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ICRSE and SWAN: Sex workers raise their voice against the EWL call for a ‘prostitution free Europe’

Following the call of the European Women Lobby “Together for a Europe free from prostitution”, the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe and Sex Worker’s Rights Advocacy Network of Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia (SWAN) is shocked at the silencing of sex workers’ voices in the debate, the unethical use of biased statistics and the conflation of trafficking with sex work. Worst of all, the EWL promotes laws and policies that heighten the repression of sex work and in so doing directly threaten sex workers’ safety and human rights.

Whilst we as sex workers have been increasingly organising for our human rights, including labour rights, in Europe, often in very precarious conditions, we condemn those who claim to speak in our name. EWL calls itself a feminist organisation but, nonetheless, dismisses the voice of women, trans* women and men, who have a direct experience of working in the sex industry and actually calls for a Europe free of us.
When the EWL presents ideologically-motivated claims as fact with no supporting evidence, such as the assertion that sex work is linked to childhood abuse, they not only introduce falsehoods into the debate, they also further stigmatize sex workers. Such prejudice is damaging to sex workers on an every-day basis and discrediting anyone who actually cares about our rights and well-being. We strongly advocate for policies that are evidence-based rather than on ideology.
As sex workers, we reject the argument that ”prostitution is a form of violence against women” as it denies the existence of men selling sexual services, as well as silencing sex workers who oppose this view. Speaking on behalf of a whole community and silencing them is a form of violence that, especially, women and LGBT individuals have been fighting against for many decades.
The conflation of trafficking and prostitution and the policies created to tackle demand such as the criminalisation of clients have not improved the lives of sex workers, as research shows (see e.g. Ann Jordan: The Swedish law to criminalise clients: a failed experiment in social engineering. 2012 http://rightswork.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Issue-Paper-4.pdf ). Moreover, by defining sex work as violence against women per se, the actual violence and abuse committed against us is made invisible. Giving police a mandate to repress sex work (whether it be by arresting us, our clients, our managers or raiding our work places), pushes sex workers to work in hiding, in unsafe conditions. It places sex workers in a conflicting relationship with the police making it incredibly difficult to report abuse against us or threats to our safety and continue working. The resulting climate of impunity fuels violence against us.
Giving more power to the police will only increase our vulnerability. This is true for sex workers of all genders, but in particular for sex workers who already face police repression or abuse for being homeless, drug users, migrant or Roma.
As sex workers from all over Europe, we and our allies reject the notion that we need to be saved or rescued. Rather, we need our fundamental rights to be upheld in order to stop abuse against us. As migrant sex workers, we object to the conflation of prostitution with trafficking and demand the right to migrate and work. Criminalising our clients will only increase our dependency on third parties.
For refusing to take into account the experiences of sex workers either male, female, trans* and/or migrants, we denounce EWL’s statement as sexist, racist and transphobic. As stated in our Manifesto (link), elaborated and endorsed by 120 sex workers from 26 countries in Europe at the 2005 European Conference on Sex Work, Human Rights, Labour and Migration, “we demand our voices are heard, listened to and respected”.