Include women at the margins: Say NO! to a ‘carceral feminist’ framing to gender based violence!

To the European Commission, the European Parliament, in particular the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM)


The President of the European Commission announced that a new law to combat violence against women will be proposed by the end of this year. 


The European Sex Workers’ Rights Alliance welcomes’ the Commissions’ initiative to combat violence against women, but we wish to express our concerns with increasing calls for punitive and ‘carceral’ approach to gender based violence.


What we demand:


  • We call on the European Commission to reject a 'carceral feminist' framing to gender based violence' which would further strenghten a criminal justice approach to women's rights.


  • We call on the European Commission to incite the development of policies that center perspectives of those at the margins of our societies and more at risk of policing and surveillance


  • We call on the European Commission to incite the development of policies based on meaningful consultation of structurally vulnerable communities facing intersectional discriminations.


  • We call for provisions that require states to critically review policies and laws that discourage victims of gender based violence to report crimes committed against. These include restrictive migration laws or laws against sex work, including those framed as ‘ending demand’ for prostitution through criminalisation of clients and third-parties.


  • We urge the European Commission to integrate in its legislative proposal strategies addressing structural harms and discriminations against women and people at the margins on the grounds of race, gender, gender identity, age, sexual characteristics, sexual orientation, disability, class and migration status.


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Why is it important?


We do not believe in the so called ‘Carceral Feminism’ that pushes for increased policing, prosecution and incarceration to end gender based violence. This approach ignores how increased policing and state power leaves certain women more vulnerable to violence, and that greater criminalisation often places these same women at risk of violence.


Women who are marginalised by their identities, such as racialised women, those of lower socio-economic status, of diverse gender identity and expression, those with precarious or irregular migration status, sex workers, or women with disability, often do not fit the rigid standards of what is considered as the ‘ideal victim’. Instead, the punitive approach to gender based violence continues failing them, leaving them behind.



What is the problem with 'carceral feminism'?

Such approach ignores the structural and systemic discrimination against women spread throughout all aspects of their life, including in the context of migration. Laws highlighting the  ‘carceral underpinnings’ seek to restrict or repress the already limited options undocumented, racialised, marginalised and discriminated groups of people have. It also seeks to outlaw the right to consent to sex (work), the freedoms and bodily autonomy including the right to self-determination with the rationale that the aim is to ‘protect’ women from harm or wrongdoing. This approach does not challenge gender discrimination, but instead reproduces it in the guise of protecting women. As a result the marginalized communities incur the majority of surveillance, policing and unlawful and discriminatory profiling.

Why does restrictive migration laws or laws against ‘prostitution’ harm sex workers?

Police surveillance, as well as gender and racial profiling, are daily realities for many sex workers, especially for migrant, trans, and street-based sex workers as well as sex workers of colour. As highlighted in the research by the European Sex Workers’ Rights Alliance (ESWA) ‘Undeserving Victims? A community report on migrant sex worker victims of crime in Europe’, sex workers mostly interact with police during identity checks and residency checks indicating high levels of surveillance and profiling impacting the community.

The targeting of sex workers occurs within and outside their workplaces. As a result, many migrant sex workers are afraid to leave their homes and workplaces. Such police harassment usually leads to a complete loss of trust towards law enforcement. It is still a reality for many sex workers in Europe to experience instances of sexist, transphobic and racist verbal abuse, the confiscation of condoms necessary for safety at work, and, in some cases, sexual violence from the police.

Police raids, in the context of anti-trafficking measures, often result in sex workers being evicted from their homes or workplaces onto the streets where their exposure to violence may be even greater. Non-sex work laws, such as traffic regulations, regulations related to public morality and public order, or petty offenses are also evidenced to be routinely used against sex workers.

What do you propose instead of a punitive approach?

In order to reduce the harmful consequences of policies on marginalised communities, these communities facing intersectional discrimination need to be included in the policymaking. Regional, local and municipal protocols and policies need to be established in order to allow marginalised communities facing a higher prevalence of crime to participate in designing specific anti-violence programs that truly benefit their communities. Investment in community interventions and increased investments in harm reduction programs are needed. Moreover, states need to critically review policies, laws and by-laws that discourage victims of gender-based violence from reporting crimes committed against them. Such policies include: restrictive migration laws; laws such as those against ‘third parties’ (‘pimping laws’) that are routinely used against sex workers; vague public morality, nuisance, loitering, and decency laws disproportionately and subjectively applied against trans people, racial/ethnic minorities, sex workers and other marginalised groups.




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