MEPs have voted for a resolution that effectively legalises prostitution, but bans people from soliciting it.
British Labour MEP Mary Honeyball proposed that European parliamentarians endorse a report recommending the adoption of the so-called “Nordic model”, where the selling of sex is made legal, but buying it becomes illegal.
Supporters of the model say that by criminalising the buying of sex, it puts men off soliciting prostitution, thus causing the market to crash, while protecting women who are being exploited.
It was first adopted in Sweden in 1999, with Norway and Iceland following suit 10 years later. France also adopted it a few months ago.
Speaking after the vote, Ms Honeyball said: “Today’s outcome represents a vital signal from MEPs that we cannot continue to tolerate the exploitation of women.
“Rather than blanket legalisation, parliament has backed the more nuanced approach already practised in Sweden as a means of tackling prostitution.
“This punishes men who treat women’s bodies as a commodity, without criminalising women who are driven into sex work.
“The idea that prostitution is the oldest profession leads some to think we should accept it as a fact of life, that all we can do is regulate it a little better. This course of action leads to an increase in prostitution levels, normalising the purchase of sex and ingraining the inequalities which sustain the sex industry.”
The issue of prostitution is dividing the left. While some see it as an integral part of sexual liberation, others, especially a large number of feminists, think it is inherently exploitative and would like to end it permanently.
Honeyball and her supporters maintain that most women who enter prostitution have been trafficked or coerced. She says that “very few women work in prostitution completely of their own free will, and choices made in conditions of being unequal cannot be considered free.”