On 27 June 2023, the FEMM Committee of the European Parliament adopted the draft report “Regulation of prostitution in the EU: its cross-border implications and impact on gender equality and women’s rights”. 16 MEPs voted in favour; 10 against and 3 abstained.
La Strada International is concerned by this vote as, together with human rights organisations and sex worker rights organisations, we had urged MEPs to vote against the report and to oppose all forms of criminalisation and, instead, support sex workers’ human rights. The adopted draft report – which is still subject to change based on the voting results – includes several paragraphs that are harmful for sex workers and seems like a clear attempt to promote the “Nordic model” of sex work regulation in other parts of the EU.
Not only does the report conflate sex work with human trafficking, but astonishingly, it also purposely misinterprets the definition of human trafficking as reflected in Article 2 of Directive 2011/36/EU. According to the report, the “consent of a victim of trafficking in human beings to the exploitation, whether intended or actual, shall be irrelevant where it is obtained through the giving or receiving of payments or benefits”. However, the actual definition in the anti Trafficking states clearly that the consent of a victim of trafficking in human beings to the exploitation, whether intended or actual, is irrelevant where any of the means of the trafficking definition are used. The means include the use of force, fraud, or coercion. It is remarkable that the members of the FEMM Committee voted now for an incorrect interpretation of this definition.
Further, the report is based on erroneous assumptions that are not supported by evidence. It presents sex work as a form of violence against women, disregarding sex workers’ own experiences which make a clear distinction between sex work and violence in sex work. It claims that trafficking for sexual exploitation is increasing when the latest available data actually shows a slight decrease in the number of identified victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation in the EU. It also states that countries, which have criminalised the purchase of sex (such as Sweden, Ireland, and France) are “no longer big markets” for trafficking for sexual exploitation, when the data, again, does not support such a conclusion.
Despite this lack of reliable data, the report recommends that EU member states criminalise the purchase of sex, among other measures aimed at reducing the negative impacts of sex work on sex workers, human trafficking, and society. However, by now, there is a large body of academic and community research, which demonstrates that the criminalisation of the purchase of sex does not protect the rights of sex workers but has increased the violence and precarity they experience and has not had an impact on trafficking for sexual exploitation in Sweden, Ireland, and France.
The prestigious health journal The Lancet had also published an Editorial calling on MEPs to reject the report and, instead, support decriminalisation of sex work as a way of promoting the health and rights of sex workers.
Together with other human rights organisations and sex worker rights organisations, La Strada International will continue to call upon the members of the European Parliament to reject the Prostitution Report when it comes before Plenary vote, which is expected in September.