European solution needed to tackle 'globalised' prostitution industry

Europe must lead from the front on prostitution - with gender equality the ultimate target, says Mary Honeyball.

By Mary Honeyball MEP

08 Oct 2013

Prostitution has become globalised. This is true at the supply end, with trafficking increasingly prevalent, but also at the demand end, with sex tourism on the rise. As a cross-border problem it requires cross-border solutions; it is vital that Europe leads from the front.

As rapporteur for the women's rights and gender equality committee I will be producing a report later in 2013 on how to solve this, looking at the issue from a gender equality perspective and arguing that prostitution in all its guises is a form of violence against women.

The current consensus is that blanket illegalisation does not work. I have seen this firsthand in London, where prostitutes and punters alike are criminalised. In my view prosecuting victims of trafficking or coercion just isn't fair.

"The current consensus is that blanket illegalisation does not work"

There are two alternative ways of changing things: the Nordic model and the Dutch (or German) model. The former permits prostitution but criminalises buying sex; the latter legalises both. 

Differences are partly ethical; the Nordic model says prostitution is in itself a "cause and a consequence" of gender inequality, whereas the Dutch model claims prostitution can be a healthy life choice which simply requires regulation.

I will be endorsing the Nordic model in my report, on the grounds that it is both fairer for women and works better in practice. After talking to sex workers and prostitute support services I am convinced this is true. The vast majority of women do not go willingly into prostitution; they are coerced into it by criminal groups or through poverty and social problems.

On top of this all the evidence says the Nordic model is more effective. Prostitution has halved since its 1999 introduction in Sweden, and there is less trafficking. There is evidence, too, of a knock-on effect for social attitudes, with Swedish men now three times as likely to oppose paying for sex.

Holland, by contrast, has become the top European destination for trafficking, and Germany has seen steep increases in prostitution. The mayor of Amsterdam calls it "impossible" to create a "safe zone not open for abuse by organised crime". 

International women's charity Equality Now say the model is "a failed experiment" which has "empowered buyers, pimps and traffickers".

As Rachel Moran, author of 'Paid for: my journey through prostitution', puts it, "Prostitution is a crime against humanity. To legalise it is to condone this crime." The future of Europe must not involve the normalisation of sex as a commodity. Instead we should be ambitious, and look to create genuine sexual parity between men and women.

Read the most recent articles written by Mary Honeyball MEP - Glass ceiling is 'cracked but not broken'