Letter of concern regarding hearing at European Parliament FEMM Committee

Letter of concern regarding hearing at European Parliament FEMM Committee

On the 6th of December 2021, the European Sex workers' Rights Alliance (ESWA) was invited for the public hearing 'Regulation of prostitution in Europe, its cross-border implications and impact on gender equality and women's rights' organised by FEMM Committee of the European Parliament. 


'Inacurate', 'biased' and 'methodologically flawed'


The purpose of the hearing was to discuss the findings of recently published research commissioned by the European Parliament’s Policy Department for Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs at the request of the FEMM Committee on 'the differing EU Member States’ regulations on prostitution and their cross-border implications on women’s rights', written by academic Andrea Di Nicola. 

In a scathing statement, 168 internationally established academics and researchers denounce Mr Di Nicola's research as  'inaccurate', 'biased' and 'methodologically flawed' and 'recommend not considering Di Nicola’s work as evidence-based and guard against adopting its recommendations.'


The voices from the ground are still silenced 


ESWA has serious concerns about the event where our coordinator was invited to speak. First of all, we deeply regret that the presentation of the ESWA Coordinator, the only voice of a person with lived experience of sex work and the only migrant woman at the table, was muted for half of her presentation. Although we would like to believe that this was unintended- and due to technical issues, Ms. Sanchez was the only voice from the ground that in fact was not heard at the public hearing.

This hearing was another occasion to see how privileged and well situated policy makers, some of them in the name of gender equality, are attempting to speak on our behalf and trying to ‘protect us from wrongdoing’ by promoting laws that aim to repress and restrict the already limited options we have.  This protectionist position does not challenge gender discrimination, but instead reproduces it in the guise of protecting women. 

The protectionist approach exacerbates our vulnerabilities to violence, exploitation and human trafficking, rather than eliminating the ‘demand that fosters exploitation’. ‘End demand’ laws are disproportionately enforced in the spaces occupied by us – our homes, neighbourhoods, working establishments and other workspaces. As a result, sex workers, not clients, incur the consequences of these measures; profiling, surveillance and exacerbated policing - not only while working but also in their day-to-day lives. 


Criminalisation of sex work leads to poorer health conditions and increased violence - that's why it is opposed by WHO and a majority of European Civil Society networks 


Several MEPs have made, during the hearing, spurious arguments linking prostitution with poor health outcomes and therefore recommending criminalisation of sex work. It is therefore critical to remind that the World Health Organization (WHO) is among the international bodies that call for decriminalisation of sex work and elimination of the unjust application of non-criminal laws and regulations against sex workers. Discriminations and structural barriers including criminalisation of sex work are the main factors that impact sex workers’ access to health. Recommending criminalisation of sex work also contradicts the target of the ‘Global AIDS Strategy 2021-2026: End inequalities. End AIDS.’: Less than 10% of countries criminalise sex work.  It has been recognized by UNAIDS, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the WHO that in the context of sex work, criminal laws cause harm. Most importantly, UNAIDS, the UNFPA, the UNDP and the WHO unequivocally call for meaningful inclusion of sex workers in policy-making. In parallel, meaningful inclusion of sex workers in anti-trafficking policy would facilitate a more nuanced understanding of different layers of exploitation and would lead to more targeted interventions with regard to prevention, detection and referral of victims of trafficking.


Criminalisation of sex work is opposed by the vast majority of European Civil Society networks working in the fields of anti-racism, migration, anti-trafficking, human rights, LGBTI rights and HIV (ILGA Europe, Transgender Europe, Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants, La Strada International, Aids Action Europe, European Aids Treatment Group, Correlation - European Harm Reduction Network, European Network against Racism, Equinox - racial justice initiative, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch amongst other.) 

MEPs and policy makers at EU level must stop this conflation of prostitution with violence against women and/or trafficking and work with us and civil society partners to develop policy that protect, not marginalize, all women.


Our demands


ESWA demands: 

  • the FEMM Committee members to end attempt to criminalise sex work,
  • to review the mechanism of selecting researchers that conduct research which aims to inform the EU policy making in order to ensure fairness and transparency,
  • to follow the recommendations of UNAIDS, WHO, UNDP AND UNFPA  and to meaningfully include sex workers and their organisations in the development of research, policies and laws that affect us,
  • the FEMM Committee to organize a hearing on issues affecting sex workers by including sex worker-led organisations, speakers from WHO, UNAIDS, Amnesty International and other recognised human rights organizations and bodies

To access the full Letter of Concern sent by ESWA to members of the European Parpliament, click HERE


How you can help make our voices heard


Send an email to the MEP of your country to call for evidence-based and sex workers' inclusive research. The list of FEMM Committee MEPs and the template of the email are accessible HERE

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