Posts filed under ‘prostitution’

The Swedish Women’s Lobby Written Statement for the 57th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women

The Swedish Women’s Lobby Written Statement for the
57th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women
The 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), declares that States must take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women (Article 6). Even so, and despite the increasing understanding and agreement that trafficking and prostitution seriously violate women’s human rights, the purchase of human beings for the purpose of sexual exploitation is still not prohibited in all countries.
Prostitution and trafficking in women for the purpose of sexual exploitation is a severe form of men’s violence against women and an international crime of increasing global magnitude. Any society that claims to defend principles of gender equality and women’s human rights must oppose that women’s and girls’ bodies are commodities that can be bought and sold. The prevalence of prostitution is an obstacle to equality between women and men. Furthermore, it is our strong conviction that when adopting the perspective of equality and human rights it is not possible, nor relevant, to make a distinction between voluntary and non-voluntary prostitution.
In order to prevent and combat the purchase of sexual services and trafficking, Governments need to address the demand. The most effective way of doing so is by criminalizing the purchaser of, and not the person who sell sexual services. Such a shift addresses the root cause of the exploitation which is the demand, and not the person being exploited.  
On 1 January 1999, Sweden became the first country in the world to introduce a legislation criminalizing the purchase, but not the sale, of sexual services. The legislation stated that it is unacceptable that men, in a gender equal society, obtain casual sexual relations with women in return for payment. By introducing a ban on purchasing sexual services Sweden also sent an important signal to other countries highlighting our view on purchasing sexual services and prostitution. The law points out that prostitution causes serious harm to individuals as well as to society. Sweden’s 1999 sex purchase law was the first law to define prostitution as a form of male violence against women. Since then, the Swedish legislation is regularly referred to as a model to end prostitution and trafficking for sexual exploitation.
The evaluation of the Swedish sex purchase law clearly demonstrates that the law has had positive effects. Since the law was introduced, street prostitution in Sweden has been halved. When the Swedish sex purchase law was introduced, its critics argued that that it would drive prostitution underground and that it would increase the risk for physical abuse of women in prostitution. The evaluation found no proof that this is the case in Sweden. There is also evidence that the extent of prostitution on the internet is much lower in Sweden than in other countries.  
The evaluation also states that the sex purchase law has reduced the extent of trafficking. Evidence shows that ban on the purchase of sexual services has counteracted the establishment of organized crime. According to the National Criminal Police, it is clear that the sex purchase law acts as a barrier to human traffickers and procurers considering establishing in Sweden.
Furthermore, women who have left prostitution refer to the law as helpful in giving them the strength to leave, and to stop stigmatizing and blaming themselves and instead put the blame on the male purchasers. Thus, the law has been a concrete tool in both decreasing the demand from purchasers, and in helping women to leave prostitution.
Above all, the evaluation shows that the demand for sexual services has been reduced and that the law has had a normative effect on society.  The ban on the purchase of sexual services was intended as a statement of society’s view that it should not be possible to buy a human being, and the evaluation shows that this has been the case. Sweden has experienced an increased public support for the ban, and the support is greatest among young people.
Sweden have now had the legislation for 13 years and it is time to take the next step forward and further strengthen the sex purchase law. In order to do so, the Swedish Women’s Lobby wants to put focus on how the law can be further strengthened and how Governments, private actors and NGOs can collaborate in the fight against sex purchase and sex tourism.
