Prostitution… legalize or not?

Recently the French parliament passed a law (based on what is known as the Swedish or Nordic model) which criminalizes the demand side of prostitution instead of the “supply”. This law sparked a debate nationally but also internationally. According to the article in the Daily Beast, “the most controversial provision would fine a prostitute’s clients up to 1,500 euros ($2,100) if they’re caught.” One of the opponents of the new law is the organization Médécins du Monde, “the respected international organization of doctors best known for their work in developing countries.” They argue that this law “forces sex workers into places that are more out of the way, more exposed to violence and more dangerous, as in such circumstances a prostitute’s ability to negotiate is diminished, whether arguing about a fee, or personal safety. It’s harder for medical and social workers to find the prostitutes and check up on them; they grow more suspicious of law enforcement agencies, and are ever more reluctant to go to the cops when they are victimized.”

On the other side stand all those supporting the law, claiming that despite of the “intended goal of making prostitution better and safer for those involved, survivors of sex trafficking have repeatedly stated that legalisation and decriminalisation of the commercial sex industry does just the opposite,” as it is stated in an opinion piece in the Guardian. The author is happy that “Europe is finally starting to listen. A new trend is emerging – criminalising the buyers, traffickers and pimps that fuel the commercial sex industry, while decriminalising and providing services and exit options to people in prostitution.” Importantly, she defends the “Nordic model” of prostitution policy, implemented in those countries in 1999, stating that these laws “recognise that due to the widespread coercion within legal prostitution sectors, it is simply not possible to differentiate the demand which is exploitative from that which is not.”

As it is also stated in the Guardian article, it is a sad and well-known fact that my country, Hungary is a key “source location for women and girls being trafficked to countries where prostitution is legal, such as Switzerland, Germany, and the Netherlands” (…according to some statistics, in Zurich 80% of prostitutes come from Hungary). “In those countries, women and girls are brought in to supply the legally sanctioned demand.”

So where does the truth lie? Should prostitution be legal? Should the demand be criminalized? After having read extensively on the subject, I tend to agree with the Nordic model. If you feel you are not convinced, read further.

Last year, the second place in the EU Journalist Award ‘Together against discrimination’ went to Dóra Ónody-Molnár (Hungary), for her article Hungarian Girls on Every Street Corner, “which examines the reality of prostitution in Europe and its impact on the women involved. The jury found the article to be a well documented and painstakingly researched piece of journalism” – very much worth a read.

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