Prostitution is not a “work” but a cruel form of exploitation and discrimination

07.03.2019
This post is also available in: Russian

Grégoire Théry, Co-founder and executive director of the Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution (CAP international)

How do you establish a link between prostitution and women discrimination?

All over the world, and throughout History, the most discriminated and vulnerable women and girls are overrepresented in prostitution. Migrant women and girls, refugees, victims of conflicts or natural disasters, ethnic minorities, indigenous communities, low castes groups are disproportionately targeted and affected by prostitution.

  • In Vancouver, indigenous women – Native Americans – represent 3% of the population but 52% of prostituted persons.
  • In Several US States, African American represent 15% of the population. But more than 50% of minors arrested for prostitution are African American.
  • In South Africa, the vast majority of women in prostitution are from the poorest rural communities or from the tonwships.
  • In Lebanon, a vast majority of prostituted women are Syrian refugees.
  • In India, the lowest castes and adivasis are the vast majority of prostituted persons
  • The same goes for victims of the armed conflicts in Colombia
  • Etc…

When it comes to Western Europe, the category of the most discriminated women and girls, and thus of primary targets and victims of prostitution are migrant women. In France, Germany, Spain, the UK or The Netherlands, more than 80% of prostitution victims are migrant women from Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Nigeria China, or trans people from Latin America.

And among these nationalities, the most discriminated groups are always the primary victims. For example, 90% of the Bulgarian women we meet in prostitution in Western Europe belong to the Roma or to the Turkish speaking community.

Prostitution is thus at the intersection of multiple forms of oppression: patriarchy/sexism, racism, colonisation, economic exploitation of poverty, militarisation etc…

Furthermore, all over the world, a large majority of prostituted persons have faced severe sexual, physical or psychological violence before their entry into prostitution. Victims of incest and children placed in the foster care system are also massively overrepresented in prostitution.

So, while ideologists speak of prostitution as a “choice”, prostitution is actually always the “choice” of those who have the less options, choices and rights.

The purchase of sex is a violence in itself. Paying for sex equals to imposing a sex act by the financial constraint. Sex buyers exploit the precariousness and vulnerabilities of women in needs to impose a sex act by the power of money. A true sexual liberation is a sexuality free from violence, discrimination and domination, including economic domination.

What are the different approaches regarding the protection of women in prostitution?

Historically, most countries in the world are prohibitionists. In this system, all stakeholders are criminalized. Selling sex -or being sold for sex-, buying sex and making profit of someone else’s prostitution are illegal. But in reality, prostituted persons are the most targeted by the repression. Clients remain unpunished and there is a tolerance towards brothels. Prostitution is considered a bad thing in society but no explanation is given for such position.

Another model is the “legalisation” or “sex work” model.

In this model, prostitution is considered as a fatality. It has always existed, it is inevitable, it would limit the amount of rape. Men are seen as sexual predators and prostitution would be an outlet for their “irrepressible needs”. But it has to be controlled and regulated. So pimping, procuring and the running of a brothel are legalized.

This “legalisation of sex work” model has been adopted in Germany and the Netherlands in 2000 and 2002. They said that they would legalize prostitution but in reality, they decriminalized pimping, reopened brothels and gave pimps a status of “sex entrepreneurs” with an operative licence (just like for alcohol or tobacco). As a result, in 2013, there were about 400 000 prostituted persons in Germany. 10 times more than in France. And only 44 individuals had applied for the status of “sex workers” (Cf, dossier in the Spiegel translated in English).

Sexual exploitation is a legal market, and the worse legal practices exploded: paying for a “ gang bang”, a “golden shower” (urinating on a woman), pooping on a woman etc… Brothels started to offer sales on women, “all inclusive” offers: unlimited access to food, drinks and women’s bodies for a fixed amount.

In the Netherlands, according to an official report by the police from 2008, 50% to 90% of persons in prostitutions in legal brothels are actually victims of human trafficking. Furthermore, legal prostitution is just the tip of the iceberg, illegal prostitution is even much more important.

In 2017, the Netherland and Germany passed a law that forces prostituted persons to take the status of sex workers. In Germany local authorities are in now charge of interviews with prostituted persons to determine whether they are fit or not for prostitution.

Abolitionist model:

The abolitionist model recognises prostitution as a violence, an obstacle to equality between men and women, an obstacle to the principle of non-comodification of human body, and human relations. The objective is to build a prostitution and exploitation free society. But in order to do so, and contrary to other models, the abolitionist model qualifies what is wrong with prostitution. The abolitionist model does not consider that what is wrong with prostitution is the action or situation of prostituted persons. It does not consider prostitution as a public order or a morality issue.

