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Ending Prostitution and Sex Trafficking: The Global Movement Towards Gender Equality

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To elaborate on Alexandra Topping's Guardian article relating to "politicians and women's groups back 'Nordic model'":

Millions of predominantly women and girls around the world are exploited in the commercial sex industry each year. This buying and selling of sex is often intrinsically linked to sex trafficking.

Earlier this month, the European Women's Lobby (EWL) and partners held a conference in the European Parliament. Alongside MEPs and other political groups, around two hundred women's rights organisations explained how prostitution is a "form of violence, an obstacle to equality, a violation of human dignity, and of human rights". They also outlined key recommendations for EU member states relating to criminalising the purchase of sex, decriminalising the sale of sex, and developing real alternative options for the women involved. Policies of prevention, education and the promotion of equality and positive sexuality were also discussed. 

"Anyone who knows anything about the reality of prostitution for the hundreds of thousands of women in Europe whom it has trapped cannot fail to endorse this call for urgent action from the EU and its member states", says Viviane Teitelbaum, president of the European Women's Lobby.

"With the Brussels call, we clearly see that the abolition of prostitution is a shared value across Europe. For all signatories of the call, the EU policies on trafficking won't achieve results as long as the impunity of procurers and sex-buyers is not addressed", says Grégoire Théry, secretary general of Mouvement du Nid France

Equality Now is strongly in favour of the 'Nordic Model', a set of laws that penalises the demand for commercial sex while simultaneously decriminalising individuals in prostitution. It is based on an approach which was first adopted in Sweden in 1999, followed by Norway and Iceland. 

The Nordic Model aims to curb the demand for commercial sex that fuels sex trafficking and promote gender equality between men and women. 

Sex trafficking is a criminal industry that operates on the market principles of supply and demand. The demand is created by men who pay for commercial sex, ensuring that sex trafficking continues to exist. Traffickers, pimps and facilitators profit from this demand by supplying the predominantly women and girls who are exploited on a daily basis. Addressing the demand for commercial sex is a key component of any plan to prevent sex trafficking. No demand, no supply. No client, no business. In separate studies in the US and Scotland, men who buy sex and provide the demand that fuels trafficking have stated that they would be deterred by greater criminal penalties, having to spend time in jail and having a letter sent home stating that they were arrested for buying sex. Furthermore, since the purchase of sex was criminalised in Sweden, attitudes have changed and the number of men who purchased sex decreased from 13.6% to 7.9% between 1996 and 2008. 

Exploitation in the commercial sex industry is both a cause and consequence of gender inequality. It is an extreme form of violence against women and girls. It violates their human rights, including the right to equality and non-discrimination, dignity, health and to be free from violence, torture, inhuman and degrading treatment. It perpetuates the idea that female bodies are for sale to satisfy the male demand for sex. However, the global movement towards gender equality is gathering pace. An increasing number of countries are recognising that true equality can never be reached as long as it is considered acceptable for one more powerful segment of society to purchase the bodies of those members whose options are significantly more limited.  Criminalising the purchase of sex has nothing to do with morality and everything to do with promoting equality.  The Nordic Model promotes the right of women and girls to safety, health and non-discrimination. It is no accident that three of the four countries in the world recognised as having the highest levels of gender equality have adopted this model. 

Supporting women in their efforts to exit prostitution is also a key element of the Nordic Model. Along with London South Bank University, Eaves recently launched a report which details how the barriers to exiting prostitution can be broken down. A key finding was that many women are able to leave prostitution after receiving the appropriate support to overcome the barriers they experienced and rebuilt their lives. 

Recognising that something must be done to address the harms of prostitution, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland, France and other countries are currently examining new legislative possibilities, which could lead them to criminalise the purchaser of sex. We urge the global adoption of such legislation, which promotes the core principle of true gender equality and which relegates the exploitation of women and girls to the past. 

For more information on the 'Nordic Model', please view our resource document.

For more information on Global Sex Trafficking, please view our factsheet.