When Swedes travel abroad, for business or pleasure, sex purchase is not illegal as long as it is not criminalized in the visited country.  The legislation needs to be consistent and clear on that sex purchase and trafficking is not allowed neither in the own country, nor abroad. It is time for Sweden and other countries to follow the example of the Norwegian legislation, entered into force January 1st 2009, and expand the law to also include sex purchase abroad. Policies should be formed on the basis of human rights and equality between women and men regardless of the place of the crime. Such a legislation better allows for addressing the growing problem of sex tourism.
The Swedish Women’s Lobby wants to see that the implementation of the current legislation is prioritized and kept on the political agenda with resources and education of police, justice and social workers. Furthermore, it is important to involve the private sector of companies and travel agencies to take action against sex trade by introducing policies and code of conducts against sex purchase for employees.
In order to make certain that the violations of women’s human rights are put to an end, the trade of women’s bodies needs to be prohibited all over the world. The Swedish Women’s Lobby and its members organizations urges States Governments and the United Nations to prevent, combat and eliminate prostitution and trafficking in women and girls by:
·         Taking a clear and explicit standpoint on that prostitution and sexual exploitation of women is a violation of human rights through implementation of the legislations and conventions that already exists. States shall conclude international agreements to address the problem of trafficking in women for prostitution, and live up to the international conventions and commitments already made such as the Beijing Platform for Action and the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women.
·         Prioritizing the prevention of prostitution and sex trafficking through criminalization of sex purchase.  States shall adopt or strengthen legislative and other measures to discourage the demand that fosters all forms of sexual exploitation of women and girls. States shall also put in place information campaigns to spread information on sex purchase as a violation of human rights.
·        Preventing trafficking, prostitution and sexual exploitation by combating the male demand. In order to combat the demand, efforts must be directed towards young men and boys by working with masculinity, gender perspectives, norm critique and gender equality at early ages e.g. through the educational systems and sports associations.
·        Collaborating with private actors and NGOs in the fight against sex purchase and sex tourism. For the legislation to be consistent and clear, it is important to encourage the private sector to take action. For instance by introducing policies and code of conducts against sex purchase, and by including women’s rights in their engagement in corporate social responsibility (CSR).
·        Ensuring continued and sustained social work to support girls and women at risk of ending up in prostitution, as well as to support girls and women to leave prostitution. States and NGOs need to work together to provide support services and measures for safe returning for women who have been victims of trafficking. Although focus on the purchaser is critical for preventing prostitution and sex trafficking, it is also important for professional groups to offer help and support to girls and women in prostitution.
Sveriges Kvinnolobby/ Swedish Women’s Lobby – The Swedish Women’s Lobby (SWL) is a politically independent umbrella organisation for women’s non-governmental organizations in Sweden. Our aim is to integrate women’s perspectives into all political, economic and social processes, locally as well as internationally. We strive to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women and girls, and to build and strengthen solidarity among women through information, education and awareness rising activities. The Swedish Women’s Lobby was established in 1997 and has about 40 member organizations. Gertrud Åström is Chair of the SWL. The Swedish Women’s Lobby is the Swedish coordination of the European Women’s Lobby, the largest umbrella organization for women’s organizations in the EU. Please visit the European Women’s Lobby for more information on their work.

