Statement to the European Parliament's Women's Rights and Gender Equality Committee
ICRSE condemns FEMM, the European Parliament Women's Rights and Gender Equality Committee on their decision to support the criminalisation of clients.
24th of January 2014
A backward approach to sex workers’ rights, health and safety now supported by the European Parliament's Women's Rights and Gender Equality Committee
The International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICSRE) strongly condemns the European Parliament's Women's Rights and Gender Equality Committee’s (FEMM) recommendation to criminalise clients of sex workers.
Against the recommendations of all sex workers’ organisations in Europe, many health organisations and other civil society groups, FEMM has voted to support a repressive measure that, under the guise of protecting women, will only increase their vulnerability.
We are shocked to see that Mary Honeyball, MEP for London and author of the report approved today, can ignore so blatantly the fact that the criminalisation of clients has not only been ineffective in reducing prostitution and trafficking, but also been evidenced as increasing the vulnerabilities of sex workers. And contrary to the claims of Ms Honeyball, it has also led to the criminalisation of sex workers.
Amongst other evidence, a recent Police report from Sweden mentions that: “In 2009, the National Bureau of Investigation estimated that there were about 90 Thai massage parlours in Stockholm and vicinity, most of which were judged to be offering sexual services for sale. At the turn of 2011/2012, the number of Thai massage parlours in the Stockholm area was estimated to be about 250 and throughout the country about 450.” Such numbers are a clear indicator that the Swedish model has been ineffective in its main mission.
Numerous other reports support this simple fact. In Norway, Pro-Sentret, Oslo’s official help centre for sex workers, published their 2012 annual report with evidence that the numbers of sex workers had not decreased and that the levels of violence against sex workers had not been affected by the law either. This report, based on a survey of 123 active sex workers, also clearly demonstrates that sex workers are now less likely to demand protection from the police because of the increased stigma and the understanding that they themselves are seen as criminals.
A worrying aspect of the criminalisation of clients concerns the health of sex workers, especially regarding HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. It comes as no surprise that in her article in the Observer today, Ms Honeyball completely ignores this question. In France, in the months preceding the vote at the National Assembly, a wide range of organisations denounced the lack of concern of Najat Valaud-Belkacem, the Minister of Women’s Rights, for the HIV epidemic and the central role sex workers are playing in the fight against it. 100 French organisations and another 100 international organisation signed a Manifesto against the criminalisation of clients, including service providers and health organisations, such as Doctors of the World, and of course sex workers’ organisations themselves.
We are staggered beyond belief how Ms Honeyball can so easily ignore recommendations of experts from her very own country, such as those of the UKNSWP, a voluntary sector umbrella organisation with over 60 member projects across the UK, which offer frontline support services to and have direct contact with thousands of female and male sex workers throughout the UK. Their responses to the recent consultation in Scotland on the defeated bill proposal to criminalise the clients of sex workers leave no doubt that social workers and other key actors working with sex workers on a daily basis do not support the Swedish Model:
“Research has shown that criminalisation of either the client or sex worker can result in negative, dangerous and sometimes fatal consequences for sex workers, especially those engaged in street working. In the case of street sex work, criminalisation often leads to displacement resulting in sex workers often working in darker, more dangerous and less well known areas. This increases possibilities of violence and makes those working in street sex industries more vulnerable to exploitation. In the off street sectors criminalisation of clients strengthens the stigma of sex work and sex workers fear that contact with the police and other authorities will bring investigation of them and their clients. This acts as a major barrier to sex workers having the confidence to report any crimes they experience to the police and other authorities. This heightens sex workers’ vulnerability in all sectors: many offenders who target sex workers do so because they believe sex workers will not report to the police. This proposed law will entrench that dynamic further.”
The European Parliament's Women's Rights and Gender Equality Committee is sadly following the same trend of putting ideology before the health and safety of sex workers, and by doing so disregard the diversity of experiences of sex workers and social workers, as well as recommendations of international organisations, such as those published in December 2011 by the UNAIDS Advisory Group on HIV and Sex Work in their report to accompany the UNAIDS Guidance Note on HIV and Sex Work (2009):
“States should move away from criminalising sex work or activities associated with it. Decriminalisation of sex work should include removing criminal penalties for purchase and sale of sex, management of sex workers and brothels, and other activities related to sex work.”
How many more reports and recommendations must be written and published before women’s groups and organisations finally start listening to sex workers? But more importantly, how many of our colleagues must be murdered before you start listening to us? Sex workers have a voice. And we are saying NO to the Swedish Model.
Coordinator, International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE)