European Union (EU) Must Focus On Demand For Commercial Sex Say European Anti-Trafficking Groups

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14 October 2010

Contact: Maeve O’Rourke
Phone: +44 (0) 207839 5456

18 October 2010 marks the fourth annual European Anti-Trafficking Day and the beginning of a two-day EU ministerial conference on human trafficking in Belgium. The conference will address trafficking by focusing on “4 Ps”: Prevention, Partnership, Prosecution and Protection. International human rights organisation Equality Now and nine other organisations from European sending and receiving countries (named below) welcome the EU’s emphasis on prevention of human trafficking and call on EU member states to focus on eliminating the demand for commercial sex, which fuels the sex trafficking industry. To this end, the organisations urge the EU to criminalise the purchasers of sex, while decriminalising victims of trafficking and prostitution.

“At the root of Europe’s multi-billion euro sex trafficking industry are not just traffickers and pimps but also the purchasers of sex, who in most countries remain free to buy women and girls without any threat of criminal sanction”, says Jacqui Hunt, Director of the London office of Equality Now. “It is time to acknowledge the role of ordinary men in the exploitation of women and girls in the sex industry if we are ever to tackle this problem successfully and achieve gender equality in our society.”

Equality Now and its partners believe that the commercial sale of sex objectifies and degrades women, is a form of violence against women, and is an abuse which arises from and perpetuates gender inequality. The organisations consider those who patronise prostitution, as well as those who promote prostitution as third parties, to be perpetrators of sexual exploitation.

The organisations call on the EU and its member states to criminalise and prosecute the purchasers of sex, and to ensure effective enforcement of such laws. Recognising that women are trafficked and forced into prostitution or are led into prostitution by abuse and/or desperation of poverty and lack of employment opportunity, the organisations urge states not to criminalise women in prostitution but to provide them with support and resources for real alternative options. “Member states should create effectively functioning, financially sustained and continuous exit programs for victims of sex trafficking and prostitution, which also include public information”, says Dalia Puidokienė of Klaipėda Social and Psychological Services Center, conveying the joint opinion of the Lithuanian organisations.

Equality Now and its partners welcome the European Commission’s March 2010 proposal for a new EU Directive on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings and Protecting Victims. The Directive would require EU member states to “take appropriate measures to discourage the demand that fosters all forms of exploitation related to trafficking in human beings”.

The United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others characterises prostitution as “incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person”. Under the Convention, governments are obliged to punish any person who “exploits the prostitution of another person, even with the consent of that person.” The United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women obliges governments to “take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women.”

The organisations note that Sweden, the first European country to criminalise the purchase of sexual services, has witnessed a 50% drop in street prostitution as a result.1 Prostitution did not increase in Sweden from 1999 to 2008 as it did in neighbouring countries, and according to the Swedish national police, the ban on the purchase of sexual services has created a barrier to sex trafficking in the country.2 An important part of the Swedish law is to help women to leave prostitution, along with preventing men from purchasing sex. Norway and Iceland have recently followed in Sweden’s footsteps and passed similar laws.

The organisations note further the findings of the German Federal Government that legalising the sex industry in Germany has made no actual improvement to the social protection of prostituted women, nor has it recognisably improved women’s ability to leave prostitution or reduced crime in the sex industry.3 The German Federal Government has concluded that the responsibility of those creating the demand for prostituted sex should clearly be addressed.4 The most recent report of the Dutch National Rapporteur on Trafficking acknowledges that “whereas several years ago the predominant view was that prostitution should be regarded as an ordinary profession and the ban on brothels was lifted, there is now a wider realisation that prostitutes are highly vulnerable to exploitation and that human trafficking occurs even in the licensed sector of the prostitution industry.”5

Equality Now and its partners call on the EU to remain firm in its commitment to gender equality. “Criminalising the purchasers of sex while decriminalising women in prostitution would demonstrate that women and girls are not commodities or services for sale”, say the Lithuanian organisations. “Such an approach would improve public health by promoting equality in sexual relations and views on sexuality”, adds Iluta Lace, Director of the Women’s Resource Centre “Marta” in Latvia.

The organisations call on the EU to acknowledge, and vigorously investigate and prosecute, all perpetrators of sexual exploitation. In parallel, the organisations urge governments to work for equality between women and men and to implement programmes to promote alternatives for women in prostitution.

Organisations joining Equality Now:

Kaunas Women's Society (Lithuania)
Klaipėda Social and Psychological Services Centre (Lithuania)
Lithuanian Caritas (Lithuania)
Missing Persons' Families Support Centre (Lithuania)
ROSA (Norway)
Stígamót (Iceland)
The Resource Centre for Women “Marta” (Latvia)
Woman to Woman (Lithuania)
Women’s Issues Information Centre (Lithuania)

1. Swedish Ministry of Justice, English summary of the Evaluation of the ban on purchase of sexual services (1999-2008), 2 July 2010.
2. Ibid.
3. German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, Report by the Federal Government on the Impact of the Act Regulating the Legal Situation of Prostitutes (Prostitution Act), July 2007 at 79.
4. Ibid at 80
5. Dutch National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings, Seventh Report, October 2009 at 30.

October 14, 2010 - 14:00