.

“Yes” voters consider sex work “a violation of human rights and as a form of violence against women”. They point to data from the European Commission which directly links sex work to trafficking in human beings.

According to these figures, 62 per cent of the trafficking victims are trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation, and 96 per cent of the presumed and identified victims are women or girls.

Honeyball, who put forward the report, said in a statement: “The Parliament outcome represents a vital signal from MEPs that we cannot continue to tolerate the exploitation of women.” She commended parliamentarians for showing their support for “a more nuanced approach” towards sex work.

“Recent changes in France and Ireland suggest the wind is blowing in the direction of Sweden (which pioneered the criminalisation of the buyer, not the seller of sex – ed.). The European Parliament’s position on this is an important one, and the outcome of the vote symbolises the changing attitudes of EU countries on this issue, and the desire of member states to learn from one another.”

“Potentially dangerous”

However, not everybody is in support of the resolution. Some 560 NGOs and civil society organisations were joined by 86 academics in sending a letter to MEPs before the vote, asking them to reject the report. They said the report failed “to address the problems and harms that can surround sex work and instead produces biased, inaccurate and disproven data.” Their concerns have been echoed by a number MEPS.

Françoise Castex, a French MEP with the Socialist Party, was one of the 139 MEPs who voted against the resolution (a further 105 MEPs abstained from the vote).

She told Equal Times: “I strongly believe that we should fight against trafficking and exploitation of human beings. However, the criminalisation of clients is a hypocritical approach, which will only lead to further insecurity for sex workers and the deterioration of their safety and health”. Marisa Matias, a Portuguese MEP with the European United Left / Nordic Green Left group, agrees.

“In reality, what this recommendation brings to the debate is a moralist dimension that treats prostitution and human trafficking as the same thing. They are not,” she said. “Prostitution can be the result of a free, consented and conscious choice, which is undertaken by adults. This is called sex work, not human trafficking. Mixing both is not a solution, its actually part of the problem.”

Luca Stevenson, Coordinator of the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe, says the crux of their opposition to the “Nordic model” is that criminalising the client is ineffective because “the police still target the sex workers.”

“The Swedish model of the criminalisation of clients is not only ineffective in reducing prostitution and trafficking, it is also dangerous for sex workers,” he said.

“It increases stigma which is the root cause of violence against us. It is a failed policy denounced by all sex workers’ organisations and many women’s, LGBT and migrants’ organisations, as well as many UN bodies.”

In December, the anti-trafficking network La Strada International, together with seven partner NGOs, adopted a statement calling for the protection and promotion of the human rights of sex workers and for the de-coupling of sex work from the trafficking issues.

In the statement, they also called for sex workers to be consulted when drafting national and international policies concerning prostitution.

Author Maurizio Molinari

This publication is also published in Equal Times

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