(Brussels, 1 October 2013) On Tuesday 1 October, the European Women’s Lobby (EWL) organized a seminar to feed into the discussion of the European Parliament (EP) on the issue of prostitution. As the EP Women’s Rights Committee is foreseen to vote on a report on “Prostitution, sexual exploitation and their impact on gender equality”, the EWL decided to propose a half-day working seminar gathering experts, professionals and survivors, to address specific of the reality of prostitution, in the broader context of gender equality as a core European objective.
The seminar was opened by Ms Ulrika Stuart Hamilton, Swedish State Secretary to the Minister for Gender Equality, who welcomed the EWL’s initiative to address the issue of prostitution as European level and presented the Swedish approach. For Sweden, prostitution is a form of violence against women: “It is shameful and unacceptable for men to buy sex”. The State Secretary said that she is glad and honored to see growing interest in other member states for the Swedish model.
You will find many photos here.
Perspectives from the police – Sweden and Germany
The first panel provided perspectives from police inspectors from Sweden and Germany, two countries with opposite legislative frameworks on prostitution. Sweden has established an abolitionist model on prostitution, protecting the prostituted persons and criminalizing the purchase of sex. Detective inspector Simon Häggström presented the key principles at the basis of the Swedish policy: equality between women and men, recognition of the prostituted person as a victim of a system of exploitation, focus on the demand as the root cause of prostitution and therefore trafficking. He presented the reality of his work in the Stockholm Police Prostitution Unit, both working on the streets to find sex buyers and procurers, but also through the internet. He then answered to the criticism that the Swedish model is facing, especially from pro-prostitution lobbies: the Swedish legislation brought concrete change both in the lives of prostituted persons (more eager to speak to the police) and in the mentalities (with less men buying sex and more support to the law). Click here to download his presentation.
Helmut Sporer, Chief Superintendent of the Criminal Investigation Department of Augsburg, presented the situation in Germany and his experience of working against trafficking and procuring for 11 years. He said that the normalization of prostitution, through the German legislation decriminalizing pimping, has brought more vulnerability for prostituted persons. “The sex buyers are looking for fresh meat. Nowadays, the average woman in prostitution in Germany is a 18-20 year old trafficked girl from Romania.” He witnesses a dramatic increase of the number of women in prostitution (30% in his area), mainly in bars and private brothels, where they are isolated: “Women are afraid to tell the truth to the police”. Germany has become a destination for sex tourism, with more sex buyers traveling to Germany to visit the brothels, and a business place for pimps who can organize like any other entrepreneurs, therefore normalising the purchase of sex like any other trade market. Click here to download his presentation (and here in German).
MEP Sophie Auconie (EPP, France) commented by sharing her experience of discovering the reality of prostitution thanks to contacts with frontline NGOs, which are supporting persons in prostitution in France. She said that she strongly believes, based on the examples that were given, that we reach a Europe free from prostitution, where women’s dignity is protected. More on her blog.
The consequences of prostitution on women’s lives
The second panel looked at the consequences of prostitution on women’s lives, through speeches from professionals, NGOs and testimonies of survivors. This panel was crucial to give evidence-based information on the reality of prostituted person’s lives, while many myths about prostitution continue to be conveyed by the media and the pro-prostitution lobbies.
Muriel Salmona, psychiatrist and author of the book “Le Livre noir des violences sexuelles” (Ed. Dunod) (’The black book of sexual violence’), presented the outcomes of her work on the impact of prostitution on the mental, physical and sexual health of prostituted persons. She has particularly worked on the psycho-traumatic consequences of prostitution, which affects up to 80% of the prostituted persons. She mentions the various forms of violence face by persons in prostitution, especially before entering the system of prostitution, and the impact of sexual violence on women’s psychological and neuro-biological health. She pointed out to the lack of health care for persons in prostitution, partly due to a lack of self-consciousness of one’s own health needs, due to the prostitution situation. For her, as a health professional, the very act of prostitution should urgently be recognized as a form of sexual violence, with unacceptable impacts on women’s lives. Click here to download her presentation.
