Victory for survivors of prostitution

MEPs confirmed their abolitionist position and delivered a powerful message today as they voted in favour of the initiative report on the Regulation of prostitution in the EU: its cross-border implications and impact on gender equality and women’s rights drafted by S&D MEP Maria Noichl. With this vote, they made clear that prostitution is a form of violence and that implementing support and exit programmes for survivors is the best way to tackle it. This is a milestone for women in Europe as they account for 90% of persons in prostitution and 87% of victims of trafficking of human beings for sexual exploitation purposes.

After months of mobilisation and a first positive vote in the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) on 27 June 2023, a majority of MEPs eventually confirmed the abolitionist stance of the European Parliament, following the steps of France, Sweden and Ireland, countries that proved to be efficient in reducing demand and cases of human trafficking. The report drafted by MEP Maria Noichl encourages Member States to adopt an abolitionist perspective that decriminalises persons in prostitution and highlights the negative effects of decriminalising the so-called “sex-buyers” and exploitative third parties. Even though we regret the removal of the demand for EU-wide measures introducing legislation based on the Nordic/Equality model, we welcome the MEPs’ overall commitment towards abolitionist measures.

“MEPs sent a strong signal for women, for Europe, for justice and equality by voting in favour of this report: it is a clear way of reaffirming that exploiting a woman’s body is not acceptable. They understood that it is not realistic to label prostitution as anything other than violence because it will never soften the harsh, sexist, classist and racist harm behind the purchase of sexual acts. Survivors cannot wait any longer, we stand by them and need robust and well-funded support and exit programmes now.” comments Mary Collins, Acting Secretary General of the European Women’s Lobby.

Tackling the root causes of prostitution, the report particularly insists on the importance of guaranteeing health, social, educational and economic support to persons in prostitution as poverty and social exclusion are the foundation of this form of sexual exploitation. Therefore, not only does the abolitionist approach aim at guaranteeing survivors of prostitution tools to take their power, agency and autonomy back but it puts the burden of stigmatisation and shame on so-called “sex-buyers” who believe that freely given consent can be bought.

Protecting youth is also among MEPs priorities as the report underlines the negative impact of the normalisation of prostitution on the perceptions and expectations young people have in terms of sexuality and relationships between women and men. Studies undertaken in Sweden demonstrated a positive and significant shift in attitudes among boys and men after Sweden adopted the Equality Model. In the same vein, harmful stereotypes to be found in pornographic content and their impact on young people’s sexuality were also denounced in the report.

“This vote is a clear signal and relief for survivors of prostitution but also for all women and girls in Europe as it recognises prostitution as a form of violence that needs to be combatted and not promoted. We thank MEPs for standing with survivors and urge member states to swiftly implement the recommendations included in this report” concludes Iliana Balabanova, President of the European Women’s Lobby.

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