Tag Archives: prostitution

Going Swedish – my article for Progress

On Saturday I wrote an article for Progress Online for International Women’s Day. You can read the article below, or go to the original post by clicking here.

International Women’s Day this year came on the heels of a big few months in the battle to end the ‘oldest profession’. France, Ireland and Northern Ireland have made moves towards changing their prostitution laws in the last year. All three are looking to shift towards the Swedish model, whereby it is the buyer (invariably the man) who is criminalised, with the sale of sex made legal.

Moreover, Germany has appeared for the first time to be willing to re-evaluate legalisation, and the British parliament, which has traditionally had a muddled position, has shown signs of going Swedish. An all-party group on the subject, chaired by Gavin Shuker MP, concluded that current laws ‘prioritise the gratification of punters at the expense of often-vulnerable women and girls’. The current law fails to address the problem of demand, and as a result it sustains the status quo.

The process has been helped along by my own report, recommending the Swedish model, which was passed by the European parliament in February. With countries as far away as Canada weighing up the merits of the Swedish model, it appears a genuine international shift is taking place. At long last governments are taking sustainable and ambitious steps.

For me this process is essential in the effort to bring about a world where women have a genuinely fair crack. With the sex trade overwhelmingly populated by women, the existence of prostitution is an affront to the battle for gender parity. It is a totemic issue; a persistent and uneasy monument of the economic and physical dominance of women by men. As a delegation of nearly 80 academics wrote in an open letter to members of the European parliaments last month:

The prostitution system is a reminder of continuing inequalities between women and men: the gender pay gap; the sexualisation of female bodies in popular culture; the histories of violence and abuse in both childhood and adulthood that underpin many women’s entry into the sex industry.

The alternative to the Swedish model is blanket decriminalisation. This has a degree of support – including from some sex workers’ groups – as a means of regulating the sex industry better. Advocates say it would prevent prostitution being ‘driven underground’ and therefore make it safer.

This claim is undermined somewhat by the case of Germany, perhaps the most controversial example of decriminalisation. Since legalisation there in 2001 there has been an explosion in prostitution levels. So-called ‘super brothels’ now operate on the country’s borders and there are reportedly around 400,000 sex workers (compared to less than 50,000 in neighbouring France). Just 44 of these have registered for benefits, suggesting the supposed ‘regulation’ of the industry is something of a myth. The effect has been simply to ingrain prostitution and normalise the inequalities which sustain it.

I hope that by International Women’s Day 2015 the number of countries to have ‘gone Swedish’ will have increased, and we will be approaching the point of critical mass where the Swedish model can become accepted as the norm. To protect women everywhere we must go beyond sticking plaster solutions and look to root causes.

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Discussing the Swedish Model on BBC London this morning

This morning I spoke to Penny Smith and Paul Ross on BBC Radio London’s  breakfast show. It was good to be on the programme, and I was especially pleased to be talking to them about the conclusions of the UK Parliament’s all-party group on prostitution, which this week suggested the UK should shift towards the Swedish approach.

You can listen in full by clicking below:

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Addressing the European Parliament this week

At lunchtime today the European Parliament votes on my prostitution report. The report recommends the Swedish Model – whereby it is the buyer of sex who is prosecuted – and was supported this week by nearly eighty academics and world experts on the issue.

On Monday I addressed the full parliament In Strasbourg calling on them to back it. The footage can be seen below:

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My European Parliament Speech on Prostitution and Gender Equality

My report on prostitution and sexual exploitation takes its starting point in the Directives on victims of violence (2012) and in trafficking (2011) which clearly couples trafficking and prostitution.

My report is trying to change the perspective on prostitution from the supply to the demand side and therefore endorses the “Nordic” model to criminalise the client rather than the prostitute, who should have all adequate help and not be condemned and stigmatised when often suffering from trauma, drug and alcohol addiction and a higher mortality rate than women in general. Programmes to help women to escape prostitution should be developed. Prostitution should more be seen as a form of violence and as such be an obstacle to equality between women and men. The economic crisis in some countries has also forced women into entering prostitution which shows that the economic inequality is important.

Laws on prostitution vary across the European Union. In the UK prostitution is not illegal but soliciting, running a brothel, pimping and associated activities are. In Holland a bill in 2000 lifted the ban on brothels with the aim of reducing prostitution and controlling and regulating it by introducing a municipal licensing system. The Dutch government carried out two evaluations on the impacts in 2002 and in2007. In the 2007 evaluation it was clear that 95% of the prostitutes worked without employment contracts, were not entitled to social service benefits, had no exit programmes, and did not pay tax.  Furthermore work permits for prostitutes were not accepted and thereby the prostitutes had to be referred to the underground market. According to a 2006 study the majority of the female prostitutes are migrants, mainly from Eastern Europe and the sex business represents 5% of the GDP namely around 600 million Euros yearly. According to the national Rapporteur on Human Trafficking there has always been a clear relationship between human trafficking in the Netherlands and 60% -70% of the women are forced by criminal groups to be prostitutes.