January 11, 2013 at 12:07 pm Leave a comment

I am involved in prostitution in Scotland.  I dont call myself a sex worker and i dont call myself a prostitute.  I am a woman and a mother who has to do this to keep our family going.  I used to have another job but lost it through ill health. I have had to do this for 4 years now.  prostitution was all i felt that was left to me.

I want this to be kept anonymous. I am worried my name and details could be used against me by punters, pimps, managers and supporters of prostitution in Scotland.  Some of them know me and if they knew that i was putting in this response, I would hate to see what might happen to myself and my kids.  I smile and say to everyone that knows i do this that it is ok, that its just another job and its not so bad.  A pack of lies and I hate saying it.  why do i – well, you’re not too popular in this game if you go around with a sour face and moaning.  Anyhow – who in this game really wants to admit what it is doing to them?

I work 4 shifts a week and usually see around 3 or 4 punters a shift.  I have no respect for these men who have spare cash and use it to buy me and the other women.  we are bought – make no mistake about them just buying a service off us.   They buy us and whatever they want to do to us for that money.  Some women think they are just selling a service.  they’re not.  The punters dont think that, they think they have bought ME! They know that they have bought me and my consent.  I didnt realise it could be sold until i started this.

The idea that punters have respect for working girls is a laugh.  The way they weigh us up, pick us for whatever turns them on, make us line up and have to act like we want them to have sex with us.  Its a joke.  Its worse than a joke actually – its a complete market place.  How does this make men look at women in a good way?  We are just like another item on an Amazon wish list to be ticked off when they have had sex with us.  Paid for sex that is.  These men do not respect or even like us all that much but we have to act like they are the most sexy and attractive men ever.   All because they have money and we dont.  I have been attacked 5 times through this.  I am lucky. Some say it is just part of the job.  The job doesnt rape women – the punters do.

some people say it has to continue so a men can have sex.  why – what will happen to them if they dont?   Their head and genitals will not explode and anyone who uses this reason as to why prostitution has to exist seems to believe in the myths that teen boys use to put pressure on their girlfriends to have sex.  No-one will die if they do not get sex and dont get all the kinds of sex they want.  These men think they can get us to do all the stuff their wives and girlfriends wont do.  No wonder – i wouldnt do them if i wasnt getting paid either.  This is about money and nothing else.  i havent seen any woman who does this just because she loves the sex.  maybe there are some but i havent met them.  I hear these other women on the radio and on TV doing interviews and saying how great it all is.  I think – who are you??  I have never seen you around any of the places i have been in and yet you talk away as if what goes on with you in escorting is what it is like for the rest of us.   The women i know wont be getting rich on what they get paid after we pay our dues, we will just be getting by, blanking out what it happening and not trying too hard to think what the future is.  All the women i know want out.  If it was so bloody great – why is that?  Its cause we know deep down what this is doing to us but cant admit it.  Thats too painful.

I want the men to be criminalised.  It is about time they were.  I hear the other women and their stories.  We are all doing this to get by.  I have yet to meet a woman who loves doing this.  There may be some out there but i have not come across them.   I have met women though who will do anything to keep a home for them and their kids but why should it have to be this?

December 18, 2012 at 2:51 pm Leave a comment

Response 3

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to your consultation on the Criminalisation of the Purchase of Sex (Scotland) Bill. I am responding as a private individual: although I have a long history of engagement with these issues and knowledge of the academic literature in the field, my own work is not directly in the field of prostitution research, advocacy or support.

Although I am publicly identified with aspects of this debate in other contexts, I am asking for my response to be anonymised because I think it is important to acknowledge the hostile context in which so much of this debate is conducted. Those who speak out on this issue are often subjected to hostility, abuse and ridicule and, indeed, I know of women with more direct experience than me of the issues raised in this consultation document who are afraid to respond because of the potential personal costs. I cannot, of course, speak for those women – nor would I want to – but by replying anonymously I am seeking to make the fear and anxiety over personalised attack part of the public record.

Q1: Do you support the general aim of the proposed Bill? Please indicate “yes/no/undecided” and explain the reasons for your response.

I warmly support the primarily policy intention of the Bill, to challenge – and criminalise – the demand (primarily, though not exclusively from men) to buy human beings (primarily, though not exclusively women) for the purposes of sex. The buying and selling of access to the bodies of human beings for the sexual gratification of the purchaser – in which the experience of the person bought is immaterial to the transaction – is incompatible with equality, and the proposed legislation sends a powerful message that human beings are not for sale in Scotland.

 I acknowledge that some women in prostitution are there through choice and may be opposed to this Bill and its likely impact on their livelihoods. However, it is important to recognise that the testimonies from women involved in prostitution are extremely varied. There is also a huge body of evidence – from individual women as well as from quantitative surveys – to indicate that women are abused in and through prostitution. Factors including poverty, drug dependency, prior experience of abuse as well as ongoing gendered inequalities in the workplace and the persistent and pernicious sexual objectification of women in our culture, shape and constrain the possibilities of choice in relation to prostitution. Rather than pitting one group of women in prostitution against another to decide whose experience is more ‘authentic’, we therefore need to ask whether supporting a system for the sale of human beings is compatible with equality and with our vision for Scotland – as you have done in this document. This requires that we think about the implications not only on those directly involved in the sale and purchase of sex, but also what that system says about how women (and men) are treated and valued in our society more broadly.

Q2: What do you believe would be the effects of legislating to criminalise the purchase of sex (as outlined above)? Please provide evidence to support your answer.

 The criminalisation of the purchase of sex is important in sending a strong signal about Scotland’s commitment to equality. However, in itself this is not a full or robust approach: it is imperative that those who sell – or are sold as – sex are not subject to criminal sanctions and that the criminalisation of the buying of sex is accompanied by well-resourced support for women (and men) exiting prostitution.

Q3: Are you aware of any unintended consequences or loopholes caused by the offence? Please provide evidence to support your answer.

