On 14 September 2023, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the regulation of prostitution in the European Union.  In it, they state the cross-border implications and impact on gender equality and women’s rights.

 First, they list the treaties, resolutions, court judgments, reports, directives, and other legal basis that mandates women’s equality. Twenty-seven of them. Then they make it clear that they are talking about prostitution and people/women in prostitution and not some false descriptor to idealize prostitution and mask the real practice and impact on women. They lay down the basic right that personal autonomy must be at the center of all policy and that sex must be based on freely given consent and mutual respect. They state plainly that maximizing profits is not a value compatible with the dignity and worth of a human.  They credit the studies that show that most women in prostitution are seriously abused including by law enforcement.

They understand that pornography and simulated sex acts trivialize and perpetuate sexual violence against women and girls, commodify women’s bodies, and bolster harmful stereotypes.

Though poverty, discrimination, and drug addiction have been leading causes of women entering prostitution, some countries continue to blame women and make criminals of them compounding the health and safety problems. The EU parliament focused on methods such as “lover boy” and “sugar daddy” that lure women including college students into prostitution. While the majority of women would like to leave prostitution, the barriers are high.  Member states are encouraged to create exit strategies that are well organized and funded.

Prostitution and trafficking are strongly linked and well connected to organized crime.  While labor trafficking exists, sex trafficking is still the most prevalent form of trafficking in the EU. The Netherlands reports that 70% of the women in that country were trafficked. German authorities admit that most victims will not self-report due to distrust of police and authorities. Sex-buyers are overwhelmingly men. . 70% of women in prostitution in Europe are migrant women – exposing the sexist, racist, and marginalizing structure of prostitution. 74% of buyers had used a person who was trafficked and while most recognize it, few take action.

In member states where prostitution is legal, traffickers use that environment to exploit victims and cover up their criminal activities.  Where prostitution is legal, trafficking has increased 10 times. The EU parliament particularly called out Germany that has legalized prostitution, and called for all states to take steps to end the demand for prostitution and trafficking.

The reality of prostitution is what drove the policy.  Women in prostitution experience more violence than women on average (41% in Germany where it is allegedly regulated). Many studies showed that childhood sexual abuse was often a trigger factor for entering into prostitution.  They recognized that prostitution is not an individual act, but a system organized for profit that is intrinsically violent, discriminatory, and deeply inhuman. They noted that COVID increased violence against women and today’s energy and cost-of-living issues are driving violence as well as the war against Ukraine.

The parliament recognized there can be no consent when there is a power imbalance. Making women the criminals only makes it harder for them to escape. However decriminalization normalizes the violence toward women and does nothing to end stigma against them. They point out as feminists working against prostitution have said for years that demand is the problem. Decriminalization or legalization only empowers the demand side i.e. the buyer who is typically male and leads to a greater use of violence and entitlement by men toward all women.

Prostitution is both a cause and consequence of women’s inequality but the approach across the EU is inconsistent and for the most part does not address the root cause. They suggest that the Nordic/Equality model that has shown great success in Sweden, Ireland, Spain, and France should be coupled with other actions that offer positive results as well.  While the resolution praises the Nordic/Equality model, it urges that more research is needed, and that actions should be tailored to each member states specific situation. Decriminalization of the victims may help them trust police more however it must be coupled with meaningful controls on police themselves who are often among the abusers. Research has shown that legalizing does not bring the claimed benefits to women. The parliament calls for a pan-European study to devise best practices.

The resolution acknowledges that prostitution mimics the prevailing power structures. Normalization of prostitution harms young people especially regarding their attitude toward sex and relations with women. It also harms men e.g. those in Germany who believed that by paying money, they could do anything they wanted to the woman. Such men in studies show reduced empathy and increased violence toward all women.

The resolution points out that good sex education is vital and that pornography only reproduces harmful stereotypes and damages relations between the sexes. The resolution calls out Poland for not providing contraception and legal abortion that harms women in general. The resolution lays out a program for all member states to take appropriate action.

This 23-page resolution is the result of years of work by thousands of women in the EU. It started in 1999 with the Nordic/Equality model in Sweden that, while fought tooth and nail by those making billions on women’s backs, has shown that it works.  While in the U.S., we still have legal prostitution in Nevada (not in Las Vegas), we have one state (Maine) that has now adopted the Nordic/Equality model.  Several cities and counties have also adopted it. Americans need to stop fooling themselves and falling for the nonsense that prostitution is just a job.  It is not.  It is violence and exploitation of women and causes direct harm to prostituted and trafficked women and girls and long-term harm to the safety, rights, and equality of all women and girls.