EU context

The issue of prostitution at European level

The systems of prostitution exist in all EU Member States, through different forms and extent. The legal approach to the system of prostitution varies according to countries and policy stances.

There are nowadays three main approaches to the system of prostitution:

  • Regulationism: prostitution is a job, procuring is decriminalised (Germany, the Netherlands)
  • Abolitionism: prostitution is considered as violence against women, procuring and prostitute-users are criminalised (Sweden, Norway, Iceland)
  • Prohibition: ‘Just hide it!’Persons in prostitution and procuring are criminalised, sometimes also prostitute-users (Croatia)

The EU has not taken any initiative on the issue of prostitution.

However, 18 out of 27 EU Member States have ratified the UN Convention of 1949 for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others. This Convention is the founding international abolitionist text which states that prostituted persons should not be criminalised and should be protected, and that procuring and trafficking in human beings should be criminalised. Unfortunately, the Convention is not implemented properly in those countries, and many EU Member States haven’t even signed it.

Regarding EU law and possible action, the new Lisbon Treaty could allow an EU action to end prostitution: article 83 of the TFUE provides for the possibility of an EU action in the field of judicial cooperation in criminal matters.

Article 83

1. The European Parliament and the Council may, by means of directives adopted in accordance with the ordinary legislative procedure, establish minimum rules concerning the definition of criminal offenses and sanctions in the areas of particularly serious crime with a cross-border dimension resulting from the nature or impact of such offenses or from a special need to combat them on a common basis.
These areas of crime are the following: terrorism, trafficking in human beings and sexual exploitation of women and children, illicit drug trafficking, illicit arms trafficking, money laundering, corruption, counterfeiting of means of payment, computer crime and organised crime.

The EWL has studied the effects of the two main legislative approaches on persons in prostitution and on the scope of trafficking in human beings in those countries.

You can download below the EWL articles on:
- ’The effects of different legislative approaches to prostitution on persons in prostitution and society in general’

ewl article regulation vs abolition impact on persons in prostitution

- ’The effects of different legislative approaches to prostitution on trafficking in human beings’

ewl article regulation vs abolition impact on trafficking

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EWL event "Progress towards a Europe free from all forms of male violence" to mark the 10th aniversary of the Istanbul Convention, 12 May 2021.

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