The abolitionist model also tailors specific measures for all stakeholders. Under this model:

  • Prostituted persons are fully decriminalized. They are offered protection, support and exit options. Discriminatory and arbitrary registration, controls, compulsory medical checks etc… are repealed.
  • Pimps, procurers, brothel owners and traffickers are criminalized.
  • The purchase of sex (but not the selling) is prohibited and recognized as a form of sexual abuse.

This model has been adopted by Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Norther Ireland, Canada, France and Ireland.

SEE below, detailed provisions of the French abolitionist law aimed at reinforcing the struggle against the prostitutional system and at better supporting prostituted persons.

Why – in your view – is the criminalization of clients more efficient than the legalization of prostitution?

Legalizing prostitution actually means legalizing pimping. It leads to direct impunity for sexual abusers (buyers) and exploiters (pimps and traffickers) and increases the number of prostitution and trafficking victims. It does not give access to rights for people in prostitution and increases demand for prostitution. There are ten times more victims in countries that legalized prostitution. People are not emancipated.

In Sweden, the first country that adopted abolitionist measures, there are about 1 000 persons in prostitution because it stopped the demand. In France, 37 000 persons in prostitution, 90% are foreign women, victims of human trafficking. And in Germany, 400 000 prostituted persons, 90% are victims are foreign women, victims of human trafficking

On the contrary, targeting the demand is very efficient. Trafficking in women is not only a human rights violation. It is also one of the most lucrative form of organised crime.

Women and girls are trafficked internationally and domestically for one main reason: meeting the male demand for paid sex, and thus, generating huge profits for pimps, procurers, brothel owners and traffickers.

According to the ILO1, trafficking in human beings generates 150 billion USD profits to the traffickers. 66% of these profits (99 billion USD) are generated by the exploitation of prostitution of others. Trafficking in women and girls will never decrease if States parties do not criminalise the exploitation of prostitution of women (pimping, procuring, running of a brothel) and the demand for paid sex.

What are the countries that adopted a legal framework that protects women in prostitution? What are the perspectives in other EU countries?

Countries that adopted abolitionist legislation:

In chronological order : Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Canada, Northern Ireland, France, Republic of Ireland and Israel.

Countries that decriminalized pimping: Netherland, Germany, New Zeland, Australia.

Perspective :

In 2014, the European adopted a resolution that qualifies prostitution as a violation of the principle of equality between women and men guaranted by the Charter of fundamental rights of the European Union. In this resolution, the EP also recognized that the criminalization of csex buyers and the decriminalization of prostituted persons was the most effective model. PACE said the same thing in an April 2014 resolution.

How can you explain the link between migration and prostitution? In terms of legislation, how can we protect migrants? Can you elaborate on the link between the legalization of migrants and the fight against sexual exploitation?

Answered above:

When it comes to Western Europe, the category of the most discriminated women and girls, and thus of primary targets and victims of prostitution are migrant women. In France, Germany, Spain, the UK or The Netherlands, more than 80% of prostitution victims are migrant women from Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Nigeria China, or trans people from Latin America.

And among these nationalities, the most discriminated groups are always the primary victims. For example, 90% of the Bulgarian women we meet in prostitution in Western Europe belong to the Roma or to the Turkish speaking community.

Prostitution is thus at the intersection of multiple forms of oppression: patriarchy/sexism, racism, colonisation, economic exploitation of poverty, militarisation etc…

In 2017, the IOM has highlighted that the trafficking for sexual exploitation of Nigerian women and girls to Italy had increased by 600% over the last three years. NGOs and IOM perfectly know that these women are trafficked to be exploited in prostitution in Europe, where they will have to pay their “naira” (debt).

We advocate for the automatic delivery of residency permits for all victims of trafficking in human beings. We also see and denounce how repressive migration policies empower traffickers and exploiters.

What term should we use and why? Some people don’t use anymore the expression “prostitution”, some others refuse to use “sex workers”

We recommend to use the language established by international human rights law (article 6 of CEDAW, UN 1949 Convention, Palermo protocol): “prostitution”, “exploitation of prostitution”, “trafficking in human beings for sexual exploitation.

The term and concept of “sex work” aims at introducing a distinction between a theoretic “good consensual sex work” and a “bad trafficking in human beings”. All countries having “legalized sex work” have actually decriminalized the exploitation of prostitution of women (legalization of pimping, procuring and running of a brothel).

What do you think about the sexual exploitation of men by women? From our point of you there are fewer risks than exploitation of women by men. Is it correct?

It is important to remind that the buyers of women, men and trans people are always men. One will always identify a situation where a woman paid a man for sex. But the overwhelming reality of prostitution is about male entitlement to pay women or other men for sex.