 As above: steps need to be taken to ensure that the impact – including the loss of earnings – to women (and men) currently involved in prostitution are minimised. This would involve, at the very least, support for those exiting prostitution that would include access to bespoke legal assistance, counselling, addiction services, job training and medical assistance.

 Q4: What are the advantages or disadvantages in using the definitions outlined above?

 I am uncomfortable with the designation “buying sex from a prostitute” as it suggests that the problem lies with a category of person (the “prostitute”) rather than with the activity of buying sex and thus turning another person into a commodity for purchase.

Q5: What do you think the appropriate penalty should be for the offence? Please provide reasons for your answer.

 Fines, on a sliding scale relative to income. The evidence about the efficacy of ‘john schools’ is mixed, and – rather than making this a compulsory penalty for the offence – I would prefer to see pre-emptive public education work to raise awareness of  prostitution as a system which is dependent on inequality and abuse.

 Q6: How should a new offence provision be enforced? Are there any techniques which might be used or obstacles which might need to be overcome?

Any new legislation in this area will only be effective if accompanied by a major awareness campaign, both for the police and for the general public, and if resources are also directed towards services for women (and men) exiting prostitution. This has clear financial implications (Q7): but what are the financial and societal implications of ‘doing nothing’?

 Q7: What is your assessment of the likely financial implications of the proposed Bill to you or your organisation; if possible please provide evidence to support your view? What (if any) other significant financial implications are likely to arise?

See above.

 Q8: Is the proposed Bill likely to have any substantial positive or negative implications for equality? If it is likely to have a substantial negative implication, how might this be minimised or avoided?

As noted above, the Bill is likely to have a substantial positive impact on equality. However, as also noted elsewhere in this response, the likely short-term impact on individual women (and men) currently in prostitution needs to be considered and support for those being required or encouraged to exit prostitution because of any new legislation has to be part of the equation.

December 18, 2012 at 12:01 pm 1 comment

A response to Rhoda Grants proposal

I am submitting this as an individual and would request that it be considered an anonymous submission.  I want to be able to express my personal opinion without a negative impact on my family or my work. I have witnessed happening throughout the course of the consultation and do not want my personal response to be taken and used for broader  ‘political’ reasons.  The pro-sex work lobby in Scotland has attacked individuals online and as a result they have experienced high levels of harrassment and abuse.   I do not feel this is a positive way to engage in debates and so would prefer if this submission could be considered as anonymous.  It highlights how much the pro sex work lobby wants to silence dissent and instead label any objections as “mis-guided, ill-informed or moralistic.”


I support the aim behind Rhoda Grant’s proposal, which is to reduce the harm for those who sell sex in Scotland.  I think this legislation is a forward thinking development and also support it on the basis that it promotes gender equality.


Other countries who have decided to turn the focus onto those are willing to exploit others social and economic availability, are those with the highest level of gender equality.  This proposal would allow Scotland the same opportunity to show how we really consider the value of women.  I know that the vast majority of those who sell sex are women and the vast majority of those who buy it are men.  This proposal is gender neutral and so would offer men who sell sex the same level of protection as women and in turn treat both men and women who chose to purchase sex in the same way.


I am not directly involved in prostitution but have experience of working alongside those who do or have done in the past.  I do not want to speak on their behalf as their own and other’s responses will do that but I have seen first hand the impact on those who feel they no other option than turn to prostitution for their own and their family’s survival.  I have worked in areas with high levels of unemployment, deprivation and disadvantage with young women and men who feel that prostitution in the only way for them to bring money into their homes.  I have seen young women becoming involved without a full realisation of what it may mean for their emotional and mental health.  Their entry into the sex industry was made without this information and was certainly never covered as part of the recruitment process by escort agencies and brothel managers.  Many found it very difficult to leave again, feeling even more trapped and limited than they were before. It is time that we removed prostitution as the final option for survival and instead of focusing on the individual and their choices – we acknowledge that it only exists because there is a demand for it.

While the women were involved they spoke of it as their “choice”, even whilst describing horrific experiences at the hands of customers or punters.  Those punters chose to use, exploit and abuse vulnerability.  They were the ones who inflicted emotional harm and physical hurt.  They were the ones to exercise free choice and walk away with little or no consequences.  This legislation will finally make them face up to the fact that prostitution is not harmless nor just another form of entertainment. If they want to continue to purchase sex, then they can now deal with the consequences.


