Position paper of the Women against Violence Network Serbia for the UN Women approach to sex work/the sex trade/prostitution

Women against Violence Network Serbia




Position paper of the Women against Violence Network Serbia for the UN Women approach to sex work/the sex trade/prostitution

Belgrade, 30th of October 2016

Network Women against Violence Serbia (WAVNS) is a coalition of 26 feminist and women’s rights organizations who work with women survivors of male violence in the last 20 years. In preparation for this position paper WAVNS has consulted with survivors of male violence, first of all those who have experience in prostitution, as well as activists and experts from women’s organizations. Our basic political position from our long work experience with women survivors is that prostitution and sex trade are forms of violence, exploitation and inequality based on a continuum of male sexual violence against women. It is a violation of human dignity and women’s human rights, as well as a manifestation of widespread rape culture in the society.

Question 1) The 2030 Agenda commits to universality, human rights and leaving nobody behind. How do you interpret these principles in relation to sex work/trade or prostitution?

1.1 WAVNS truly believes that our struggle for human rights for all women is a struggle against all forms of violence, including the combat to end the demand for sex. This is also noted in some of the important international documents, such as the 1949 Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others, as well as the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (Palermo Protocol), and the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The League of Nations was also dedicated to ending both trafficking of women and children and prostitution.

1.2 WAVNS emphasis that “sex work” is not an official UN terminology and contradicts such legally binding instruments as CEDAW.

1.3 WAVNS believes in the correctness of UN definition that “violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women, which have led to domination over and discrimination against women by men and to the prevention of the full advancement of women”.

1.4 WAVNS Network see prostitution as a mechanism which is directly related to this definition, e.g. to power relations among men and women in which women are prevented from their full advancement. Prostitution is by definition an exploitative system of unequal gender relations, which operates to subjugate and oppress women. The idea of men buying women (80% of persons in prostitution are women) is, in its roots, against the idea of universality and human rights, because women in prostitution are seen only as objects of men's needs.

1.5 WAVNS experience in work with women confirms the international facts on violence of women in prostitution – 71% of women were physically harmed by pimps and perpetrators and 68% of them faced multiple rape. This kind of treatment on women shows how deeply prostitution is a manifestation of misogyny.

1.6 WAVNS, after 20 years of working in direct emotional support for women, proves trauma based researches that shows how not-treated sexual violence trauma from childhood (identification with perpetrator; need for repetition of violent acts; dissociation with body) is the main reason women and girls enter prostitution, apart from poverty.

1.7 The summary of the so called “German experience” of legalized prostitution in Germany shows that more than 90% of women involved in this “work” are not women from Germany, but from Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa. This “work” therefore is a field where different types of exploitation meet: (neo)colonial use of women’s bodies, of class, race, citizenship status. Prostitution therefore is a form of rape culture used by liberal capitalist to increase interest via women’s bodies.

1.8 The surveys in Germany show that 9/10 women who are in prostitution wish to exit, and we must be respectful to their needs and provide them safe exit and empowerment programs.

1.9 According the United Nations Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina (UNMIBH), trafficking of women and girls began as a consequence of the war rape culture continued after the wartime, from 1995 on. As of October 2002, UNMIBH suspected 227 of the nightclubs in Bosnian cities of involved in trafficking, and NGO experts working to stop trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina, estimated that as many as 2,000 women and girls from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, including Serbia, have found themselves trapped in Bosnian brothels. The extent of sexual exploitation of women and girls in the region of post war territory of ex-Yugoslavia are present to this day, 25 years after the war. There is no peace in the world if prostitution is made a “work”, because the exploitation of women becomes normalized by the capitalist system.

Question 2) The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out to  achieve gender equality and to  empower all women and girls. The SDGs also include several targets pertinent to women’s empowerment, such as

  1. reproductive rights
  2. women’s ownership of land and assets
  3. building peaceful and inclusive societies
  4. ending the trafficking of women
  5. eliminating violence against women.


How do you suggest that policies on sex work/trade/prostitution can promote such targets and objectives?

2.1 WAVNS holds that the system of prostitution itself, as a form of exploitation of bodies, is set directly opposite to gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls.

2.2 WAVNS urges institutions to implement the European Parliament resolution of 27 February 2014 on the situation of fundamental rights in the European Union (2012), quoting the 1949 Convention: “Prostitution and sexual exploitation are highly gendered issues and violations of human dignity, contrary to human rights principles, among which gender equality, and therefore contrary to the principles of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, including the goal and the principle of gender equality”.

2.3 WAVNS urges States and UN agencies to fulfill their obligations under Human rights laws with regards to prostitution/sex trade and its exploitation to ensure policies towards the elimination of prostitution/sex trade and the protection of its victims. All policies that justify, promote or normalize prostitution as “sex work” are incompatible with established and binding UN human rights legislation.

2.4 WAVNS knows of no woman who has developed her full potential or built economic security through prostitution.

2.5 WAVNS experience shows that the factors that affects women and girls to enter the sex-trade are: childhood sexual violence or incest, poverty, homelessness, racial or ethnic discrimination, armed conflicts, militarization, and always, an absolute absence of choice. Like us, women and girls are bought, sold and used with impunity by adult men who are financially, socially and racially privileged in relation to them.

2.6 WAVNS urges UN Women to analyze prostitution within legal contexts, and within the scope of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as gender-based sexual abuse and exploitation.

Question 3) The sex trade is gendered. How best can we protect women in the trade from harm, violence, stigma and discrimination?

WAVNS data shows that vast majority of persons in prostitution are female, and in the cases of women, most have been exposed to male violence since childhood.

UN WOMEN should adopt a policy that recognize sex trade as a form of systemic, structural and inter-personal violence, within which no woman can be “protected from harm, violence, stigma and discrimination”.

UN WOMEN – should adhere to the international standards of gender equality and women’s rights,

condemn prostitution as form of male violence and work towards the following short- and long-term objectives:

  • WOMEN’S HUMAN RIGHTS: Promoting a comprehensive analytical and legal framework that recognizes sexual autonomy, dignity, integrity and well-being of women as inalienable right of all women, without bias to their legal, migratory, economic or family status.
  • DECRIMINALISING PERSONS IN PROSTITUTION: Promoting a legislative framework that decriminalizes all prostituted persons, without bias to their legal, migratory, economic or family status.
  • ESTABLISHING CENTERS FOR SEXUAL VIOLENCE TRAUMA OF GIRLS AND WOMEN in every community in the world. The researches show that besides poverty, the decisive moment for women to slip in prostitution is the not-worked trauma consequences of previous sexual violence. Providing constant specialized emotional support at early age will increase possibility of girls and women to avoid sex-trade and prostitution.
  • ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT OF WOMEN: Securing funds for & promoting economic empowerment of women with the interests of most vulnerable & most marginalized women at its heart.
  • CURBING MEN’S DEMAND: Promoting a legislative framework that clearly recognizes buyers of sex as perpetrators of violence and introduces effective measures discouraging male sexual entitlement and male-driven demand for prostitution, including, but not limited to, punitive actions, education and awareness-raising among men.
  • RESEARCH ON PROSTITUTION: Encouraging and directing funds to objective, misogyny-free research on prostitution.

WAVNS desires UN Women and the UN system as a whole to uphold international laws and human rights principles that will prevent and protect all women and girls, including those in prostitution and the sex trade at large. In this way solely we can work toward peace.