What approach does the UN support when it comes to the fight against sexual exploitation? Does the UN support this work at all? What about the EU? What international norms can be used in the fight against sexual exploitation?

International human rights law recognises prostitution as a violation of human rights2 and specifically prohibits exploitation of the prostitution of others, including pimping, procuring and the running of a brothel. States and United Nations (UN) agencies have a direct, binding obligation to oppose any trivialisation of prostitution and to work towards the elimination of its exploitation. But some UN agencies have been heavily lobbied and even infiltrated by the sex industry interests’ lobby.

While prostitution and its exploitation are unequivocally qualified as human rights violations by UN universal human rights instruments, several UN agencies feel entitled to:

  • Actively recommend the use of the term “sex work” in place of the UNGA agreed language “prostitution” and “exploitation of the prostitution of others”
  • Actively support the decriminalisation of criminal acts (pimping, procuring and running of a brothel) which are identified as severe human rights violations by UN treaties.
  • Advocate for the decriminalisation of the exchange of money for sexual favours, while it is recognised for the UN personnel as a sexual abuse by the UNSG bulletin on PSEA.

In several recent reports3 UNAIDS and UNDP have systematically used, and recommended the use of, the term “sex work”. They have also advocated for the decriminalisation of the purchase of a sexual act. Those two agencies have even supported recommendations to decriminalise pimping, procuring, and management of a brothel4. The UNAIDS 2015 “terminology guidelines5” explicitly recommends to stop using the term “prostitution” which would “denote value judgement” and to use instead “sex work”. It also recommends the use of the term “clients of sex workers” for people who purchase a sexual act.

This situation is unacceptable, especially of one takes into consideration the fact that paying for sex is defined as “sexual abuse” by the UN. In 2003, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, released guidelines aimed at ending sexual exploitation and sexual abuse within the context of UN operations.

The UNSG Special Bulletin includes “Special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse”.

This strategic document highlighted three key points:

  1. The UNSG reaffirms that “sexual exploitation and sexual abuse violate universally recognised international legal norms and standards”
  2. The UNSG gives a definition of “sexual exploitation” and “sexual abuse”
  3. The UNSG directly targets as sexual abuse, and prohibits, the purchase of a sex acts.

What do you think of the situation in Eastern Europe and Central Asia? What measures should be taken to improve the situation of prostitutes in these countries?

I am not an expert on the situation in EECA and It is difficult to identify frontline NGOs providing specific support to victims of prostitution and trafficking. But I think that most of EECA countries are prohibitionist. This model is very harmful since it criminalises prostituted persons themselves, does not offer protection, support and exit options to victims. Furthermore, it does not target effectively prostitution and its exploitation because there is no recognition of prostitution as s sexual violence, an obstacle to equality and a violation of the human dignity. As a consequence, the criminalisation of sex buyers, and even often pimps, is not implemented as long as they cooperate with the police. The exploitation of prostitution is thus often formally prohibited but de facto tolerated, and sometimes controlled, by authorities.


Act no 2016-444 of the 13th April 2016, Aiming to Strengthen the Fight Against the Prostitution System and to Assist Prostituted Persons

Article 1

Creation of an obligation upon internet service providers to promptly inform the competent public authorities of any content that violates the Act in respect of pimping and procuring, and to make public the means and measures they devote to combatting such illegal activities.

(Amends article 6 of Act Number 2004-575 of the 21st June 2004 for Confidence in the Digital Economy)

Article 2

Formal integration into social workers’ training programs of a module on the prevention of prostitution, and how to identify situations that may involve prostitution, pimping and human trafficking.

(Amends article L.451-1 of the Family and Social Action Code)

Article 3

Provides an option, where appropriate, for victims of pimping and human trafficking, and members of their families, to benefit from an enhanced protection mechanism when acting as witnesses or pressing charges.

Victims of pimping and human trafficking may use the address of their lawyer or an approved organization for court and trial purposes.

(Adds article 706-40-1 to Title XVII of Book IV of the Code of Criminal Procedure)

Article 4

The offence of human trafficking is included within the findings that can be set forth by labour inspectors.

(Completes article L.8112-2 of the Labour Code)

Article 5

Creates, a county agency in every departement (county), which shall be responsible for organising and coordinating the response to victims of prostitution, pimping and human trafficking.

Creates an exit route from prostitution, together with social and professional reintegration:

  • Provision of accommodation for victims of prostitution, pimping and human trafficking in social reintegration housing;

  • Access to tax debt forgiveness;

  • Access for foreign victims to a protective temporary residency permit;

  • Creation of a financial aid payment to assist with social and professional reintegration, for prostituted persons who are not eligible to receive either basic social welfare payments or the financial assistance provided to asylum seekers.