I have read, watched and heard the media coverage of this proposal.  I have seen which voices have dominated the debates and have been appalled and disappointed by how the system of prostitution has been described. I have heard vulnerable women described disrespectfully by “sex-work” representatives as “drug addled prostitutes,” with little empathy for their situations and how they have ended up involved.  I have heard the negative impacts on those who sell sex described as “occupational hazards” and as just another aspect of the “job.”  I have seen the victim blaming, misogyny and sexism directed at women who speak against this industry, which has served to keep alternative voices out of the media spotlight.   What about the women who have not had media training or had the chance to polish their media personality? What about the women who don’t write blogs about how transgressive, revolutionary and empowering prostitution is?  What about all those women who are struggling to cope and don’t position themselves to get book deals or plays written about them? Their negative experiences are presented as somehow the exception in the sex industry as opposed to the reality many women and men face everyday in Scotland.  When survivors have spoken out – their perspectives have been silenced, mocked or labelled as hysterical.  This is indicative of what happens when a survivor names the violence they have experienced which challenges more comfortable views.


It has also been suggested that the only credible voices in this process are those of “sex-workers” as they have the direct experience of prostitution and the sex industry.  Whilst I do not have this experience – I would question that I am not allowed a place in the debate on this fundamental change to how we view prostitution and therefore women in general. We do not say the same of other forms of violence so why this area?   What makes this form of violence so distinct that those affected are not allowed to voice their opinion?  It is acknowledged that women who have not directly experienced sexual violence, domestic abuse, sexual assault and harassment are still affected by its existence.  The continuing acceptance and condoning of the right to purchase sex affects all women in Scotland.  When it is thought acceptable to purchase sex as another commodity from those who feel they few other options, it then frames it acceptable to consider all women as potentially for sale.  The same is not said for men.


I have noticed a distinct lack of representation from those who choose to buy sex.  Why has the media not engaged with them and if those men thought it was so acceptable and harmless, why have they not come forward to openly express their experiences?   This legislation is aimed at them so one would have thought they would have demanded their presence and time in the spotlight. They have not needed to do this as the pro-sex work lobby has undertaken this on their behalf.  This legislation will make the punters come out of the shadows and be confronted with the reality that their actions contribute to.  I heard one interview which described the “ashen faces of male MSPs” when they have seen “sex workers” in the Scottish Parliament as part of the consultation process.  I think this reflects the previously unspoken idea that this type of legislation will not be progressed in Scotland as too many men in positions of power and influence have been punters and clients.   With this sex workers statement out in the public mainstream media, I would like to see this being addressed in the next stages of the consultation.  Previous legislation on other aspects of violence was not impeded on the basis that some men in politics would be perpetrators.  Legislation on prostitution should not be either.



I question any motivation to support a system, which is clearly based on inequality.  Those who choose to purchase sex are the ones in the powerful position.  By the very virtue that they have money or goods/ services, they will retain the control of what has been deemed a transaction. They want sex whereas those who sell need the money, shelter, food, drugs, alcohol.  No-one has ever died from not having sex or from not having the specific types of sex they want.  Vulnerable women and men can face no homes, food, warmth / heat, or clothes if they decide to not take this final option which has been presented as somehow empowering.  If an individual declares something empowering – does that then make it so for everyone else?   Others have justified the existence of prostitution on the basis that disabled men will not be able to have sex otherwise.  This needs to be challenged as it perpetuates the idea that men with disabilities will never be able to have a sexual relationship without paying someone for it.  This reinforces inequality and positions men with disabilities as somehow “other” than men without.  I notice this justification is rarely applied as the only means for women with disabilities to have sexual satisfaction. It is a more likely assumption that men are entitled to sexual activity and therefore there must be a group of women and men available 24 hours a day


I know that many women and men rely on the money / goods / services they get for selling sex.  I also know that it must be frightening to contemplate alternatives – especially when we are going through few job opportunities for all and especially so for women.  This is why this legislation must have funding available for effective services to support those involved.  A considerable part of that must be on counselling to come to terms with what happened in a safe environment and move on.  This is not saying that those in prostitution are victims but is recognising that they may have had experienced something which could be harmful.


