Study: Legalising prostitution tackles illegal trafficking

A regulated sex trade can have a positive impact on reducing the effects of human trafficking. [Michael Coghlan/Flickr]

Legalising and regulating prostitution can contribute to the fight against people trafficking, but more measures are needed, according to a new study. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The estimated number of cases is high and one thing is clear: in the last year, the number of people made victims of people trafficking increased in the European Union. Forced labour and prostitution are the main driving forces of the trade. A European Commission study, using Eurostat data from 2012, shows that 96% of trafficked people are sexually exploited and the vast majority are female.

The idea of decriminalising prostitution has long been mooted as a possible measure to combat the illegal sex trade. The legal status of prostitution across Europe varies and the European Parliament adopted a non-binding resolution on the issue in February 2014. Croatia remains one of the only EU member states where prostitution is completely illegal. In Germany and Netherlands it is legal and regulated.

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Whether legalising and regulating prostitution could act as a model for countries wishing to tackle people trafficking has been the subject of a new study carried out by researchers from Lancaster University and the University of Duisburg-Essen. The study used Amsterdam and Dortmund as its two case studies. Dutch and German authorities allow prostitution to be operated as a business, but it is subjected to a high level of monitoring and regulation.

“In Dortmund, brothels must be registered at the trade office and usually the operator needs a permit,” said Birgit Apitzsch, a co-author of the study. The police also make regular checks to ensure that trafficking is not still happening.

In Amsterdam, brothel owners are responsible for ensuring that the women working on their premises do so voluntarily. Self-employed sex workers must register with the chamber of commerce. “Local authorities and the police in both cities can rely on a trusting relationship with prostitutes and they are always available if needed for counselling,” said another of the study’s co-authors, Markus Tünte. “This is important in order to identify victims of trafficking and to help them,” he added.

Experts believe that certain forms of prostitution, such as that found on the street or involving underage people, are particularly affected by traffickers. The study concluded that regulating the trade has contributed to a dropoff in the activities of people traffickers and recommended further measures to continue the fight.

Brothels should be federally regulated and counselling centres should be better funded, urged the study’s authors.

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Germany also wants to push through Justice Minister Heiko Maas’ bill against sexual exploitation, which would see clients of forced-prostitution punished with up to five years in prison.

The European Parliament is currently working on a resolution intended to combat the illegal sex trade as well. A few days ago, the institute’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) called for the fight against illegal trafficking to be priortised, given its implications on the ongoing refugee crisis as well.

ENVI member Miroslav Mikolášik pointed out that although the vast majority of people affected by the trade are women and girls, men can also be victims of sexual exploitation.

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