Tuesday, 18 February 2014

ICRSE Press Release re Mary Honeyball MEP's report on sex work



More than 470 civil society organisations and 45 researchers tell the European Parliament to reject a report on prostitution by Mary Honeyball, MEP for London, which promotes the criminalisation of clients of sex workers, in an upcoming plenary session on February 27th.

" An incredible number of 470 NGOs and civil society organisations as well as 45 academics and researchers have signed letters to the members of the European Parliament asking them to reject a report by MEP Mary Honeyball, which asks EU Member States to consider the criminalisation of the clients of sex workers.

The letter from NGOs, initiated by the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe, a network representing 59 organisations in Europe and Central Asia, denounces the conflation of sex work and trafficking, the disregard for sex workers’ health and safety and the lack of evidence on which the report is based.

Luca Stevenson, Coordinator of the ICRSE commented: “The Swedish Model of criminalisation of clients is not only ineffective in reducing prostitution and trafficking, it is also dangerous for sex workers. It increases stigma which is the root cause of violence against us. It is a failed policy denounced by all sex workers’ organisations and many women’s, LGBT and migrants’ organisations, as well as many UN bodies.”

The signatories include sex workers’ rights organisations but also many women’s rights groups such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation, a network of 40 members in Europe, and the National Council of German Women's Organisations, which represents 50 women’s organisations in Germany.

Mona K├╝ppers, vice chairwoman of the latter, commented: “We think that the systematic criminalisation of sex buyers will not bring the change supporters of this resolution are hoping for. Quite the opposite: the experience in Sweden shows that prostitution does not just simply disappear after introducing the criminalisation of buyers – activities just simply shift underground. This cannot be the solution – particularly not for the women working in the sex trade.”
Marija Tosheva, Advocacy officer of SWAN, the Sex Workers Rights Advocacy Network of Central Eastern Europe and Central Asia explains: “The report fails to represent different realities of sex workers across Europe. It reinforces the stereotypes that all women from Eastern Europe are trafficked in Western Europe, thus labelling all of them as victims, denying their agency and excluding them from the ongoing debate and decision making processes. Some sex workers do migrate searching for better job opportunities, and some get vulnerable to violence and exploitation, but labelling all sex workers as voiceless victims and criminalizing any aspect of sex work is just distracting the focus from pragmatic toward moralistic and repressive solutions.”
A large number of HIV organisations, including the European Aids Treatment Group and or Aids Action Group also endorsed the letter. Mary Honeyball barely mentions HIV in her report, apparently unaware that sex workers are a key population in the HIV response. The report quotes the World Health Organisation’s definition of sexual health but ironically ignores that the WHO has positioned itself against the "Swedish Model" as it negatively impacts the lives of sex workers and limits their access to condoms and other measures to prevent HIV.

Another document drafted and signed by more than 40 academics and researchers consists of of a letter to MEPs and a counter report analysing the lack and misrepresentation of evidence in Mary Honeyball’s report. The letter states, “We are concerned that this report is not of an acceptable standard on which to base a vote that would have such a serious, and potentially dangerous, impact on already marginalised populations.” It continues, “The report by Ms Honeyball fails to address the problems and harms that can surround sex work and instead produces biased, inaccurate and disproven data. We believe that policies should be based on sound evidence and thus hope that you will vote against the motion to criminalise sex workers’ clients.”

The counter-report noticed that, amongst other astounding errors, Mary Honeyball completely misinterpreted a joint report commissioned by the City of Amsterdam and the Dutch Ministry of Justice, embarrassingly “mistaking” data on coffee shops for data on brothels.

The combined over 500 signatories of these letters urge the MEPs to consider the evidence and reject Mary Honeyball's report on the 27th of February. "

Contact. Luca Stevenson for ICRSE: info@sexworkeurope.org


  1. The criminalization of those who buy sex won't prevent those who sell it seeking medical help or condoms, that is just nonsense.

