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LEF Italia launches debate on prostitution and human rights in Milan EP office

[Milan, 23 March 2014] Last Friday, the European Parliament (EP) Office of Milan hosted the event “Prostitution and human rights: ending violence against women in Europe”, the last of a series of conferences dedicated to its annual action ‘Women is for Europe’. As the 2014 edition was dedicated to the EP new campaign to prevent violence against women (with a video clip unveiled for International Women’s Day), the European Women’s Lobby and its Italian coordination LEF Italia proposed to address prostitution and trafficking in women, from a women’s human rights and gender equality perspective. The event proved to be very timely as three Italian parliamentarians have tabled a draft law proposing to regulate prostitution. Invited decision-makers, NGOs and experts agreed on the need to tackle prostitution as a form of violence against women if Europe wants to realise equality between women and men and human rights. The event also provided a unique opportunity for abolitionist NGOs to gather and start discussing strategies and cooperation for social change in Italy.

Moderated by Maria Ludovica Bottarelli Tranquilli Leali, Secretary General of LEF Italia, the event started with a general presentation of Pierrette Pape, Acting Coordinator of the European Women’s Lobby (EWL), who put the issue of prostitution in the broader context of gender inequality, globalisation and human rights. She highlighted the developments in Europe, especially EWL’s comparison of the Swedish and Dutch models (available in EWL’s recent publication ‘18 myths on prostitution’, in EN, IT, ES and FR), worrying developments in Spain (with the crisis impacting detrimentally on women) and recent developments in the UK, where the Parliament just issued a report recommending the implementation of the Nordic model in order to promote gender equality, deter trafficking and protect women and girls from violence and abuse. The Brussels’ Call was presented through the screening of the EWL video clip on this broad NGO movement calling for a Europe free from prostitution.

Italy is a close neighbour to two countries which have taken opposite policy and social approaches to the issue of prostitution: LEF Italia invited two guests to present the developments in France and Germany. The French parliamentarian Maud Olivier is the rapporteur of the proposal of law adopted by the National Assembly last December, and which calls for a comprehensive abolitionist policy towards prostitution, following the Nordic model. Olivier’s assistant, Stéphanie Caradec, presented the French legislation, to be validated by the Senate in June, which sees its social part based on the Italian model: in Italy, victims of procuring and trafficking benefit from a strengthened support from the social and legal system, giving them assistance to social integration and temporary residence permit.

Beatrice Mariotti, from the German NGO Solwodi, presented the situation in her country, which has decided in 2001 to regulate prostitution in order to tackle organised crime and help women in prostitution to be respected by sex buyers. 13 years later, the law proves to be unsuccessful in addressing trafficking and support women in prostitution: 90% of women in prostitution are foreigners (many being from minority groups in their country), and only 44 persons benefited from the 2001 legislative provision to be registered as professional prostitute and get health support. Beatrice Mariotti explained that women in German prostitution markets are younger and younger, mainly due to the fact that German brothels announce ‘fresh flesh’ on their advertisements; there are 600 to 800 brothels for Berlin alone, showing the normalisation of prostitution and therefore of the demand for prostitution. The German prostitution business is estimated to produce 14,5 billion euros each year. Beatrice Mariotti alerted Italy on the detrimental impact of the German system on women, which is promoted through the current draft bill tabled by Maria Spilabotte, from the Partito Democratico (S&D).

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The second roundtable saw several Italian NGOs presenting their views on the issue of prostitution: Oria Gargano, from the cooperative Be Free, showed how the institution of prostitution has been established through history, based on patriarchal values, and how the reality of prostitution is denying any dignity and humanity. Ilaria Baldini and Chiara Carpita, from Resistenza Femminista, decided to raise awareness on prostitution in a country which ignores the phenomenon of prostitution and its links with violence against women, and where media gives voice only to the “sex work” side. Esohe Aghatise, from IROKO Onlus, has been giving assistance to victims of trafficking and procuring in Turin for the last 17 years, and denounced the harm reduction approach which does not look at the root causes and the gendered nature of prostitution. Also a member of the Coalition against TRafficking in Women (CATW), Esohe Aghatise alerted Italian decision-makers on the message that the draft bill, if adopted, would send to young generation, by supporting the rights of sex buyers.

The conference ended with some words of Diana de Marchi, Counsellor at the province of Milan (PD), who thanked LEF Italia for the initiative and calls for more discussion on the issue of prostitution in Italy. She supported the demand of NGOs to see more sexuality education, in order to change our cultural norms and end gender inequality. Her words support the statement of Siusi Casaccia, President of LEF Italia, who said, in the joint EWL-LEF Italia press release issued ahead of the conference: “In order to ambitiously realise women’s human rights, the EU and its Member States, including Italy, must uppermost support persons in prostitution, and tackle procuring and the demand side of the phenomenon through awareness raising, education to equality and effective sanctions to prostitute-users and procurers.” The EWL and LEF Italia hope that this event in Milan will lead the way towards a real debate on prostitution and women’s human rights in Italy, and the withdrawal of the draft law tabled in March by the three PD parliamentarians.

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