(Amends article L121-9 of the Family and Social Action Code)

Article 6

Inclusion of victims of prostitution, pimping and human trafficking on the list of groups that have priority access to social housing.

(Amends Article L441-1 of the Building and Dwellings Code)

Article 7

Creates, within the government budget, a fund for the prevention of prostitution and for the provision of social and professional support to prostituted persons. This fund will be made available to initiatives intended to: create public awareness about the negative health effects of prostitution; reduce the associated health risks; prevent entry into prostitution; reintegrate prostituted persons. The fund will be financed and maintained by the State budget and through the seizure of assets/proceeds derived from pimping and human trafficking.

(Completes article L121-9 of the Family and Social Action Code)

Article 8

Enables the automatic issue of a protective temporary residency permit to victims of pimping and human trafficking who have brought proceedings against the perpetrators.

Opens up the possibility of the grant of a protective temporary residency permit to victims of pimping and human trafficking who have not brought proceedings against the perpetrators, but who have left prostitution and who are on the exit route out of prostitution.

(Amends articles L316-1 and L316-1-1 of the Code governing the Entry and Stay of Foreigners and the Right of Asylum)

Article 9

Inclusion of organisations approved to monitor the exit route out of prostitution on the list of organisations that can obtain State financial assistance to house prostituted persons and victims of pimping and human trafficking.

(Amends article L851-1 of the Social Security Code)

Article 10

Extends the option of accommodation in social reintegration housing to persons who are victims of pimping, formerly available only to victims of human trafficking.

(Amends article L.345-1 of the Family and Social Action Code)

Article 11

Establishes ‘aggravating circumstances’ for violence, sexual aggression and rape committed against a prostituted person.

(Amends articles 222-3, 222-8, 222-10, 222-12 and 222-13 of the Penal Code)

Article 12

Gives access to the right to full compensation for damages suffered by victims of pimping, in the event that the pimp is bankrupt/insolvent.

(Amends article 706-3 of the Penal Procedures Code)

Article 13

The option for organisations, with the agreement of the victim, to join as a private party in criminal proceedings for pimping. Organisations recognised as having a Public Utility may join as private parties without the agreement of the victim (in particular, where the victim has not brought charges).

(Amends article 2-22 of the Penal Procedures Code)

Article 14

Creates a right for victims of human trafficking or aggravated pimping to request that court proceedings be held in camera.

(Amends article 306 of the Penal Procedures Code)

Articles 15 and 16

Abolishes the offence of soliciting (which had criminalised the solicitation of clients by prostituted persons since 1939).

(Amends article 225-10-1 of the Penal Code)

Article 17

Creates a national health, social and psychological risk reduction policy, approved by Government order.

(Creates article L.1181-1 of Title VII of the 1st Book of the First Section of the Public Health Code)

Article 18

Implements a national information policy setting out the realities of prostitution and the dangers of the commodification of the human body, for use in educational establishments.

(Amends article 312-17-1 of the Education Code)

Article 19

Incorporates the promotion of gender equality into sex education classes taught in educational establishments.

(Completes article L312-16 of the Education Code)

Article 20

Creates a new offence of resorting to the prostitution of another by prohibiting the purchase of a sex act. This new offence is of the 5th class, punishable by a fine of 1,500 euros.

For repeat offences, acts will be considered as criminal offences punishable by a fine of 3,750 euros.

Resorting to the prostitution of a minor or vulnerable individual is retained as a criminal offence punishable by a sentence of 3 years’ imprisonment.

(Creates article 611-1 of the Penal Code and amends article 225-12-1 of the Penal Code)

Article 21

Creation of a supplementary penalty, consisting of the obligation to complete an awareness course on the subject of combatting the purchase of sex acts.

(Amends articles 131-16 and 225-20 of the Penal Code).


1 https://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_243201/lang–en/index.htm

2 SEE our report on « prostitution under international human rights law”:

3 Global Commission on HIV and the Law report HIV and the Law: Risks, Rights and Health released on 9 July 2012 and UNDP, UNFPA and UNAIDS report Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific released on 18 October 2012

4 “Laws that criminalize sex work and the sex industry should be reviewed (…) Decriminalization of sex work requires the repeal of laws that criminalize activities associated with sex work, including removal of offences relating to: soliciting; living on the earnings of sex work; procuring; pimping; the management and operation of brothels; and promoting or advertising services” – UNDP, UNFPA and UNAIDS report Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific

5http://www.unaids.org/en/resources/documents/2015/2015_terminology_guidelines

 

Photo from the twitter of Femen