Legislative Council: Wednesday, October 18, 2023


European Parliament Regulation of Prostitution Report

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI (Leader of the Opposition) (15:37): The European Parliament is an important forum for political debate and decision-making at the EU level. The members of the European Parliament are directly elected by voters in all member states to represent people's interests with regard to EU lawmaking. The EU covers 27 countries and has a collective population of 448.4 million people.

On 30 August this year, the European Parliament handed down its report on the regulation of prostitution in the EU, its cross-border implications and, importantly, its impact on gender equality and human rights. It found that there are links between prostitution and organised crime, such as human trafficking and drug trafficking, and that in countries with decriminalised pimping and sex-buying and the associated legal infrastructure, trafficking of vulnerable women and minors for sexual exploitation is facilitated and encouraged.

It also found that prostitution is a form of violence and both a cause and a consequence of gender inequality and that the gender-specific nature of prostitution and its exploitation exacerbates the power imbalance between men and women. Given that the majority of people in prostitution are women, it speaks about its impacts on the widening of the inequality gap between the two genders and its negative effect on the further realisation of women's rights.

The report calls on member states to introduce comprehensive psychological, medical, socio-economic and administrative support for victims and survivors of prostitution and ensure access to essential services, such as housing, health care and education. It also makes multiple significant comments around targeting demand for prostitution. In particular, the report notes, and I quote:

…prostitution and trafficking for sexual exploitation exist because there is a demand for it; stresses that, besides addressing the vulnerability of potential victims and prosecuting traffickers and facilitators, among others, demand reduction is a key instrument for the prevention and reduction of human trafficking, as it targets financial incentives;

The report goes on to say that it:

…believes, therefore, that this—

that is demand reduction—

should be developed further in the revision of the EU Anti-Trafficking Directive;

It also notes that:

The 'knowing use' approach of victims of trafficking has proven to be ineffective in order to reduce sexual exploitation due to the impossibility of proving a buyer's knowledge; points out, in this context, that people voluntarily in prostitution are so few in number that they alone cannot meet demand; calls, therefore, for awareness to be raised about the fact that people who want to buy 'sexual services' are at high risk of de facto buying exploitation due to the high number of people forced or lured into prostitution.

Importantly, this report noted that:

…the decriminalisation of pimping and of the purchase of sex increases demand, empowers the demand side and normalises sex buying; underlines that the stigmatisation of people…in prostitution nevertheless persists.

The report refers to studies showing that the normalisation of buying women's bodies goes hand in hand with the greater use of violence against women and a greater sense of entitlement towards women in prostitution and women in general. It notes that only if demand is reduced can the prostitution market, and therefore the number of those exploited in it, shrink.

On 14 September, after debate on the report, the report was adopted by the European Parliament. This is a monumental occasion and moment for the European Union, with its members representing 27 countries, as they formally recognise the inherently harmful nature of prostitution. In its explanatory statement, the report concluded that:

It is therefore high time that the Member States take measures in the areas of prevention, decriminalization of people in prostitution, while supporting exit and reintegration programs, destigmatization and the reduction of stereotypes and do not shy away from punishing clients. Because in the end it is their demand that is the basis for the exploitation taking place in prostitution. Demand makes trading in women attractive. Demand takes advantage of vulnerabilities and the lack of alternatives. And demand legitimizes a system of inequality and exploitation in which women and children are the primary victims.

It is about time Australia heeded the same advice.