2022 03 17
Ombudsman against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children participating in the UN Commission on the Status of Women
Today, the Swedish Ombudsman against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children participated in the UN Commission on the Status of Women. The event focused on Sweden’s and Israel’s legislative model on prostitution (the Nordic Model). The Ombudsman commented the discussion from the perspective of her own experiences in prostitution and commercial sexual exploitation of children as well as from the survivors and organizations she represents.
Read the whole speech
“The UN Declaration on Human Rights states that all human beings are born free and equal, and entitled to the same dignity and rights, without distinction of any kind. I wish we lived in a world where this was true. I wish we lived in a world where we were born free and equal, but research shows us that we live in a world where factors such as poverty, abuse, discrimination and being a woman severely shapes the outcomes of our lives. I wish we lived in a world where the UN Declaration on Human Rights was more than a statement, but I believe that we live in a world where some people have endless opportunities for freedom, dignity and rights, while others have none.
Prostitution is often referred to as a choice, but for most of us, it is better expressed as the result of a lack of those opportunities. While statistics show us that most of those buying sex are men with a normal or good life standard, the opposite is true for the women that they are buying sex off. While the sex buyer wants to have sex, the majority of women don’t. They want to survive. They want food, shelter, education and money, and the sex buyer has the opportunity to offer this. If we can agree to this inequality of power, then we must also agree that prostitution is an act of violence. To gain sex by using one’s power over another person’s lack thereof, is violence. It is not a consensual sexual act if the choice stands between consenting or not having enough money to buy food. And what do we call a non consensual sexual act?
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women states that discrimination against women should be sanctioned. This includes gender-based violence. In the case of prostitution, the violence is committed by the person, usually a man, buying sex. As with all other forms of gender-based violence, the violence committed should be criminalised while the victim of violence should not.
This may sound obvious, but the legislative model which sanctions buyers of prostitution while decriminalising its sellers is controversial. Amongst those who wish to not only decriminalise the sellers but also the buyers and pimps, a common argument is to state that it is more beneficial for women in prostitution to be seen as workers and gain labour rights. While I agree that the needs of women in prostitution should be at the forefront of this movement, I don’t think that the majority of us will benefit from this.
Instead, I think that the majority of women in prostitution will benefit from the rights that come with being viewed as a victim of violence. We will benefit from the right to rehabilitation, protection and financial aid. We will benefit from sovereign states taking responsibility to prevent us from ending up in a situation where we don’t have the option to say no. As with all other forms of gender-based violence, prostitution will not come to an end solely because we sanction its perpetrators. But to sanction its perpetrators is a precondition for those other rights.
When states and international communitieis, such as some of our UN organizations, choose to not take a stand for the decriminalisation of women in prostitution and the criminalisation of its buyers, they take a stand against those rights.
In the debate regarding prostitution, there is a saying that we should listen to sex workers, so hear me when I say this. Between the ages of 15 and 19, I sold sex, or as I prefer to call it, I was a victim of commercial sexual exploitation. As for so many other people in prostitution, the exploitation started when I was a child but continued well past my 18th birthday. For four years, I was subjected to endless involuntary sexual acts that I because of my circumstances lacked a possibility to say no to. My rights as both a child and as a woman were repeatedly violated.
When global leaders continue to stay neutral in the debate on criminalising the men that subjected me to those acts, they are allowing those violations to continue. I would even say that the fact that our global leaders do not take a stand on criminalising the perpetrators of prostitution, is yet another violation of our rights…..our rights as children, our rights as women and our rights as human beings.
Watch the speech and the whole event.