[Brussels 17 October 2018] 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 looking back on key activities that have driven impact and promoting the opportunities that exist for change.
Since 1998, we have only strengthened our resolve in the face of ever-growing evidence that violence, sexism and racism are inherent to the system of prostitution and have worked tirelessly to end this exploitation. It is a system that takes advantage of the most vulnerable in our communities: girls, migrant and refugee women, trans women, people in extreme poverty, those in prison or facing homelessness. We know that 9 in 10 women would leave the sex trade if they could, and we are committed to seeking real choice for women and girls facing exploitation.
We have a European Parliament that agrees that prostitution is harmful and supports holding exploiters and abusers to account. Following in Sweden’s ground-breaking footsteps, now Northern Ireland, France and the Republic of Ireland have all opted to target demand through the Nordic model, with more European countries considering following suit.
Challenges still exist. The widespread accessibility of pornography not only means a growth in a deeply exploitative trade, but also a generation of boys and girls who are learning about sexual practices from content where extreme violence is commonplace. Migrant and refugee women and girls are at high risk of facing grooming and exploitation, yet European Institutions respond to migration and asylum seekers by creating a system that pushes vulnerable people into the hands of abusers and traffickers. Companies further normalise prostitution in student populations through ‘Sugar Daddy’ sites, sacrificing the health and safety of girls and young women for a quick profit to benefit rich men.
We are taking concrete steps to address these new and enduring challenges, remain responsive and never let up in our campaigning for women and girls’ rights and wellbeing. The international women’s movement has seen a resurgence in public activism, campaigning and visibility on issues of sexual violence that are too often made taboo. This has led to opportunities to highlight challenges faced by women and girls too often left ‘on the outside’, including those affected by prostitution. We are excited to see our Portuguese members launching a campaign for the End-Demand approach of decriminalising the sale of sex and shifting the criminal burden to the buyer through their #ExitProstitution campaign. This follows similar successful campaigns by our members in Ireland and France.
This year we established a new ‘Taskforce on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) and Sexual Exploitation’, bringing together leading experts from across Europe to create our feminist vision including issues such as reproductive rights, sexuality education, prostitution, pornography and surrogacy to increase our European-wide engagement in this area. It recognises that these issues are interrelated, and all impact on women’s safety, dignity and ability to lead the lives they aspire to. We are driving for change on cyber-violence against women with our #HerNetHerRights campaign and fight for the rights of migrant and refugee women and girls through #WomensVoices. There is so much more remaining to be done across Europe on these key issues, at both national and international levels.
Those who exploit power and control, who coerce sex and ignore consent must be held to account. Governments must acknowledge the harm inherent to this system, condemn those seeking to profit from others and commit to supporting better choices for women and girls, boys and men affected. Every woman and girl must be enabled to fulfil her potential.
Over the coming weeks, we will be 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.
Experience is clear. Our membership is clear. We stand with women and girls in all of their power. We are together for a Europe free from prostitution.