Nusha Yonkova, President of the European Network of Migrant Women, addressed the issue of migration and prostitution, with a clear and strong message: “We do not accept prostitution as a real and acceptable alternative to employment of migrants in Europe. We urge the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Member States to tackle the demand for prostitution and sex trafficking strongly and unconditionally, in order to avoid turning migrant women into the new poor cohort of marginalized women satisfying the needs of a minority of entitled men in Europe”. She denounced the normalization of some concepts around ‘migrant sex workers’, ‘escorts’ or ‘sex work’, which are legitimizing prostitution as a market like any other, and hide the reality of the sex market: men’s right to buy sex is being legitimized and their search for ‘exotic’ and ‘foreign’ women is understood as a normal consumer demand. She calls for positive/non-harmful opportunities for migrants, such as labour market access, qualification recognition and family reunification rights. Click here to download her presentation and her speech.
Three survivors accepted to join the EWL seminar and talk about their experience and their demands. Rachel Moran, author of the book “Paid for: my journey through prostitution” (Gill and Macmillan), focused on two main myths about prostitution. Firstly, she clarified that prostitution is not about sexual services: “What is bought and sold in prostitution is not sex. It’s sexual abuse. Prostitution is the commercialization of sexual abuse”. Then she talked about the idea of ’choice’ and ’consent’: for her, the moment that an interaction becomes coercive, the option of ’choice’ evaporates: “It’s an extremely constrained ’choice’ - between prostitution and poverty, prostitution and destitution, or the imminent fear of destitution. Where is the viable choice in that?”
Rosen Hicher talked about the role of the buyers, who are still getting impunity while perpetrating sexual violence; she supported the presentation of Muriel Salmona, as she herself experienced the various trauma and consequences that the psychiatrist mentioned. Laurence Noëlle, author of the book “Renaître de ses hontes” (Ed. Le Passeur) (’To rise from the ashes of your shame’) spoke about her efforts to establish a life without shame, to fight the feelings of being worth nothing, being rejected by others and to generalised silence.
MEP Nicole Kiil-Nielsen (Greens, France) thanked the survivors for their strength and courage. Being a feminist, she believes that we can free Europe from prostitution: “I’m convinced that we won’t reach equality until women’s body are considered as objects, available for men’s desires. The abolition of prostitution is a key feminist and progressive fight in the 21st century”. More on her blog.
The FEMM report on “Sexual exploitation and prostitution and their impact on gender equality”
The seminar ended up with a short presentation of the forthcoming FEMM report, by rapporteur MEP Mary Honeyball (S&D, UK). Looking at the links between prostitution and gender equality, it is important for Mary Honeyball to look at the reality of prostitution and its broad impact on society, including on the scale of organized crime and trafficking. While acknowledging the existence of different legislative approaches in the EU when it comes to prostitution, she supports the Swedish model as it has proven to concretely address prostitution as a system part of the continuum of violence against women. The FEMM report will be considered in FEMM in October, and should be voted on in plenary in February 2014.
The shadow rapporteurs of the FEMM Committee had been invited to speak at this panel. MEP Inês Zuber (GUE, Portugal) and MEP Ulrike Lunacek (Greens, Austria) had sent a video message to present their views on the report. You can find the video message of Inês Zuber here, and of Ulrike Lunacek here.
Other MEPs attended the seminar and the MEP press event: Mejca Kleva (S&D, Slovenia), Mikael Gustafsson (GUE, Sweden), Emer Costello (S&D, Ireland), Cecilia Wikström (ALDE, Sweden), Krizstina Morvai (NI, Hungary), Catherine Bearder (ALDE, UK), Nessa Childers (S&D, UK), Véronique de Keyser (S&D, Belgium), Marian Harkin (ALDE, Ireland), Mairead McGuinness (EPP, Ireland).
In total, 53 MEPs support the EWL campaign and the Brussels’ Call “Together for a Europe free from prostitution”.
Read a press article covering the event in New Europe.
The EWL thanks MEPs Honeyball, Kiil-Nielsen, Gustafsson, Costello and Parvanova for their support to the organisation of the seminar.