Wednesday, 26 February 2014

A fanatic EU Committee

An EU Committee wants every member state to adopt the Swedish model on prostitution, criminalizing the client. However, this recommendation is not based upon scientific research but fanaticism. 

Prostitution policy is a hotly debated topic these days within the EU-parliament. Recently a press release could inform us that the Committee for gender equality and women’s rights (FEMM) will request a parliamentary referendum to the EU Commission, in order to make the Nordic prostitution model legally binding for every member state.
But this suggestion is far from uncontroversial.
 Anders Solli Sal (f. 1985)
attitudes and total deafness to empirical research.

The report approved by the EU Committee recommends all member states to implement the so-called Nordic model for prostitution policy, where the sex workers are to be helped (by being “rescued” out of prostitution) and the client, together with any procurer, are to be punished by law. The thought behind this is to decrease the demand for prostitution, thereby lowering the economic incentives underlying human trafficking. This may sound good – in theory.

Alas, there is a problem. The experts who were to contribute to this report are against this very recommendation. Why? It hurts the ones it is intended to help.

Some background on the report

What made the EU-parliament think this was a good idea to promote? In December 2012 the European Women’s Lobby arranged a conference, aiming at assessing 10 years of policies on prostitution in Sweden and the Netherlands. More than 200 NGOs were united (although not truly represented[i]) under the slogan Together for a Europe free from prostitution. To an audience consisting of MEPs and several Ministers they spoke of how prostitution is a form of violence against women. (This rather radical position is not unison in the lobby group.)

This was like music in the ears of the FEMM Committee. After much pressure from MEP Mary Honeyball, FEMM was given the responsibility for the preparation of a report to be given the EU-Commission. Their influence was to become considerable.

A Professional Boycott

Daniela Danna is a sociologist working at Milan’s State University. Her Doctoral dissertation reviewed the position of prostitutes in EU countries, with a focus on law and practice. As an expert on prostitution policy and violence against women, she was a natural choice as expert coordinator for the report to be made.

She has this to tell about the process:

- I became coordinator, with a legal contract, to conduct the work on the report. The prelude was that the EU-Parliament, under the initiative of MEP Honeyball, wants the EU-Commission to lay down legal directives guiding prostitution policy. This was due to prostitution, in Honeyball’s view, being a matter of gender equality. This was to be grounded by law.

According to the EU Treaty, the Parliament or the Council may give directives lawfully binding member states to implement these, with respect to certain types of crimes. One of which is trafficking in human beings and the sexual exploitation of women and children (Article 83). The problem is that this is conflated, or equated, trafficking with prostitution, i.e., with consensual sex work.

- Honeyball’s position is that trafficking and prostitution is one and the same thing, and that prostitution always is violence against women. This is not only erroneous in fact – what about transsexuals? Indeed, what about male prostitutes?

Working together with a bunch of other expert, their work started March last year.

- I was given the contract in February/March. With the help and contributions from the other experts we had part of the report ready, dealing with law policies in the EU countries. The plan being that this was the first part of the finished report to be sent the EU Commission. That never materialized.

- What happened?
- A professional collaboration with the Committee was utterly impossible, due to the pre-conceived abolitionist stance. The problems started in June when our study wasn’t approved by the Committee, not even the outline. This was mostly due to the conflation by the Committee of trafficking with prostitution (or sex work), and that prostitution as such was simply incompatible with their particular view of what the end of gender equality is to be. And gender equality, maintained the Committee, was after all to be a main topic of the report.
- They were fanatic. This was something I personally experienced during the only meeting(!) we actually had with the Committee. They could simply not approve of research which showed that not all prostitution is in fact violence against women, or that trafficking and prostitution is something essentially different.

- So you withdrew?
- Yes, I had no choice. This is in violation with elementary scientific thinking. In accordance with our national Sociological Association’s ethical chart, any conclusion drawn being influenced by request of the commissioners, is strictly forbidden. Naturally! It was quite obvious that our role consisted only in one thing, and that was to justify the criminalization of clients. How they got this power over a document that was commissioned and should be presented to the EU Commission, I just don’t know.

- You don’t seem convinced that the correct approach to prostitution policy is the criminalization of clients. What approach would you say is the most appropriate approach, both legally and politically, to the question of prostitution?
- Fundamentally, I’m of the same conviction as that of Cecare Beccaria [Italian jurist, philosopher and politician in the 18th Century]. Beccaria argued for the decriminalization of prostitution, because prostitution is a breach of law without a victim, a victimless crime. And as the EU Court of Justice has expressed, prostitution is an economic activity and should be regulated as such. There has to be legal room for the exchange of sex for money, and not a prohibition as in Sweden. Prohibition only worsens the conditions for the prostitutes – not only in practice but also symbolically. This is the last thing they need, already unrightfully stigmatized.

This is how the collaboration between the FEMM Committee and the expert group ended.

To Whom Should We Listen?

No matter what your opinion is regarding the Nordic model, an eventual EU approved report recommending it would not be factually based. Any chance for this, we’ve seen, was cut off already in the preparation stage of the report.
After listening to what the professional coordinator has to say, it should be clear to whom we should not listen.

Daniel Danna is by no way alone. By now, over 560 NGOs (including 12 anti-trafficking NGOs) and 70 academics have signed an appeal against the recommendation of this harmful suggestion. Let us hope the EU-Parliament have the sense to listen.

[i] This position of the EWL is not policy discussed and approved ‘from below.’ In Italy, for instance, at the group’s website, it is recommended against the criminalization of clients, due to important information in the battle against trafficking being lost when clients are criminalized.

Author / Source: Anders Solli Sal at Verdidebatt
Original Norsk versjon her.