The E.U. is one of the many areas of the world debating the legality and prosecution of sex work, with countries differing in opinion across the board. According to an article in Time, the Union will be deciding on whether or not to allow each country to determine sex worker laws for themselves, or creating a front of solidarity against sex work in every country.
As it currently stands, solicitors of sex flock in droves to areas where prostitution is legal, such as Ghent, Belgium, in order to avoid imprisonment or fines associated with purchasing sex in their home countries. Says Charlotte McDonald Gibson of Time online: “The politicians and feminists who consider prostitution a crime against women are hoping the European Union‘s 28 member states will follow the lead of France, Iceland, Norway and Sweden and criminalize the purchase of sex. A report recommending this approach is due before the European Parliament in the coming days.”
The debate is a heated one, with many social workers, advocates, and supporters of sex workers’ rights making public claims that criminalization turns the adult service industry underground, making access to care, support, and safety infinitely more difficult for workers. “It will exist somewhere in the dark, and then nobody is safe: not the client, and not the girl,” says Isabelle De Meyer, a social worker in Ghent. Writes McDonald Gibson: “In Belgium, the purchase and sale of sex is legal, but making a profit from prostitution is forbidden. Cities interpret the laws differently, and prostitutes in Ghent are officially hired as “servers” in “bars” – in reality a dimly-lit room with a bed behind the glass display window. The prostitutes must have a contract and social security number, meaning the city has a record of every woman working the sex industry, and social workers can make regular visits to check for abusive relationships or victims of human trafficking.”
The model that Ghent has instituted currently keeps workers and clients safe, allowing for service providers to have ample time and access to resources that will decrease the danger associated with their trade. When interviewed for the Time piece, the women who spoke up stated that the system in place now makes them feel more secure in the otherwise precarious work they take on. Despite those claims, there are many in the E.U. who would have red-light districts such as the one that exists in Ghent adopt the “Nordic Model”, which is defined as “criminaliz(ing) buying sex, but legalizes selling sex, in theory treating prostitutes as victims of a crime rather than perpetrators.” If you’ve kept up on your Slixa Late Night reading homework, you’ll remember that the Nordic Model is one that Chanelle Gallant of Maggie’s Toronto vehemently opposed in her decriminalization advocacy work (found here):
“In an interview with CTV News, Gallant further takes down the concept of the Nordic Law, also known as the Swedish Model, an action-based ‘solution’ to violence and exploitation targeted towards sex working populations. This model seeks to penalize the demand for commercial sex by curbing the demand and criminalizing clients, or johns, as well as pimps. This law, which claims to promote equality and accountability between the sexes, has been met with resistance from sex workers rights activists like Gallant for years, who believe that the law moralizes the sex trade in a way that does not lead to the end goal of greater safety for sex workers. The model has been criticized for not participating in a harm-reduction prototype that would allow for proper protection of workers, as opposed to attempting to shut the industry down entirely.”
The E.U. will meet shortly to discuss the criminalization laws and determine how to proceed with the disparity of regularity in prostitution in Europe. But as Time reports, the conversation is heated: “With a lack of reliable data, the debate often focuses on the moral rights and wrongs of sex as a commodity, with reports equating prostitution with “sexual slavery.” For many women working in the industry, being labeled mute victims of male aggression simply means their voices are excluded.
“[Politicians] don’t inform us when they are seeking to make our lives more difficult and dangerous,” says Catherine Stephens, a British activist with the International Union of Sex Workers. “There is nothing feminist about the criminalization of our clients and disregarding our consent.”