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Review of the ARETUSA/ENATW report on “Implementing gender equality principles to combat trafficking and to prevent sexual exploitation of women and children”


The objective of the report was to find out about the attitudes and the knowledge of legislators, politicians and heads of state organisations and senior police officers to issues of trafficking and prostitution in the countries represented by the civil organisations in ENATW. The goal of interwieing was three-fold: 1) to find out how much knowledge the respondents had on trafficking, both within the country and outside of it; 2) to establish how well-informed they have been on national and international anti-trafficking and prostitution laws; 3) to collect their expert evaluations of the legal systems. All officials clearly and unanimously condemned trafficking, while their attitude to prostitution has not been so uniform. It is partly due to the fact that the authors of the survey did not provide clear definitions of either trafficking or prostitution.

The country reports have been loosely organised around the following themes:

  • the notion and main causes of prostitution, child prostitution;
  • opinion on local legal regulations;
  • opinion on international norms;
  • actors in prostitution, data on local and European prostitution, the role and responsibilities of the state;
  • the notion of trafficking, local and international data;
  • is the amendment of laws necessary, who is responsible for combating prostitution and trafficking, how the victims of trafficking should be treated;
  • what kind of services are needed, what kind of local and international services the interviewee knows.

The report targeted 5 countries: In Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Poland interviews were conducted with varying degrees of success and their findings were supposed to be based on the interviews conducted. The findings on the situation in France and Sweden were not based on interviews conducted, but were “using mainly other resources.”

It should be noted that the report did not have consistent definitions of the sex industry, prostitution or trafficking that should have formed basis for data collection. In some of the national reports definition are borrowed from national laws, while in others, no consistent definitions are present and the reader is left to guess why sex industry, prostitution and trafficking are used interchangeably.

What is clear from the 7 smaller reports is that most senior public officials are not up to date on national and international legislation regarding trafficking and prostitution. Most officials have not made the ‘link’ between prostitution and trafficking, seeing both phenomena as distinct. Prostitutes and trafficking victims are not automatically lumped together in the eyes of the respondents. Most respondents have not made the link between sexual exploitation and prostitution, seeing both, again, as separate phenomena.

What is clear from the interviews is that many officials see prostitution as an occupational or ‘lifestyle’ choice that is cause by ‘stupidity’ (Lithuania), low self-esteem and greed (Greece), socio-economic marginalisation (desperation, poverty, non-existent employment opportunities), a lack of education and/or a desire to make ‘fast money’. Respondents note that clients come from all socio-economic backgrounds.

Almost all reports and respondents see a need for stricter, more prohibitive laws. However, they also note that there is a gap between existing legislation and its implementation. The responses that did include an opinion on how victims of trafficking should be treated, all agreed that victims should not be punished for what has happened to them.

Prostitution is not presented or viewed in a positive or even neutral light in the responses given, nor in the tone of the report. Advocates for the legalization of prostitution are painted as serving the interests of the sex industry at the expense of women and children. The argument throughout the report is that prostitution is not an occupational choice that can be made by anyone who is competent, moral or of sound mind and spirit. Thus, the question of consent is treated as a non-issue.

This report does none of the things it set out to do: the supposed “suggestions on how to reflect on the relations between prostitution, sexual exploitation and trafficking within the sex industry as well as the impact that those phenomena have on the protection of human rights and the fight against violence on women”, are nothing more than statements asserting that prostitution and other activities in the sex industry are sexual exploitation, linked to trafficking. In order to protect human rights and fight violence against women, the report states that prostitution and trafficking must be abolished; the “indications to focus on the issue of demand (client) and sex industry” are not indications at all but an indictment of male sexuality as perverse, degrading and dangerous and the root cause of trafficking and prostitution; the “information on the state of implementation of EU policies against the trafficking, focusing on mainstreaming the principle of equality between men and women in national and local policies” was hardly an issue that was dealt with by any of the smaller reports.

The section on Common Findings and Recommendations has hardly any connection to the survey held among politicians, police and state officials, but, instead, it re-introduces the position of the researchers that “prostitution is essentially abuse, exploitation and rightlessness”.

This report is problematic on several levels. Anyone reading the ARETUSA/ENATW report on “Implementing gender equality principles to combat trafficking and to prevent sexual exploitation of women and children” should rightly ask, how exactly this report introduces or uses gender equality principles in the fight against trafficking and sexual exploitation. Equating prostitution or the sex industry with a modern form of sex slavery does not constitute the application of gender equality principles to the debate around trafficking, sexual exploitation and the sex industry.

Read the ARETUSA/ENATW Report “Implementing gender equality principles to combat trafficking and to prevent sexual exploitation of women and children” on ARETUSA website.