A large scale study into sex work policies and legal regulation across the EU is underway. The action called “Comparing European Prostitution Policies: Understanding Scales and Cultures of Governance (ProsPol)” is being co-ordinated by COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology) under their Individuals, Societies, Cultures and Health (ISCH) stream. The action involves researchers and scientists from 22 different European countries and its main objective “is to exchange, enhance and compare knowledge about prostitution policies across Europe”.
The action, which began in April 2013, is due to take place over the course of 4 years at a total cost of 56 million Euros. The Action’s Memorandum of Understanding outlines the benefits of the program:
“The most important benefit is the creation of a network of experts from different regions and specialisms who will come together to share knowledge and develop future approaches towards understanding prostitution policy in context. The most immediate benefit will be a website which will disseminate findings from the Workgroup meetings and conferences in the form of extensive reports and podcasts. The Website’s Forum for Discussion will provide an interactive space to further foster exchanges and discussion. The Action will make important contributions to academic scholarship and public understanding of the operations and regulations of sex markets across time and space.”
The Action is separated out into 3 Working Groups. The Working Group on Prostitution Policies and Politics will examine the different policy regimes across Europe and “explore the intended and unintended effects of prostitution policies”. The second Working Group on Economic Dimensions will be “comparing prostitution with other informal economies; addressing the question of demand in prostitution; and relating the changes in the sex industry to wider economic restructuring”. The Sex, Money and Society Working Group will “analyse the symbolic and cultural dimension of prostitution” including “the delineations that society draws between intimacy and economy”.
The International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE) are participants in the ProsPol action and are there to ensure the voices of sex workers are heard and included in the discussions. ICRSE are members of the Prostitution Policies and Politics Working Group and were represented at the last meeting in Athens. Following on from the ICRSE campaign against the recent European Parliament report on ‘sexual exploitation and prostitution’ introduced by the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality ICRSE Co-ordinator, Luca Stevenson, was invited to be part of a panel discussion on sex work policy interventions. He spoke about the lack of evidence-based policy-making on sex work both at the national level and across the EU. He shared the panel with Daniela Danna who was involved in compiling a report on prostitution laws in the European Union. Daniela was eventually forced to withdraw from this project due to pressure from the abolitionist factions within the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality. Daniela’s report and comments on her experiences can be found here.
ICRSE will be involved in the ProsPol action throughout its 4 year term and will be in attendance at the next meeting, which will take place in Spain. Given that the action is in its very early stages it remains to be seen what the benefit will be for sex workers in Europe. We can only hope that it will lead to a reduction in ideologically driven laws and policies and facilitate more evidence based policy-making that prioritises the rights and safety of sex workers.