The Malta Independent 5 December 2021, Sunday

Can you imagine having a prostitute at school on career day?

Kevin Schembri Orland Saturday, 16 September 2017, 07:29 Last update: about 5 years ago

The European Women’s Lobby Vice President Iliana Balabanova-Stoycheva speaks to Kevin Schembri Orland about prostitution and her organisation’s views on the subject in light of the ongoing debate on regularising the area in Malta

The European Women’s Lobby is the largest women’s umbrella organisation of women’s organisations in the EU.  The European Women’s lobby has a clear position on prostitution, she said. “When speaking about prostitution we must firstly speak about violence against women. We have to discuss whether there is really free choice for the women involved in this big business.

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“We connected prostitution to violence against women because figures clearly show that 73% of women prostitutes report having been victims of physical aggression, 68% of them suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. 62% of these women, who are prostitutes, have been raped. These facts, she said, are coming from countries like Germany and the Netherlands where prostitution is legalised.

As examples of how prostitutes can be raped, she said would be that some provide specific services, not willing to provide others. “But the mentality is that if you pay you get everything, and even if the women clearly say they would not do something, in these cases the clients do what they want to do, not paying attention to the rules laid out by the prostitutes. Several interviews with men who use prostitutes, when they were asked whether they connect rape to prostitution, 25% of them found the connection ridiculous, so the concept of rape in their mind is not involved in prostitution.

“I know some arguments for legalisation are that it would make it safer for prostitutes and their so-called workplace, but actually this is not true. The above statistics show this.”

The majority of prostitutes are women, she said, adding that most prostitutes report being involved in the business as they require income, and that when starting this business believed they would do this for a short time. This does not end up being the case, she said, and because of several reasons many cannot stop prostitution - because of the pimps, psychological disorders they develop etc.

She explained that there are no clear statistics from countries where prostitution is illegal, and also highlighted that results regarding prostitution in countries where it is legal might not be completely correct as the legalisation of prostitution does not mean illegal prostitution ends. “So the statistics are not official, but the reports made by different academic researchers, NGOs and other organisations show these facts.”

The majority of prostitutes are women she said. Prostitutes report that they are involved in this business mainly because they need some income. When they started in this business, they believed they would do this for a short time. This is actually not the case. They start it but because of several reasons, a number couldn’t because of the pimps, and the mental disorders that crop up because of this practice.

Another report shows that the mortality rate among women prostitutes is much higher than other women.

She said that drug abuse, and other addictions including alcoholism, go hand in hand with prostitution. “Pimps make efforts to manipulate women who are starting out as prostitutes. They use addiction to make them do this for long periods of time. This is one of the reasons prostitutes cannot just stop their work.”

In Germany and in Holland, she explained, 80% of women involved in prostitution come from low-income countries – Africa, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine – and this is a question we need to discuss when speaking about their free choice.

Turning to high-end escorts, she argues that people think this is a position women working in that industry want to do and are happy with what they are doing. “When speaking about street prostitutes, the idea in people’s minds is that these women are willing to do this and dream of becoming high-end escorts. Women in both these categories suffer from the same violence. It doesn’t matter if they are on the streets, or if they are well-paid escorts. Both categories are always protected by pimps who take their money and pretend to care for them.

“The difference is that most of the women who are escorts are younger than the women on the streets. Most of these women after spending time as the so called high-end escorts, end up on the streets, research shows. The only difference between the two categories is the funds the women receive and that’s it. It is crucial to find alternatives for women to have a choice as to what they want to do, and then discuss the legalisation or criminalisation of sex buyers and pimps. Government should create effective policy to provide opportunities to help these women find jobs outside of prostitution. Maybe some would like to be a prostitute, and only then should the ongoing discussion start, not now.”

The EWL is totally against the legalisation of prostitution, with Balabanova-Stoycheva explaining: “We support the Swedish (Nordic) model. There is no legislation at EU level, which is problematic, and we believe that with the legalisation of prostitution we are giving clear signals that we accept violence against women, that we would like to live in a world where such violence is acceptable and natural.”

She believes that the first thing that crosses someone’s mind when thinking about prostitution, is that it is the oldest profession in the world. “But do we really register prostitution as a job? Can we imagine career days at school, where doctors, lawyers, politicians and prostitutes are invited to speak about their professions, and the potential choice of job for children? Even people in favour of legalisation of prostitution, I’m afraid, would not invite prostitutes to such school days.”

The Swedish model, she said, offers women the opportunity to find a different forms of jobs, assisting them to exit prostitution while not making it illegal for them to work as prostitutes. It does make it illegal to operate as a pimp and for the buyers, she said.

“When Sweden passed this legislation they organised serious social services for these women. They then established a special section of the police to deal with prostitution, and they have strong support systems. Sweden has a clear system how to catch the pimps and buyers. It is very difficult, as when passing the legislation many moved to neighbouring countries, but soon, after the neighbouring countries passed similar legislation. The results are positive. The number of prostitutes is low, and it is not a business there. Their government is not accepting money from this business.”

When passing this legislation, she said, human trafficking of women for sexual purposes was decreasing, she said, adding that evidence from countries which legalised prostitution – Germany and Netherlands – reports show that the number of victims of human trafficking for sexual exploitation rose.

Asked whether the Nordic model would make it unfair for the women who want to be prostitutes, she said: “I don’t know how many women in Sweden want to be prostitutes, but because Sweden is not a country with a high level of unemployment, I am sure there are very few women who would want to do this. Governments should provide a lot of opportunities for everyone to find other opportunities to work and then discuss the idea of legalisation.”

She notes that the European Women’s Lobby is involved in a campaign at EU level, called Europe Free From Prostitution: “We are trying to involve individuals, organisations and politicians, as it is an important topic especially in light of the migration crisis. Refugee women usually have very few options to earn income and a number end up in prostitution.”

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