Europe Reconsiders Prostitution as Sex Trafficking Booms
Monday, September 29, 2008 11:23 AM

Prostitution and human sex trafficking are inextricably linked.  Recently, laws, public policy, and the media have drawn attention to the issue of human sex trafficking as the sexual exploitation of women and girls.  This sexual exploitation may include the victimization of prostituted individuals.  One of the outcomes of this attention has been legal reform of prostitution laws.  Such legal reform criminalizes the purchase of sex, rather than the sale of sex, on the theory that the law must address demand. 

In fact, many European countries have legalized some form of prostitution. Sweden outlawed paying for sex in 1999. Germany changed its laws when, in 2005, the European Union defined human trafficking for sexual exploitation as a “crime against physical integrity and against freedom,” says Birgit Thoma of Solidarity with Women in Distress. Germany is also encouraging undocumented trafficked women to testify against their traffickers in exchange for the ability to remain in the country during the proceedings. In April 2008, Norway considered imposing fines or jail time clients for up to six months. Moreover, members of the British parliament have been working to replace criminal punishments with counseling for prostitutes.

According to Sabine Ripperger in “Europe Reconsiders Prostitution as Sex Trafficking Booms,” advocates like Birgit Thoma are concerned that 700,000 women are trafficked to Western Europe yearly.  According to Thoma, trafficking operates differently in Western Europe than in the eastern part of the continent. Women are often lured by promises of marriage or employment in Western Europe, rather than being exploited by extensive mafia chains, which is common in the eastern part of the continent.

On a global scale, women and girls, the main victims of trafficking, often are drawn into prostitution because of economic necessity, age, chemical dependency, lack of a support structure in the new country, false promises about employment, lack of immigration status, among other factors.  Many countries, like those mentioned in the article, “Europe Reconsiders Prostitution as Sex Trafficking Booms,” see legal reform as a way to address sex trafficking.   

For a report on the efficacy of laws to address human sex trafficking in the U.S, specifically in Minnesota, please see a new report released by the Advocates for Human Rights in September 2008 entitled Sex Trafficking Needs Assessment for the State of Minnesota. The report discusses the roles various actors play in creating and combating the problem of sex trafficking, including attorneys, judges, prosecutors, immigration officials, law enforcement officials, health care providers, facilities and social services.

Compiled from: Ripperger, Sabine, “Europe Reconsiders Prostitution as Sex Trafficking Booms,” in Deutsche Welle, 28 April 2008; Sex Trafficking Needs Assessment for the State of Minnesota, The Advocates for Human Rights, September 2008.