Let’s Talk about Sex, Baby

The red light district in the northern German town     As of 1927, prostitution has been legal in Germany. In 1964, sex workers were required to pay taxes, and in 2002 the prostitution law was updated, granting sex workers more legal rights, such as the right to sue clients who refuse to pay and the right to health insurance and social security. Last Wednesday, the 26th of February, marks the latest update, as the European Parliament voted Yes, 139 MEPS (Member of the European Parliament) to 109, on a resolution proposed by UK politician Mary Honeyball to criminalize the purchase of sexual services, thereby officially marking the EU’s stance on prostitution, and officially marking the start of pressure for the countries of the EU to follow suit.

As said by Honeyball, this “Swedish Model” of prostitution “focuses on reducing the demand, making it the purchaser of sex – invariably the man – who is criminalised.”

While on paper, this theory may seem like a good option to an increasingly hard problem, many others – some 560 NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and civil society organizations, including the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe and La Strada International (an anti-trafficking organization), as well as 91 academics and researchers, to be exact – are resolutely not in agreement.

Mona Küppers, vice chairwoman of the National Council of German Women’s Organisations, in a letter signed by the aforementioned 560 NGOs to the members of the European Parliament asking them to reject a report by Honeyball, commented : “We think that the systematic criminalisation of sex buyers will not bring the change supporters of this resolution are hoping for. Quite the opposite: the experience in Sweden shows that prostitution does not just simply disappear after introducing the criminalisation of buyers – activities just simply shift underground. This cannot be the solution – particularly not for the women working in the sex trade.” View the letter in its entirety here.

One of the big problems that people have with Honeyball’s argument is its failure to separate willful prostitution from prostitution begot by sex trafficking. In doing this, Honeyball effectively submits an argument against sex trafficking, not prostitution, but under the false name of the latter, thereby adding nothing valid to the legitimate discussion at hand.

La Strada graz    What’s more, even if it is sex trafficking Honeyball is campaigning against, her ideas on how to improve the situation have shown to have the opposite effect. La Strada International, a network of 12 anti-trafficking NGOS, have stated, ” The partners of the LSI NGO Platform have supported many women and men who were trafficked in the sex industry in the past nearly two decades. (..) Criminalisation stigmatises and marginalises both domestic and migrant sex workers and it deprives them of the tools to protect themselves from violence and seek redress. It drives the sex industry even more underground, which results in less access to health, social and legal assistance for sex workers, and significantly lowers chances to identify individuals who have been trafficked.”

Another rather large (rather, rather large)  issue is the statistical information used to back up Honeyball’s argument; namely, that its scientific quality is poor and that many of the references cited by Honeyball have been proven to be inaccurate time and time again. Plainly put, as stated in the letter, A CRITIQUE OF THE “REPORT ON PROSTITUTION AND SEXUAL EXPLOITATION AND ITS IMPACT ON GENDER EQUALITY” BY MARY HONEYBALL, MEP, signed by the aforementioned 91 academics and researchers, “The report by Ms Honeyball fails to address the problems and harms that can surround sex work and instead produces biased, inaccurate and disproven data.” View the full critique here.

It’s a hard line to walk, somehow having to balance the agency of prostitutes as legal, rightful workers using sex as a legitimate means of income and the illegally coerced  and exploited women stuck in the violent cycle that is sex trafficking, but it would seem that Honeyball has not only incorrectly toed that line, but fallen off of it completely.

 

For a full commentary on the (il)legitimacy of Honeyball’s now EU backed resolution, check out these sites:

http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2014/02/25/european-parliament-shouldnt-criminalize-buying-sex/

http://www.sexworkeurope.org/news/general-news/560-ngos-and-91-researchers-demand-members-european-parliament-reject-ms-honeyball

http://menschenhandelheute.net/2014/02/26/wutender-kommentar-das-europaparlament-stimmt-fur-komplett-verbot-der-prostitution/#more-2704 (auf Deutsch)