European & International News

75 researchers from around the world express their support to the EP report on prostitution

[24 February 2014] We write as a global network of researchers in support of Mary Honeyball’s motion for a
resolution on sexual exploitation and prostitution
and its impact on gender equality

We do this on the basis of deep and systematic expertise in researching the dynamics of
prostitution and the sex industry, trafficking and
violence against women. Our research draws
on contemporary evidence, on historical and philosophical inquiry, and importantly on the
testimony of survivors of the prostitution system.
Many of us have worked directly with
prostituted women. We have individual and collective links with a wide variety of organisations
working for the abolition of prostitution as an institution of gender inequality and exploitation.
We draw on both our practice-based evidence and our
academic studies to strongly endorse the
Honeyball report and its recommendation to adopt ’the Nordic model’ as a pan-European
approach to prostitution.

We believe it is important to signal that our position on prostitution is not grounded in a
moralistic approach, or in any kind of hostility to
women in the prostitution system. Nor is our
position linked to considerations about maintaining
‘public order’. Our concern is centrally with
the human rights of women in protecting the dignity
of all women equally, and with an end to
all forms of the subordination and degradation of women.

The Honeyball Report calls attention to a number of
key issues:

the gender asymmetry of the sex industry, that is,
men are overwhelmingly the majority
of those who buy sexual acts, and women and girls those whose bodies are bought;

countries where buying sexual acts has been criminalised have seen sex markets shrink,
and trafficking reduced. This is a success for these countries as nation states, and the
European Parliament adoption of the Nordic model of
fers the potential to replicate this
progress across Europe;

attitudes shift where the purchase of sexual acts is criminalised, with surveys in Sweden
for example consistently showing that a large majority now think the purchase of sexual
acts is unacceptable. Law is a powerful tool in defining and changing what is, and is not,
socially acceptable behaviour.

While we recognise that some women say they find selling sexual acts to be personally and
economically empowering, these individual stories a
re not testament to the legitimacy of
prostitution as a social institution. The prostitution system is a reminder of continuing
inequalities between women and men: the gender pay
gap; the sexualisation of female bodies
in popular culture; histories of violence and abuse
in both childhood and adulthood that
underpin many women’s entry into the sex industry.
The persistence of these economic and
social inequalities in every European country (and
globally) is well documented in a wealth of
academic research. Together these layers of disadvantage experienced by women mean that so-called ‘free’ choices are actually decisions made in conditions of already existing inequality and
discrimination. Women’s choices should not be measured simply by where they end up (in
prostitution), but by the circumstances in which these choices must be made. Choices made in
conditions of being unequal cannot be considered ‘free’.

The Honeyball Report is a landmark because it shifts focus to the choices that men make to
purchase sexual acts. Systematic research from Finland
and the UK
in particular reveals that
men who pay for sexual acts do so because they believe that biological urges lead them to
‘need’ sex from a variety of different women. Some
men explicitly report that they buy sexual
acts because it is a context where they do not have
to think about women as equal human
beings with their own feelings, wishes and desires.
Men’s own experiences of prostitution, as
collated on sites such as The Invisible Men,
provide a chilling picture of the reality of
prostitution for women: of violence, desperation, subordination and despair.

This is why the Honeyball Report is clear that the
idea and the reality that women’s bodies can
be bought – and sold – by men, to men, both creates
and perpetuates relations between
women and men as a hierarchy.

Prostitution is, as the Honeyball Report states, a
form and a cause and a consequence of gender
inequality. Achieving gender equality means taking
steps towards a world where progress goes
beyond improving the status of individual women in
conditions of discrimination, but addresses
those conditions. Criminalising the purchase of sexual acts, decriminalising those who sell, and
providing specialist support to women to be able to
leave prostitution, are measures that
directly address gender inequalities.

The decision for your vote this week is whether or
not to challenge the fiction that it is natural
and inevitable for men to buy access to women’s bodies for sexual release, and whether or not
to challenge this as a deeply-rooted form of gender

The European Parliament has an historic opportunity
to act as a global beacon on gender
equality, following the pioneering example set by the Nordic countries. We urge you and your
party members not to waste it, and to vote for the
Honeyball motion.

See the document with all signatories here.

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