Greece: ICRSE joins first Policy Conference on Sex Work in Athens: “Sex Work: Reality and Perspectives”
On 25th of May 2017, ICRSE joined other experts at a conference in Athens, organised by Red Umbrella Athens and Positive Voice to discuss the rights and working conditions of sex workers in Greece. Delegates unanimously agreed on the urgent necessity to change the current legal framework that restrict the rights of sex workers.
The Conference was the first opportunity since 2004 to discuss the need to reform the current legislation on sex work. Although the current legisation allows sex work on premises, there are various obstacles to obtain legal work permit. In the Attica region for example only 5-10 work places out of 500 have this permit. It is noteworthy that the conference was organized with the official support of the Greek Ministry of Interior. The Minister of Interior himself, Mr Skourletis spoke of the need to examine all the social and cultural factors of the country as well as to study other models to effectively legislate on such a critical social issue as sex work.
The president of the Hellenic Association of People Living with HIV “Positive Voice”, Mr Dedes, highlighted the main goal of the conference on enhancing the public dialogue on sex work, as sex workers are one of the most vulnerable social groups at increased risk of HIV and other STIs. Additionally, Mr Livanos, the director of “Positive Voice” noted that the removal of legal oppression of sex work, advocacy for sex workers’ rights, and their social integration are crucial to ensure public health.
Ms Kouroupou, representative of the Red Umbrella Athens, described the services and the experiences of the drop-in day center and stressed that the term “prostitution” is totally abusive and thus it should not be used in any public dialogue. Furthermore, she shared her own personal experience as a sex worker, emphasizing the aspect that there are sex workers who actually decide to work on their own will, and so it is urgently needed to recognize sex work as equal as any other profession.
Representatives of three other NGO’s (PRAKSIS, Centre Of Life and Hellenic Observatory of Helsinki) supported the importance of advocacy for sex worker’s rights and the reformation of current legislation towards that direction. On the other hand, many of the policy stakeholders referred to sex workers as victims of trafficking and thus they mainly proposed an abolitionist approach.
However, the General Secretary for Transparency & Human Rights of the Ministry of Justice, Ms Maria Giannakaki, acknowledged that with the current law it becomes almost impossible to work legally in sex work. "Protection of public health should be achieved through social integration rather than through exclusion and public humiliation of people, but with a legal framework that will not duplicate and stick to laws applied abroad", she noted in her speech.
Mr Kirkos, Greek Member of the European Parliament, noted that it is now time to discuss the full decriminalisation of sex work and the regulation of the relative rules to ensure safety, access to health services, legal support of sex workers, as well as public health. Moreover, legal advisor and PhD, Mr Mallios, presented in details the proposal for reformation of sex work legislation, which mainly proposes tacking all the barriers that exclude them from legality.
Mr Schaffauser representing the “International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE)” explained in details the different policy models implemented in France, Sweden, Holland, and New Zealand supporting with numerous arguments the negative aspects of criminalization of sex work. He actively participated in the conference against statements arguing that sex workers are only women victims of trafficking and that there is no need to talk about their rights but only on ways to save them.
Furthermore, Mr Janushev, the General Secretary of the «Sex Workers’ Rights Advocacy Network», focused on best practices and successes of SWAN about advocacy on sex worker’s rights. Ms Duif, the Secretary of the Board and legal consultant for the PROUD-Dutch Sex Workers Union, and Ms Luhrs, the Chair person of the Board and press officer for the PROUD, presented the Dutch model on sex work policy and they highlighted the importance of integrating sex workers into a regime of full legitimacy and social integration.
Finally, of particular interest was the discussion of six Members and representatives of the parliamentary parties, who unanimously supported the need to modernize the legal framework. The ‘SYRIZA’ MP and former Minister of Justice Nikos Paraskevopoulos, argued that the state should respect the right of sex workers to self-determination.