[Brussels, 19 July 2012] The EWL and the Bulgarian Women’s Lobby last week organised in Sofia a European conference on ‘Trafficking in women and prostitution: Bulgarian and European perspectives’. The high-level conference attracted a substantial amount of media attention, ensuring widespread visibility and debate on this important issue.
On this occasion, EWL Policy Officer and Project Coordinator Pierrette Pape presented the European Women’s Lobby’s approach to trafficking in women and prostitution, and expressed the wish of women’s organisations to see Bulgaria strengthen its policies on prostitution, through stronger attention given to procuring and prostitute-users, increased prevention and education to equality, and more funding to women’s NGOs supporting women and girls in prostitution and offering them alternatives. Ms Pape also presented EWL campaign ‘Together for a Europe free from prostitution’, which is supported by 31 MEPs.
Organised on 13 July in the EP Information Office, the conference benefited from the presence of the Mr. Tzvetan Tzvetanoc, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, who focused his speech on the key role of both prevention and international cooperation in fighting trafficking in women for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The conference also benefited from the expertise and knowledge of EWL Board member Iliana Balabanova-Stoicheva, President of the Bulgarian Women’s Lobby, who moderated the event with a lot of dynamism.
The European Women’s Lobby (EWL) and the Bulgarian Women’s Lobby (BWL) decided to organize this event in the framework of their common advocacy work on prostitution and violence against women, in order to feed into the public reflection in Bulgaria through examples and positions from the EU institutions and other EU countries.
The EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator Ms Myria Vassiliadou gave recent data on the scale of trafficking in Europe, confirming the gender nature of the phenomenon: 81% of victims are women and girls. She stressed on the need for political will, in particular in times of crisis when women and girls are made more vulnerable to violence and trafficking.
The Minister of Justice Ms Kovacheva and the Secretary General of the National Commission for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings Ms Vassileva presented the situation in Bulgaria and highlighted some challenges, like the reintegration of victims and the role of prevention.
After the break, Mr Simon Häggström, Inspector at the County Police in Stockholm, presented the work of the prostitution unit he is part of, and the impact of the Swedish “sex purchase law” on prostituted persons and traffickers. The experience of the police shows that traffickers cannot survive without the sex buyers, therefore supporting the abolitionist approach to address the demand in order to reduce trafficking and prostitution. In Sweden, sex buyers are offered an optional therapy after arrest, and many of them use it as they express motivation to discuss and stop being prostitute-users; in parallel, women feel confident to speak to the police as they see offer for help. Finally, Mr Häggström answered to some regular critics to the Swedish model for example by demonstrating that there is no increase in violence against women in prostitution: there has been no case of murder since the law has been introduced.
The Bulgarian audience then got to learn more about the situation in France thanks to the presentation of Mr Grégoire Théry, Secretary General of the French NGO Mouvement du Nid. He presented the approach of the broad network of NGOs Abolition 2012, which considers prostitution as a form of violence, an obstacle to equality between women and men, and a violation of human dignity. Looking at the European and international context, he criticized the recent developments of EU institutions, such as the European Court of Justice and Europol, which legitimize the sex industry and therefore deny the fundamental right to human dignity, despite the UN 1949 Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others, which has been ratified by the majority of EU member states, including Bulgaria in 1955. Finally, he gave figures of public support to the Swedish model in France: 59% of women and 73% of young people (18-25 years old) are in favour of criminalizing the purchase of sex.
Two Bulgarian Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) were invited to present their views on the issue: Mr Kalfin criticized the ‘consumer society’ we live in, stressing on the role of prevention, and expressed its support to EWL campaign. In her video message, Ms Gabriel highlighted four priorities: information and education; criminalization of sex buyers; fight against procuring and organized crime; protection of and assistance to victims.
See all photos of the event here.
Video message of MEP Mariya Gabriel: