[London, 28 February 2013]
Today, the National Alliance of Women’s Organisations (NAWO) organized their Annual General Meeting Conference on the issue of prostitution in the Europe House of London, and chaired by Julie Bindel, journalist, researcher and trustee of this EWL member organization.
Entitled ‘A Europe free from prostitution’, the event directly follows up on the European Women’s Lobby’s European conference on prostitution, which took place on 4 December 2012 in the European Parliament. NAWO’s conference aimed at bringing the issue of the abolition of prostitution on the political agenda, and building capacity of NAWO members for further actions at UK level. The conference also proposed a signing ceremony of the Brussels’ Call, to which MEP Mary Honeyball took part, reaffirming her strong support to the EWL campaign ‘Together for a Europe free from prostitution’. Unveiled in December 2012 in Brussels, and endorsed by 200 organisations from all over Europe, the Brussels’ Call is now open for support from the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), and will be a useful tool for the various policy discussions taking place in many EU Member States.
The event’s added value was also to make connections between policies and actions from the local to the European level. Pierrette Pape, Coordinator of EWL’s campaign, gave an overview of the current situations regarding prostitution policies and their impact in different EU Member States. There are mainly two trends in terms of policy approaches to prostitution in the EU: the Dutch model, lifting the ban on brothels, leads to a trivialization of prostitution, which manifests through the establishment of prostitution schools in Spain, or threats on women’s unemployment benefits if they refuse a job as a prostitute (this happened in Germany some weeks ago). The Nordic model, criminalizing the purchase of sex, proved to deter trafficking in Sweden and to get a strong support from the public. In this context, the EWL is demanding an abolitionist approach, based on the recognition of prostitution as a form of violence against women and an obstacle to equality between women and men.
Yeliz Osman, from the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC), presented London’s approach to prostitution, which is part of London’s strategy on violence against women ‘The Way Forward’. This strategy states that regardless of whether there has been trafficking, violence is intrinsic to prostitution. The action of the MOPAC focuses on exit and demand, based on the outcomes of an Eaves’ study on emerging trends and patterns in London sex industry. A second strategy is foreseen for 2013, focusing on exit and prevention.
Philip Rashidi, detective sergeant from the Metropolitan Police, presented his work against trafficking and prostitution, assisting victims, training police officers, and doing national and international investigation. His experience leads him to believe that there is no ‘free’ prostitution, and that the demand fuels criminal networks. He highlighted the challenges faced by the police, due to the legal requirement of getting evidence in order to act and the current financial cuts reducing the police’s resources.
Ann Hamilton, expert on trafficking and formerly working at the Human Trafficking Foundation, highlighted the lack of public debate on the issue, and the invisibility of men when it comes to understanding and describing the phenomenon of prostitution. She denounced the lack of political will to tackle prostitution, whereas policy responses similar to the ones developed against domestic violence could be elaborated towards prostitution, in order to better protect women.
MEP Mary Honeyball (on the photo above, in the middle) took the floor to express her concern about the lack of understanding of the long term impact of a life history made of abuse and violence, and its direct link with vulnerability to fall into prostitution. She was happy to hear from Philip Rashidi that a follow-up of her report on prostitution and advertising had been undertaken by the Police with a first prosecution against newspaper being prepared.
The conference concluded with all participants signing up to the Brussels’ Call. The EWL hopes that this event is the first of a series of actions in the various EU Member States to gather signatures of MEPs and continue the awareness raising work at EU level about prostitution being a form of violence against women.
See more photos here.