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ICRSE statement on the European parliament non-binding resolution on prostitution and sexual exploitation – February 2014

ICRSE statement on the European parliament non-binding resolution on prostitution and sexual exploitation – February 2014


On Wednesday 27th of February 2014, the European Parliament voted in favour of a non-binding resolution on prostitution and sexual exploitation deeply rooted in abolitionist ideology, which fundamentally ignored the protesting voices of sex workers across Europe. Although this has been promoted as a victory for those in support of the ‘Swedish Model’, upon closer examination, the resolution passed does not go as far as its author intended and leaves significant leverage for opponents of the criminalisation of clients.


A deeply flawed and counter-productive resolution

The formerly-untitled Honeyball Report was denounced as flawed and counter-productive by more than 560 NGOs as well as 94 academics and researchers.

The resolution is non-binding, which means states do not have to modify their laws. However, the passing of this resolution sends a strong message to European states to ignore the voices of marginalised groups such as sex workers in designing policies on the subject and instead favours a report based on flawed and inaccurate data that has been rejected by the majority of leading experts on sex work and human trafficking.

ICRSE strongly denounces this report and condemns the MEPs and parties who voted in favour of its passing alongside the organisations that lobbied in its favour.

The vote shows a disheartening failure in democracy, whereby there was a significant lack of consultation of sex workers and their organisations, followed by an outright rejection of experts’ opinions that differed from the pre-determined agenda. This culminated in the use of smearing tactics by an elected official to discredit well-respected civil society organisations. 

The vote shows a complete lack of understanding on the basic principles of public health and harm reduction for sex workers. Clear international guidelines exist on the subject that clearly state sex workers should be able to fully access their human, health and labour rights in order to protect themselves and those close to them from harm. These international guidelines reflect the experiences and views of service providers that work closely with sex workers or are sex workers-led – all purporting that as a key affected population in the global HIV epidemic, sex workers must have full access to health care services, and where forms of criminalisation exist (including criminalisation of third parties such as clients) this access to health is significantly compromised. The debate over the legal regulation of sex work should not be about morality but rather centred on public health.

Furthermore, the resolution fails to account for the diversity of sex workers, showing a complete invisibilisation of male and trans* sex workers.

The passing of this resolution at EU level reveals that stigma towards sex workers is endorsed by high-level politicians. It is this stigma that fuels the marginalisation of sex workers across Europe and significantly increases the levels of violence faced by sex workers across the world. In endorsing this resolution, the European Parliament have chosen to ignore the voices and opinions of sex workers and colluded with those who see sex workers as unimportant and unworthy of giving opinions on their own lives. This stigma is detrimental and fuels violence in sex workers’ lives.

The vote shows fundamental misconceptions on the questions of migration and the informal labour sector. The conflation of human trafficking and sex work is unequivocally rejected by anti-trafficking networks such as GAATW and La Strada. In the context of an increasingly xenophobic Europe, we regret that the EU Parliament did not choose to support migrants in informal work settings, granting them access to labour rights and social security.


What does the resolution actually says?

Due to the strong response, resistance and advocacy from sex workers, civil society organisations, academics and MEPs from diverse political groups, the resolution, which received only 100 votes more than the Alternative Resolution, is in itself highly contradictory. Though it is now promoted and marketed as a victory for the supporters of the Swedish Model, the resolution actually contains many statements that can be used by both prostitution abolitionists and sex workers’ rights activists to argue their positions.

Due to the efforts of sex workers and our supporters, the lack of evidence behind the Swedish Model became clear, with the resolution stating that: “some data confirm the Nordic model’s deterrent effect on trafficking into Sweden, where prostitution and sex trafficking have not increased”, which doesn’t support the claims that prostitution has halved in Sweden.

We draw attention to paragraphs 48 and 49 which stresses that “more analysis and statistical evidence is needed to judge which model is the most effective way of combating the trafficking of women and under-age females for purposes of sexual exploitation; and urges the Member States to evaluate both the positive and negative effects of criminalising the purchase of sexual services on reducing prostitution and trafficking.”

ICRSE is shocked to read that much attention was given to a paragraph that "calls on member states to give police and the authorities responsible for premises where prostitution takes place the right, in accordance with national law, to enter such premises and to carry out checks at randon". Experiences of sex workers have consistently noted that the police are often perpetrators of violence against them and therefore, urging increased police raids shows an extreme and disheartening lack of concern for sex workers’ safety.


Sex workers and our supporters will continue our fight against the Swedish Model and any other forms of criminalisation, including that of third parties. Any form of criminalisation is harmful to sex workers and severely impedes our access to human, health and labour rights. The law must protect sex workers. Yet, the approach of criminalising clients has been shown to increase the stigma against and marginalisation of sex workers. Sex workers will not stay silent on this issue and we will continue to raise our voices and campaign against those who choose to legislate based on moral ideologies that harm us in our daily lives.

ICRSE, 14th of March, 2014



Quotes and statements from ICRSE members and supporters:

Statement from Rose Alliance, Sweden

“Once again politicians ignore the voices of sex workers, allies, human rights defenders and researchers. We have lived with the Swedish Model for 15 years. We have lost community members. We have also lost the right to be heard, the right to make informed choices and we are more stigmatized than ever. We feel forgotten, ignored and like we really don't matter. Our voices, lives and diverse lived experiences are not valued. It is incredibly sad, yet we are used to it. After all that is what the Swedish Model is all about.”

Matthias Lehmann, Researcher, Faculty of Law, Queen's University Belfast

“Regardless of one's stance on prostitution, it is both shocking and alarming that the Honeyball report ever made it into the EU plenary. The report represents a calculated attempt to influence pending policy decisions, incl. in Germany and Northern Ireland, and successfully pulled the wool over the eyes of the members of the EU Parliament by using biased, inaccurate and disproven data.  

The fact that so many experts in the field have voiced their opposition is promising, however, and an encouragement both for sex workers and those working on sensible research and policies, as well as for those providing meaningful support for sex workers and victims of human trafficking. As Alex Bryce from the National Ugly Mugs Scheme UK correctly observed, yesterday's vote marked “a victory for Mary Honeyball but a defeat for human rights, evidence-based policy and dignified political debate”. I am confident that in time, Honeyball’s victory will prove a pyrrhic one.”

Alex Bryce, Manager, National Ugly Mugs Scheme, UK

"Those who Mary Honeyball described as pimps, are some of the most capable, dedicated and principled people I have ever known. She should be ashamed of herself for dragging this crucial debate down into the gutter by making outrageous, baseless accusations about the very people she should be listening to and engaging with."

Colectivo Hetaira, Spain

For sex workers in Spain the vote for Honeyball's report at the European Parliament is another slap in the face. Unfortunately, in Spain we are just accustomed to (and fed up with) politicians who decide about sex workers and their conditions without consulting them or even having spoken with them. And we are accustomed to abolitionists too. A lot of cities in Spain have issued civic ordinances establishing the possibility of fining sex workers and/or their clients. So we know very well that neither works. And of course neither is able to improve the situation of sex workers, on the contrary!
But we don't surrender. Only two weeks ago the sex workers of Madrid and Colectivo Hetaira organised a demonstration against this type of civic ordinance and for sex workers' rights. And we will go on. With the Honeyball report we have "only" lost a vote. We will still win our fight. Although we are losing at the parliaments, we know from experience that we are gaining positions on the street and among young people

Gabriel Andreescu, Associate Professor, SNSPA, Bucharest

“European Parliament resolution on “the Swedish model” puts ideology before the health and safety of sex workers. It endorses an enterprise in which attitudes towards sex workers appears to be so contemptuous that seemed natural to talk about their needs, expectations and their dignity without listening their voice once. The basic principle that it is not acceptable to decide on the life of a vulnerable community without taking into account its opinion was blatantly denied. Although repeatedly invokes the word "dignity", the document approved by the European Parliament expresses contempt for hundreds of thousands of human beings. It is counterproductive to the European Parliament to assume a vision with such wrong language, design and information.”

Sonja Dolinsek, researcher, Germany

"It is a myth that as a woman and feminist you can only oppose sex work and sex workers' rights. In fact, there is nothing more feminist to include sex workers' in policy debates, respect them and their views. The Honeyball report is based on the exclusion of sex workers and is all but feminist." 

English Collective of Prostitutes

in response to the instrumentalisation of their discourse by MEP Honeyball

“No Ms Honeyball what the English Collective of Prostitutes actually said is:
Faced with no benefit, or only the lowest-waged jobs, many women sell sexual services. Are we less degraded when we have to skip meals, beg or stay with a violent partner to keep a roof over our heads? Those who rage against prostitution have no regard for mothers struggling to feed their families.
Criminalising clients will not stop prostitution, nor will it stop the criminalisation of women. But it will make it more dangerous and stigmatising for sex workers.”

Sex Worker Open University, UK

"We are shocked that Ms Honeyball and the European Women Lobby would use such flawed data and biased methodology and so blatantly ignore the voices and lives of sex workers. We watched as Ms Honeyball faced many sex workers on UK radio and TV in the weeks before the vote at European parliament.  The variety of sex workers' experience was huge: some sex workers told her and the public they enjoyed their job, others said that, as single mothers or students, it was the best option available to them in an age of austerity and a  former sex worker defined her experience as traumatic. But all those sex workers agreed in their belief that the Swedish Model only increases stigma and vulnerability and that the criminalisation of clients is the wrong policy. Ms Honeyball on the other hand believes in one thing: increasing stigma and vulnerability of sex workers is a necessary step, if not for gender equality, at least for the advancement of her political career."


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