  2. Thank you very much for that insightful and well evidenced claim.

    Laws that criminalise aspects of sex work have tended to make it harder for health and specialist outreach services to be accessed by sex workers or for those services to find sex workers. UN study
    into HIV and the Law found that the invisibility of sex workers constitutes the biggest obstacle to outreach workers in terms of HIV/AIDS and STI education and prevention (UNAIDS 2002, 13).
    • A 2012 report by the Global Commission on HIV and the Law – made up of former heads of state and leading legal, human rights and HIV experts, and supported by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) on behalf of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) found that laws that criminalise and dehumanise populations at highest risk of HIV – including sex workers; drive people underground, away from essential health services and heighten
    their risk of HIV. The legal environment in many countries exposes sex workers to violence and results in their economic and social exclusion. It also prevents them from accessing essential HIV prevention and care services. It recommended decriminalising voluntary sex work.
    • Anand Grover, the UN Special Rapporteur to promote the right to physical and mental health, stated that “the criminalization of private,
    consensual sexual behavior between adults” prevents sex workers from accessing services, therapies and treatments, “leading to poorer
    health outcomes for sex workers, as they may fear legal consequences or harassment and judgement” (UN Special Rapporteur 2010, 10,

    But still, if you know better, by all means get thee to Brussels and tell them all they're wrong.

  3. Since it is the buyers of sex being criminalized and not the women selling sex, they are free to seek help without fear of arrest or prosecution.

    1. You must not have been paying attention to the evidence I gave to the committee. We know, because sex workers have told us that they are far less likely to go to the police because the police will then target their homes and potentially make them homeless, whilst arresting buyers and bringing attention to what is usually a very discreet business.

      In January 2013, the Canadian HIV/AIDS legal network published a paper which says and I quote -

      "Sex workers who work on the street in Sweden have reported aggressive policing, police harassment, police persecution and overall mistrust of police."

      So what incentive is there for sex workers to hand over information or indeed co-operate with the police ? None, because they are treated like dirt. I trust that answers your question.

    2. you're probably not going change your mind. but have a look at this. maybe it well open your eyes too what this policy is and will actually do, and how foolish it is from someone who lives with it first hand.


    3. double for the double post Laura, but I like to add this for this person too read.


  4. If buying sex does become illegal in northern ireland will you continue to visit here or will that bring an end to your trips over?

    1. Ah, you're from Northern Ireland ? Figures. Just so you know, your "parliamentary privilege" doesn't apply to comments on my blog and I am free to say as I please.

      If buying sex does become illegal what will happen is the clients will go with well known ladies where they can be confident that there won't be a police sting involved - in other words, me.

      Aside from that, I get asked to do media and speak in NI all the time, and if it continues to annoy you then it's got to be worth travelling over for that alone. :-)

    2. Firstly, I find the whole debate very interesting and if I saw you in the media I would always pay attention, you have a point of view that differs from mine but I dont find that at all annoying, if we all thought the same things would be very boring and no one wants that. Secondly, as you are quite high profile for this line of work do you not worry that you and your clients would be targeted if the buying of sex became illegal?

    3. Think about this from the point of view of the police. You want to meet your quota of arrests and be seen to be doing the right thing under the law, so you want to grab some clients. Who are you going to target - a well known escort who will blaze your behaviour all over the internet and the press or some new woman, who's just set up a profile and would literally faint with the fright if the police came in.

      Anyway, I respect the PSNI and the stance they have taken on it thusfar, it's a shame that they did a U-turn but I really can't see them going too hard on those who indulge in consensual sex, they simply don't have the resources and there are far more heinous things happening in NI right now.

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  6. Just read the news Laura, I'm absolutely gutted! What a slap in the face! Ideology trumping evidence, and blatant disregard of the facts.
    I can't say I'm not surprised, but still I despair. Anyone who think this Policy is going help Woman never mind sex workers is a fooling themselves and/or haven't done there research.

    1. Yep, it's dreadful. Let's hope individual member states see sense.


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