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.