The grim reality of prostitution and its inextricable links with trafficking were highlighted in a seminar organised by the European Women's Lobby (EWL) in the European parliament on 1 October.
This timely seminar was organised in advance of parliament's women's rights and gender equality committee vote on the 'prostitution, sexual exploitation and their impact on gender equality' report.
While recent Eurostat figures confirm that women and girls represent 96 per cent of victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation, there is a lack of political attention and will to examine the root cause for such trafficking: prostitution.
Examining EU member states, Sweden and Germany have developed opposite legislation on prostitution, with the same aim of tackling trafficking and organised crime. During the EWL seminar, police officers from both countries shared their insights into the effectiveness of the contrasting policy models in place in each country.
"The average woman in prostitution is between 18 and 20 years of age, trafficked from Romania, fearful of recourse to the police; pimps lead their 'businesses' like any other entrepreneurs, and the purchase of sex is just like any other trade market"
Germany embraced a 'practical' approach in 2000, aimed at controlling the system of prostitution by decriminalising procuring and encouraging the integration of women in prostitution into the regular labour-market.
The protection of the rights of prostituted persons while clearing the way for a targeted crackdown on organised crime was central to this stance. At the same time, Sweden, inspired by a more human rights-based analysis, viewed prostituted persons as victims entitled to specialised support, by mobilising political will to tackle demand (by banning the purchase of sex) to render supply redundant and eliminate the primary root cause for both prostitution and trafficking.
According to chief superintendent Helmut Sporer, from Augsburg's criminal investigation department in Germany, the normalisation of prostitution has increased the vulnerability of prostituted persons, while transforming Germany into a popular sex tourism destination.
The average woman in prostitution is between 18 and 20 years of age, trafficked from Romania, fearful of recourse to the police; pimps lead their 'businesses' like any other entrepreneurs, and the purchase of sex is just like any other trade market.
Sweden meanwhile, has halved street prostitution in 13 years without increases in more hidden forms of exploitation; the numbers of men who purchase sex has dropped by almost half, and the population's support for the law, initially a meagre 30 per cent, has risen to 70 per cent.
It is time to take these lessons on board. Over 50 MEPs signed our call for action at the European level on 1 October, framing prostitution as a form of violence against women which needs to be treated as such.
It is also time to listen to survivors, who from bitter experience shared this insight; "What is bought and sold in prostitution is not sex. It is sexual abuse. Prostitution is the commercialisation of sexual abuse".