In English

Feminist Initiative’s letter to the Members of the European Parliament, 23rd of February 2014

European Parliament
Rue Wiertz
60 B 1047

23rd of February 2014

With relation to the voting 26th of February on Mary Honeyball’s report on sexual abuse and prostitution.

Honourable Member of the European Parliament,

With its proposal to criminalise the purchase of sex the European Parliament’s Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee (FEMM) is supporting policy that puts ideology before the rights and health of sex workers. We propose an alternative to FEMM’s policy, based on human rights. Those working in prostitution should enjoy the same rights as all other people. The organisational field and research on the matter question the consequences of a policy of criminalisation. Criminalisation is followed by control measures, such as surveillance of sex workers, which weaken the position of those earning their livelihood by selling sex services and strengthen the power of third parties and human traffickers. More resources should be allocated for support services for those working in the sex industry. Human trafficking can be prevented by increasing the rights and freedom of movement of sex workers.

As a feminist network we are very aware of the fact that prostitution is a complicated and unpleasant subject for many people. However, regardless of your religious or moral conviction or party political standpoint, we want to emphasize that people working in prostitution are entitled to the same rights as all other people. This is why we hope that you commit yourself to human rights based policies also when it comes to this group of people.

FEMM has, against the recommendations of all the sex workers’ own organizations[1], many organisations under the UN, such as World Health Organization WHO[2], the United Nations Population Fund UNFPA[3] and UNAIDS[4], and the organisations against human trafficking[5], voted for criminalising the purchase of sex, a legislation that increases the vulnerability of those working in the sex industry.

In addition to the organisational field the research on prostitution policy shows that prostitution is a complex phenomenon that has downsides irresolvable by means of criminal policy. Copious research literature shows that criminalising customers has not only failed to control human trafficking, but has also created an environment where the stigma falling upon the sellers has intensified[6]. A stigma means the negative label and the prejudice that the surrounding community imposes upon an individual. Stigmatisation has in many studies been demonstrated to be the central reason for the violence and social exclusion in the society and its service system that sex workers face. [7] Therefore, unlike Honeyball claims, the criminalisation of customers has in practice resulted in the criminalisation of the most vulnerable party in sex trade, that is, the sellers.

We do not wish to deny or belittle the problems and abuse linked to commercial sex. However, the most effective way to affect these is to improve the position of sex workers, not criminalisation. Studies show that criminalisation impairs the status of those in vulnerable positions, such as immigrants and those selling sex on the street. According to both the National Research Institute of Legal Policy[8] and the UN CEDAW Committee[9] control measures like criminalisation usually increase the power of procurers. In Sweden the criminalisation of customers has increased surveillance of the sellers and their harassment by the police.

The legal control of human trafficking does not relate only to the legal control of commercial sex. According to Bridget Anderson, the Professor of Migration and Citizenship at Oxford University, human trafficking is a complex phenomenon that is closely connected to immigration policy[10]. Studies indicate that the lack of residence permit and legal migration channels, and the resulting vulnerable juridical status are common factors enabling human trafficking. [11]

Therefore we ask you to consider carefully the claim that prohibiting sex purchase decreases the size of the commercial sex market and thus also reduces also human trafficking. This claim, often stated in Honeyball’s report as well as by others, is based on the erroneous interpretation of a recent study, in which the impacts on human trafficking by different models of controlling prostitution were compared. The researchers themselves state in their article that it is impossible to say anything definitive about the connection between human trafficking and the different prostitution control models: firstly, because human trafficking is a hidden criminal activity and secondly, because the statistics about the number of victims of human trafficking in different countries are not mutually comparable. [12]

When taking measures against human trafficking it is essential to ensure that all victims of human trafficking have the possibility to receive help and protection without any obligation to cooperate with the authorities. This is required by the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. Despite this requirement the resources of third sector volunteers working against human trafficking are utterly insufficient in Finland.

Unfortunately the European Parliament’s Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee (FEMM) is supporting policy that puts ideology before the rights and health of sex workers. FEMM disdains the experiences and expertise of sex workers and the social workers working among them. Their experience shows criminalisation as a poor measure for preventing human trafficking and for protecting sex workers.

