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EU Don't Have to Put on the Red Light: Why the European Parliament Has Got the Sex Trade All Wrong

Posted: 24/02/2014 17:35

The day had to come when the European Union would start regulating our sex lives. And with the European Parliament debating prostitution this week in Strasbourg that day is almost upon us.

Of course, the EU is looking at serious issues such as human trafficking and forced prostitution -including the most heinous form of forced prostitution: child prostitution.

I recognise that a great number of those working as prostitutes are doing so as a result of having being trafficked. The trafficking of human beings is akin to slavery, it is a criminal offence and every one of us has a moral duty to fight against it.

But the problem with the proposals which will be put before the European Parliament this week is that they don't acknowledge that some women - and men - choose to sell sex for a living. Whether we approve or not of such an activity, it is the case that some people enter into prostitution freely and without coercion or violence.

I don't believe that the EU should be telling anybody what to do and that includes what they do with their bodies. What's more EU member states have long held differing legal views on prostitution and it is not the job of Brussels to interfere in the legal matters and decisions of sovereign nations.

Now feminists - including the lead sponsor of the proposals Labour's Mary Honeyball - will tell you that women never become prostitutes of their own free will and that only by the total elimination of prostitution can women be free of sexual oppression. Her proposals use "prostitution" and "sexual exploitation" interchangeably. And this makes it all too easy to lose sight of the key message: that those forced into prostitution need our protection.

And while I don't particularly like the fact that women sell sexual services to men for money, I know that a blanket criminalisation of selling or buying sex will neither lead to the complete elimination of prostitution nor will it make it easier to help those women and girls who are the victims of trafficking and genuine sexual exploitation. And I'm not the only one who thinks this way. La Strada International, a major NGO addressing the trafficking of persons in Europe, is one of over 500 organisations which have come out against the plans put forward by Mrs. Honeyball.

To reach a more balanced solution, I've worked across all political spectrums and with MEPs from a range of different EU member states to co-sponsor an alternative motion for resolution. This resolution strongly condemns forced prostitution and the trafficking of any person, especially for the purpose of exploitation in the sex trade, but stops short of taking a position on whether to ban prostitution or to liberalise prostitution.

What it does is put the safety of women first. I strongly believe that we need to ensure that those women who freely decide to work as prostitutes can do so in a safe environment, both physically and emotionally, and that their safety is not endangered by pushing the trade further underground.

The proposals before the European Parliament favour the so-called Nordic model which criminalises those who buy sex. Anecdotal evidence from sex workers in Sweden has shown that this approach has not stopped prostitution but instead has made being a prostitute more dangerous.

My resolution takes into account statistical evidence and information provided by voluntary organisations working in this field. It acknowledges that some prostitutes are looking for a way out and urges member states to work with NGOs in the field to assist sex workers. Most importantly the resolution states that sovereign nations, not the EU, should be regulating the sex industry.

The current measures on prostitution before the European Parliament do little to protect women who choose to become prostitutes. They instead make the assumption that all prostitutes are victims who are forced. This makes it more difficult to both protect the women who freely choose to go down this road and to battle the twin evils of human trafficking and child exploitation. We need to protect women, not to merely uphold "women's rights" and by taking a moral or feminist approach to prostitution we are letting down the women we ought to be helping.

 
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