In summer 1998 the General Assembly of the European Women’s Lobby passed a landmark motion, where we affirmed that “prostitution and trafficking in women constitute a fundamental violation of women’s human rights”. Since that time, we have continued to assert that no woman should be faced with such a lack of financial choice that she must risk her safety, wellbeing and long-term health for survival. To mark this 20 years of an abolitionist stance on prostitution, we are highlighting the actions of our movement at international and national levels, including our secretariat, members, and former colleagues who played key roles in our campaigning. Follow #20yrsEndDemand online and join the conversation.
Women in prostitution are punished over five times more often than men who purchase prostitution services, shows the analysis conducted by the Autonomous Women’s Centre (AWC) on all convictions of Misdemeanor Courts in the Republic of Serbia for the offence of prostitution that occurred during 2016, first year of new legislation implementation.
In Serbia, both women in prostitution and (since 2016) those who purchase prostitution services are criminalized. This model remains blind to unequal power relations between men and women and is accompanied by moralistic judgments against women in prostitution whereas buyers mostly do not undergo such public shaming, nor often - the research shows - the application of legal sanctions.
Besides the discrimination present in the acts of the Courts, women in prostitution are often arrested and convicted even when no act of prostitution occurred, and, in some cases, when they are arrested with buyers, those men later appear in court as witnesses against the women, facing no convictions. These findings remind us that prejudices toward women and misogyny are still vital and are shaping the official acts of the state institutions.
Based on research results, the AWC sent recommendations to responsible institutions, demanding change of the Law and decriminalization of engaging in prostitution, e.g. the abolitionist model.
In the same time, the CEDAW Committee mentioned prostitution for the first time in the questions for the state and all the questions are related to the abolitionist model - does Serbia and how punishes the buyers and what the state have done to provide the exit resources for women. We find this encouraging and useful for all women’s organizations which are advocating for the abolitionist model.
Sanja Pavlovic, Serbian member of our Taskforce on SRHR and Sexual Exploitation, reflects on the situation of prostitution in Serbia, the role of male buyers in perpetuating abuse and exploitation and the impact of political and legal responses to the sex trade as part of the 20yrsEndDemand campaign.
Main findings with recommendations are available in English here