Think of a man between his forties and sixties. He could be your father. Now, think that this man is having sex with a female
student who is the age of say, your little sister, after he paid her money. The student does it to finance her expensive studies. The man, to remember his wife when she was younger. This brilliant picture of modern prostitution was described in an article from The Sun of October 2013. The newspaper sent an undercover reporter to investigate one of those “sugardaddies”, rich old men named after the "dating" website on which they meet girls.
This man could be the face of a system in which economic and sexual inequalities matched together lead to the most unbearable exploitation. In 21st century Europe, the sense of impunity that some men feel undermines essential values of our societies: equality and respect for women. These are values that we could be proud of and turn into reality. Some measures that can change mentalities already exist across the continent.
France has recently decided that buying sex should no longer go without consequences. In December 2013, the Parliament
voted for the penalisation of prostitutes' clients. Johns now have to watch out for the police as they have to pay a 1500€ fine (1200£ - 2000$) or follow a scheme of “sensibilisation to the conditions of sex-work”. In 1999, Sweden was the first country in the European Union to define sex-workers as victims rather than delinquents. Slovaquia, Finland and the United Kingdom followed. Hopefully, the example of the Scandinavian Kingdom is likely to inspire other members of the EU. In 2014, a European Parliament committee approved a report which encourages the “Nordic Model” for legislation upon prostitution.
But for now, prostitution laws within the EU remain very diverse and the market of sex settles down where national legislation is the most favourable. The countries which have taken a radical abolitionist stand by attacking the demand (clients) rather than the offer of sexual services (prostitutes) remain a minority. Most of the European members still penalise prostitutes while some have tried to regulate the market by defining prostitution as a profession like any other.
Failure of the regulatory model.
This is the case in Holland and Germany where brothels are legal and prostitutes should pay their taxes like any other workers. Implemented in the early 2000’s, the law was intended to curb forced labour through government regulation of the business. Meanwhile, the State would not enforce moral and sexual norms, and the women’s right to independently manage their own bodies would be reinforced.
Yet, this utopic model has been caught up by the reality of exploitation. Both Holland and Germany have their Mecca of prostitution implanted in the middle of their cities. The Red-Light district of Amsterdam and the Repeerbahn of Hamburg have not only become a gathering point for clients but also a must-see for tourists. A zoo in the street starring women-objects, offered in vitrines to men’s discretion.
A European pressure, led by the press and political activists can knock down this corrupt and exploitative system. In a interview posted on youtube, the Swedish activist Kasja Ekis Ekman called the Dutch state a “pimp”. She said, “they take the poor women of the world and they sell them to the tourists and take the tax money from it. That is what a pimp does.” In an edition titled “Bordell Deutschland” (Brothel Germany), Der Spiegel denounced a prostitution phaenomenon out of control in Germany. Prostitutes are not liberated women. They are girls coming from deprived area of eastern Europe, dreaming of a better life, who find themselves locked under the exploitation of pimps. Their arrivals have made the number of prostitutes
critically rise, with an estimated 200 000 sex-workers in the country.
A European answer is the right answer.
Since the regulatory system has failed, the recent debate in France has demonstrated that a change is possible, even in a country with a patriarchal background. The most revealing argument against the new law came from a manifesto called “Don’t touch my whore”, co-signed by 343 male public figures. The authors of the text, self-proclaimed “bastards”, argued for their rights “to go to bitches” and denounced a State which “puts norms on their desire and pleasure”, illustrating the sense
of impunity and righteousness among men when it comes to talk about sex. Women’s Rights Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem had to defend her project in front of a parliament with 70% of male MPs.
The recent change in France is a victory towards more respect for women. But for national initiatives not to be in vain, a European consensus needs to be found. The European Union has given its citizens the right to freely move inside its borders. The idea was certainly not to let the door wide open for pimps nor to encourage sexual tourism. With the European Parliament campaign coming, we will have to endure the argument of fear which calls for national fallbacks. Its defenders refuse to live bound together in an open Europe. They refuse to admit that human trafficking ignores, anyway, the most repellent physical boarders. A positive answer against exploitation is to create coherent laws that tackle clients instead of prostitutes. This is the answer of a Europe that truly respect its women, by not giving all the rights to its men.