Submission in support of Mary Honeyball's Report on sexual exploitation


We write as a global network of researchers in support of Mary Honeyball’s motion for a resolution on sexual exploitation and prostitution and its impact on gender equality (2013/2103(INI).

We do this on the basis of deep and systematic expertise in researching the dynamics of prostitution and the sex industry, trafficking and violence against women. Our research draws on contemporary evidence, on historical and philosophical inquiry, and importantly on the testimony of survivors of the prostitution system. Many of us have worked directly with prostituted women. We have individual and collective links with a wide variety of organisations working for the abolition of prostitution as an institution of gender inequality and exploitation. We draw on both our practice-based evidence and our academic studies to strongly endorse the Honeyball report and its recommendation to adopt ‘the Nordic model’ as a pan-European approach to prostitution.

We believe it is important to signal that our position on prostitution is not grounded in a moralistic approach, or in any kind of hostility to women in the prostitution system. Nor is our position linked to considerations about maintaining ‘public order’. Our concern is centrally with the human rights of women in protecting the dignity of all women equally, and with an end to all forms of the subordination and degradation of women.

The Honeyball Report calls attention to a number of key issues:

  • the gender asymmetry of the sex industry, that is, men are overwhelmingly the majority of those who buy sexual acts, and women and girls those whose bodies are bought;
  • countries where buying sexual acts has been criminalised have seen sex markets shrink, and trafficking reduced. This is a success for these countries as nation states, and the European Parliament adoption of the Nordic model offers the potential to replicate this progress across Europe;
  • attitudes shift where the purchase of sexual acts is criminalised, with surveys in Sweden for example consistently showing that a large majority now think the purchase of sexual acts is unacceptable.*Law is a powerful tool in defining and changing what is, and is not, socially acceptable behaviour.

While we recognise that some women say they find selling sexual acts to be personally and economically empowering, these individual stories are not testament to the legitimacy of prostitution as a social institution. The prostitution system is a reminder of continuing inequalities between women and men: the gender pay gap; the sexualisation of female bodies in popular culture; histories of violence and abuse in both childhood and adulthood that underpin many women’s entry into the sex industry. The persistence of these economic and social inequalities in every European country (and globally) is well documented in a wealth of academic research. Together these layers of disadvantage experienced by women mean that so-called ‘free’ choices are actually decisions made in conditions of already existing inequality and discrimination. Women’s choices should not be measured simply by where they end up (in prostitution), but by the circumstances in which these choices must be made. Choices made in conditions of being unequal cannot be considered ‘free’.

The Honeyball Report is a landmark because it shifts focus to the choices that men make to purchase sexual acts. Systematic research from Finland2 and the UK3 in particular reveals that men who pay for sexual acts do so because they believe that biological urges lead them to ‘need’ sex from a variety of different women. Some men explicitly report that they buy sexual acts because it is a context where they do not have to think about women as equal human beings with their own feelings, wishes and desires. Men’s own experiences of prostitution, as collated on sites such as The Invisible Men,4 provide a chilling picture of the reality of prostitution for women: of violence, desperation, subordination and despair.
This is why the Honeyball Report is clear that the idea and the reality that women’s bodies can be bought – and sold – by men, to men, both creates and perpetuates relations between women and men as a hierarchy.

Prostitution is, as the Honeyball Report states, a form and a cause and a consequence of gender inequality. Achieving gender equality means taking steps towards a world where progress goes beyond improving the status of individual women in conditions of discrimination, but addresses those conditions. Criminalising the purchase of sexual acts, decriminalising those who sell, and providing specialist support to women to be able to leave prostitution, are measures that directly address gender inequalities.

The decision for your vote this week is whether or not to challenge the fiction that it is natural and inevitable for men to buy access to women’s bodies for sexual release, and whether or not to challenge this as a deeply-rooted form of gender inequality.
The European Parliament has an historic opportunity to act as a global beacon on gender equality, following the pioneering example set by the Nordic countries. We urge you and your party members not to waste it, and to vote for the Honeyball motion.