In Germany a similar approach to that in Holland is in place and a study carried out by the Federal Ministry found that 92% of the women working as prostitutes had suffered sexual harassment and Germany is considered one of major destination for victims of human trafficking and the Anti -Trafficking Directive 2011/36/EU has passed by Bundestag but not Bundesrat.  In Der Spiegel a debate has been conducted this last year where it has become clear how young poor women from Romania and Bulgaria are treated as sex slaves for flat rate services to German men.

On the other hand, buying sexual services is a criminal offence in Sweden – the Nordic Model. France has just passed a law in the National Assembly in line with the Nordic Model.

My report views this as a way forward for the European Union.

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Discussing buying sex on Newsnight

Last week I appeared on BBC’s Newsnight to discuss my forthcoming prostitution report. Myself and Dorcas Erskine favoured the Swedish approach, whereas Belinda Brooks-Gordon and Laura Lee took a more libertarian, pro-Dutch stance. It was great to be on the programme and to discuss the topic, and I thought a very interesting discussion was had.

The paper will be debated today before going to the full European Parliament on Wednesday.

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Duncan Barkes LBC Programme on Prostitution

Last night I appeared on Duncan Barkes’ LBC radio programme to discuss prostitution.

You can listen by clicking below.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

My report, which recommends the Swedish Model – by which buying sex is criminalised but selling it remains legal – goes to the full European Parliament at the next plenary session in Strasbourg, later this month.

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Amnesty’s proposal to legalise prostitution is wrong – we can’t let men who exploit women off the hook

At the end of January I wrote for Mumsnet, the popular parenting forum, on the subject of prostitution. It’s a subject which really seems to have caught people’s imagination, and there was an extensive discussion on the Mumsnet forum afterwards. Some argued from a libertarian stand-point, and many others seemed to share my disappointment in Amnesty. Given that reports have suggested a rise in single-mums turning to prostitution following the 2008 crisis, I was particularly interested to see the different ways that mothers engaged with the issue.

My full piece is printed below:

An Amnesty International document leaked this week argues for the legalisation of prostitution. It says that approaches like the Swedish Model – which criminalise buying sex, but legalise selling it – are guilty of “devaluing” prostituted women and “criminalising the contexts in which they live”. In essence, the proposals say that most women who become prostitutes make a rational, informed choice – effectively , that they enter into a relationship of equals with the men who purchase their bodies.

I’m really disappointed in Amnesty. I’m a long term supporter of the Swedish Model and, for me, the idea that we should simply accept prostitution as a fact of life is totally wrong. It is particularly irresponsible at a time when it’s being reported that austerity is driving many women – and in particular single parents – into prostitution.

I believe Amnesty have got it wrong. Firstly, I don’t believe prostitution is, in most cases, “consensual sex between adults”, as the policy document describes it. The idea that women who go into prostitution are exercising ‘free choice’ just doesn’t stack up. Abuse and lack of alternatives are almost always a factor – many enter the sex trade young, and come from backgrounds fraught with suffering and abuse. Of course there are exceptions to the rule but, all things being equal, I believe most women don’t ‘choose’, in the true sense, to become prostitutes.

Secondly, I disagree with the idea there can be any real equality between a woman who sells her body and a man who buys it. As Amnesty admits, the conditions of the sex trade are “imperfect” to say the least. British ‘prostitute review’ sites like ‘Punternet’ – as well as the male-led ‘Hands off my whore’ campaign in France – show what so-called clients think of the women they buy sex from.

A large proportion of prostitutes say they experience aggression while working, and nearly seven in ten suffer the symptoms of post-traumatic stress. The dynamic between buyers and sellers of sex ranges from the disrespectful to the downright abusive – but there’s almost always an inequality at play.

Of course, there’ll always be some who say that prostitution is “the oldest trade” and that there’s not much we can do about it. But this argument is as untrue as it’s depressing. In Sweden, for example, stopping the purchase of sex changes social attitudes, making men less likely to purchase sex and more likely to support prosecutions for others – and there’s no reason why this can’t happen in the UK. Amnesty need to aim much higher. We can do better, surely, than just make the exploitation of women better regulated.

The role of charities like Amnesty should be to lift standards up, not drive them down. Amnesty are supposed to be an ambitious organisation. They shouldn’t just shrug their shoulders and say “c’est la vie”. Over the years they’ve done an indispensable job in ending exploitation, improving human rights, and reducing inequalities. Legalising prostitution runs counter to all these things. It has turned Germany into a “giant Teutonic brothel”, as the Economist puts it – and, according to Equality Now, has “empowered pimps and traffickers” in Amsterdam.

Women at risk or in economic need require more opportunities and better protection – not to be told their only option is a demeaning last resort. For the sake of women and mothers everywhere I sincerely hope Amnesty will rethink their position.

The discussion is still going on among Mumsnet users. You can read it in full by clicking here.

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