I think this legislation is a positive step forward.  It is only part of what is needed.  We need the sale of sex to no longer be an offence.  This takes the pressure and stigma away from those who may well have come from a background of disadvantage, poverty, violence, abuse and limited options.  This means Scotland also has to acknowledge that inequality exists, that women are more negatively affected by economic changes and have fewer options in which to earn a liveable age.  With that acknowledgement we have to address the broad systematic inequalities to ensure that there are social safety nets in place so no one sees prostitution as all they have left. 




December 18, 2012 at 11:55 am 1 comment

Scotland: Don’t be like US

Thanks to SM Berg for writing this article for SCASE.

The world is debating prostitution. In the past fifteen years, sex trafficking has emerged as a critical human rights issue as the problem has become a planet-wide catastrophe in that time. There’s no need to go into details here about how globalization, armed conflicts, sexism and racism teamed up to create the modern sex slave trade because I want to talk about solutions.

Most people’s favorite example country for legalization, The Netherlands, has seen foreign women and children’s bodies flood De Wallen, Amsterdam’s largest red light district (aka prostitution neighborhood) since legalization in 1999.

The prostitution industry’s favorite example country for legalization, New Zealand,  has seen a quadrupling of illegal prostitution in Auckland, their largest city, since country-wide regulations were instituted in 2003.

Led by Sweden’s example in 1999, the countries of Norway and Iceland have changed their laws to acknowledge that prostitution is male violence against women and children. Finland’s legislators proposed a similar law change in 2006 but settled for making it criminal to hire coerced prostitutes, and England followed their half-step one month ago in April 2010.

As usual, the United States hogs more press coverage for several rural counties in a desert state (prostitution is illegal in Las Vegas) than gets accorded to the entire legalized countries of Mexico, Greece, Guatemala, Ethiopia, and every country in South America except Guyana and Suriname.

I live in Portland, Oregon, which readers of the New York Times and other news fit to print know is the US city with the most strip clubs as well as home of the theater that first projected images of Linda Lovelace getting raped in Deep Throat. Libertarians know our state constitution allows for entertainment businesses to have prostitution occur in them as paid acts of free expression. The Hooters at Mall 205 closed after a few months because it couldn’t compete with the topless sports bar across the street.

Way out in the Oregon desert where there’s nothing around for miles but sage and jackrabbits, there’s a place named “Whorehouse Meadow.” Tourist guides and historical plaques make frequent mention of  how ‘colorful’ the wild, wild west was with saloons and brothels. Men moved the necessary livestock West with them building cattle ranches for the beef and rape rooms for the meat.

For the past eight years I have worked against prostitution in Oregon, but only in the past two years have I seen commitments to make improvements. People didn’t just suddenly discover sex trafficking, prostitution went up as the economy went down and we were forced to confront the problem literally brought to our doorsteps by pimps and johns. I live in the worst prostitution neighborhood in one of the worst US cities for sex trafficking, and my neighbors are Portland’s famously tolerant, progressive citizens. But johns are soliciting children on the way home from school, pimps are beating their slaves on the sidewalks, and there are so many used condoms and needles in the community park that before ball games parents must do a sweep of the field.

We’ve just begun to get serious political weight behind the issue. Portland has no shelter for prostitution survivors, leaving only piecemeal outpatient services available. New laws to provide for victims and target traffickers have been proposed, but so far none of the Prostitution Task Force’s recommendations to reduce men’s demands for prostitutes have been put into action. Instead of  addressing that porn-exacerbated problem, a few weeks ago stickers with a trafficking hotline phone number were mailed to every liquor-selling establishment in Oregon. To respect the free speech of liquor license holders, posting the sticker is optional.

Last week, the Scottish Parliament rejected the Swedish model decriminalizing prostitutes and criminalizing punters; pimping is already criminal. Scotland, you prickly thistle, your obstinance has you staying the muddy path of male supremacy. There’s no better time than now to start fixing your cities the right way, and that means the radical way digging up the roots of sexual inequality. Please don’t wait for the situation to get as unbearable as it has gotten here. Ignoring the damage being done by invasive weeds in the spring only makes for more backbreaking work in the heat of summer.

By SM Berg

May 4, 2010 at 12:13 pm 1 comment

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