In the name of gender equality, sex worker’s safety, health and human rights we say NO to criminalising the purchase of sex and ask you to:

Vote AGAINST Mary Honeyball’s FEMM report 26 February and demand truly pro-women prostitution policy and an independent report on the criminalisation of the purchase of sex.


Feminist initiative –network, Finland

Translation from Finnish by Anna Merikallio

[1] See for example the European parent organisation ICRSE’s comment

[2] WHO “Violence against sex workers and HIV prevention”

[5] GAATW “Collateral Damage – The Impact of Anti-Trafficking Measures on Human Rights around the World”

[6] Jari Kuosmanen 2011. Attitudes and perceptions about legislation prohibiting the purchase of sexual services in Sweden. Routledge: The European Journal of Social Work. 2011 vol. 14, Issue 2, 247-263; Jay Levy 2011a. Impacts of the Swedish Criminalisation of the Purchase of Sex on Service Provision for Sex Workers, Correlation Conference, Ljubljana, 2011; Jay Levy 2011b. Impacts of the Swedish Criminalisation of the Purchase of Sex on Sex Workers. Presented at the British Society of Criminology Annual Conference, Northumbria University, 4th July 2011.

[7] Pheterson, Gail 1993. The Whore Stigma: Female Dishonor and Male Unworthiness. Social Text 37, 39–65; Kontula, Anna 2008. Punainen eksodus. Tutkimus seksityöstä Suomessa. Helsinki: Like

[8] Lehti, Martti & Aromaa, Kauko 2002: Naiskauppa, laiton siirtolaisuus ja Suomi. Nykytilanne, lainsäädäntö ja tutkimuslähteet. Oikeuspoliittinen tutkimuslaitos, Helsinki.

[9] Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women,18.1.-5.2.2010: 45th session, Concluding observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, The Netherlands

[10] Anderson, Bridget, O’Connell Davidson, Julia 2002. Trafficking – A Demand Led Problem? A Multi-country Pilot Study, Save the Children Sweden 2002.

[11] Anderson, Bridget 2010. Migration, immigration controls and the fashioning of precarious workers. Work Employment Society 24(2), 300–317; Andrijasevic, Rutvica 2010. Migration, Agency and Citizenship in Sex Trafficking. New York: Palgrave Macmillan; Shahram Khosravi 2011. ’Illegal’ Traveller. An Auto-Ethnography of Borders. Palgrave Macmillan; Roth, Venla 2010. Defining human trafficking, identifying its victims: a study on the impact and future challenges of the international, European and Finnish legal responses to prostitution-related trafficking in human beings. Turku: Turun yliopisto; Mai, Nick 2009. Migrant Workers in the UK Sex Industry. Final Policy-Relevant Report; Könönen, Jukka 2012. Maahanmuuttopolitiikka työmarkkinapolitiikkana. Ulkomaalaisten hierarkisoidut työmarkkinat Suomessa. Työelämän tutkimus; Tulossa; Könönen, Jukka 2011. Palvelualan työnantajat ja joustavat ulkomaalaiset työntekijät. Maahanmuutto-hallinnon merkitys prekaarin työvoiman tuottamisessa. Janus, 19:1, 52–67.

[12] Does Legalized Prostitution Increase Human Trafficking? Professor Eric Neumayer of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), Dr Seo-Young Cho of the German Institute for Economic Research, and Professor Axel Dreher of Heidelberg University. Available at:


Demonstration: NO to criminalization, YES to sex workers’ rights!

Wednesday 7.11.2011 at 12:30 pm in front of the Pikku Parlamentti

The Ministry of Justice is preparing a law criminalizing the purchase of sex. In Sweden, the criminalization of the purchase of sex has led to increase of control against the sex workers. For example sex workers have reported that the police fine of carrying condoms, stop constantly for no particular reason, and use abusive language.

Commercial sex need to be addressed in the social, not criminal policy measures. Sex workers’ access to basic and human rights must be guaranteed.

Currently the people selling sex are the economically weak people, such as students, single parents, immigrants and other people without basic security. The best way to prevent problems related to prostitution has adequate basic security and access to support services.

The demonstration is taking place at the same time, the Ministry of Justice’s seminar of criminalizing the purchase of sex. Related banners are welcome, and in particular, we hope that people bring red umbrellas. No party names.

The demonstration is being organized by Feminist Initiative -Network



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