* See data and analysis in Max Waltman (2011) Sweden's Prohibition of Purchase of Sex: The Law’s Reasons, Impact, and Potential Women's Studies International Forum 34: 459-460.

  • "When New Zealand passed full decriminalisation, things changed in unexpected ways and I came to understand that the myths of legal protection, autonomy, increased choice and greater community acceptance were unfounded.. The myth of health being better was proved false in less than 6 months of the law reform. Women were kissing and risking herpes, doing oral sex without condoms with the risk of throat warts, doing rougher and riskier practices just to get the jobs.. I dealt with punters changing expectations. I had no choice but to fight against this model ever spreading to another country."
    - Sabrinna Valisce, Melbourne, Australia
  • "Just because dancing (stripping) is legal does not mean it’s not violence against women - Stripping and prostitution go hand in hand."
    - Vednita Carter, St Paul, USA
  • "Remembering friend’s I have lost along the way, and taking a glance at all the violence, rape and inhumane activities, I just can’t help but recognize my luck to alive today."
    - Mickey Meji, Cape Town, South Africa
  • "What I know today is that women are victimised by the system of prostitution by innumerable perpetrators, and at the same time victimised by a society which is not only allowing but encouraging prostitution by accepting it as a 'job like any other'. We are victims of a society blind in one eye, advancing the wealth of a privileged few over the suffering of an incalculable number of women and children."
    - Marie Merklinger, Stuttgart, Germany
  • "It might surprise you, but it can happen to anyone. No you’re not exempt. I wasn’t."
    - Marian Hatcher, Chicago, USA
  • "When I look back now I see that prostitutuion lured and consumed those of us who were already marginalised in society. If you were poor, if you were disadvantaged, if you had come from a broken home or had vulnerabilities connected to prior cycles of abuse, especially sexual abuse, prostitution was there waiting for you. Prostitution is a trap, and it’s not a coincidence that all over the world it ensnares those who are already struggling to survive."
    - Rachel Moran, Dublin, Ireland
  • "I was able to exit prostitution and rebuild my life, and with that my education became a tool. I was recognized for my tenacity and my strength and have been able now to be an asset to my community and to my people."
    - Bridget Perrier, Toronto, Canada
  • "My body, mind, and spirit survived so many things for so many years. The sexual exploitation and violence I endured was almost like something that happened to someone else. If I had told myself the truth about what was being done to me, my psyche would have splintered into a million pieces."
    - Autumn Burris, Denver, USA
  • "Many people ask me, how did I get into prostitution, was I “trafficked” or was I a willing participant? What many don’t understand is - however we entered - what the act of prostitution does to us; how it slowly strips us of any semblance of ourselves, as we try to sell part of our bodies, while keeping our soul intact. Prostitution preys on the most vulnerable; it takes us places we never intended to go, all driven by those who feel entitled to pay for our bodies. "
    - Cherie Jimenez, Boston, USA
  • "For me, sexual abuse was a direct route into prostitution. The same kind of destructive abuse chosen by myself, because I knew this feeling and recognised myself in this situation, even though the situation traumatised me over and over again."
    - Tanja Rahm, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • "At the tender age of fifteen I was coerced into the brutal world of prostitution, I immediately lost my identity. I liken my day to day life to being on the front lines of a battlefield. I spent the next eleven years shut down and disassociated. I supressed feelings of shame and disgust constantly, by telling myself that this was a job like any other."
    - Fiona Broadfoot, Bradford, UK
Read more testimonials
"When I look back now I see that prostitutuion lured and consumed those of us who were already marginalised in society. If you were poor, if you were disadvantaged, if you had come from a broken home or had vulnerabilities connected to prior cycles of abuse, especially sexual abuse, prostitution was there waiting for you. Prostitution is a trap, and it’s not a coincidence that all over the world it ensnares those who are already struggling to survive."
- Rachel Moran, Dublin, Ireland
Read more testimonials