Take action Donate
United for a world free from sexual exploitation!

UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women and Girls calls for the recognition of prostitution as a form of violence and the adoption of the Equality Model

Reem Alsalem United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls

Statement on the A/HRC/56/48 Report Prostitution and violence against women and girls by UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Ms. Reem Alsalem.


At last, an inclusive and transparent UN Report on prostitution


We observe that the report is the product of a transparent process initiated with a public call for contributions that resulted in the examination of 300 submissions from civil society and the organisation of consultations with 86 experts. The consultations in which CAP and its members took part gave a platform to survivors, frontline workers, academics, psychologists and legal experts, with a diversity of positions on prostitution. The Special Rapporteur uses a neutral language, consistent to international Human Rights law, which does not recognise ideological terms such as “sex work”. The report calls for using a human rights-based terminology and language to describe prostitution, and refrain from using terminology that would mischaracterize it and minimize its serious human rights violations.

This inclusive and balanced approach must be commended as it contrasts greatly with the opaque and biased approach recently taken in other UN-related initiatives such as the position paper of the Working Group on discrimination against Women of the OHCHR, which resulted in disconnected and harmful recommendations. We note that the observations and recommendations present in the report reflect the realities expressed by the main actors in the field and by the overwhelming majority of women with lived experiences of prostitution.


Recognition of prostitution as an aggravated form of violence against women and girls based on sexist, racist and class-based domination

The Special Rapporteur recognises prostitution as a system of exploitation and an aggregated form of male violence against women and girls that intersects with other forms of structural discrimination (…) exercised systematically by a wide web of State and non-State actors that subjugate, control and exploit women and girls in violation of their fundamental human rights. The extreme levels of violence inflicted on women in prostitution – which would never be accepted in other contexts – are blanketed by a financial transaction, designed to materialize a so-called “consent” that cannot be expressed freely in the prostitution system. In this context, the very concept of “consent” is weaponized against women in prostitution, as it is extorted through physical or economic coercion, manipulation and violence.

The report acknlowledges the incompatibility of prostitution and equality between women and menProstitution bears a deeply archaic and sexist vision of the role of women and of the relations between women and men, as women are reduced to receptacles for men’s sexual “needs” (…) The existence and normalization of prostitution is also a fundamental obstacle to sexuality based on equality. The UN Special Rapporteur calls upon Member States to address the root causes of the prostitution system, including sexism, racism and class-based domination, gender-discriminatory laws that trap women and children into poverty and make them vulnerable to prostitution.


A call for a Rights-based approach to prostitution rooted in International Human Rights law

The Special Rapporteur advocates for a Human-Rights based approach on prostitution, in particular through the implementation of Human Rights Conventions such as the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (UN 1949 Convention) which recognises prostitution as incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person, the CEDAW Convention and the Palermo Protocol. Acknowledging the extreme levels of violence reported by prostituted persons, the Special Rapporteur also refers to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, stressing that States having established regulated prostitution systems could be regarded as being in violation of article 1 of the convention.

We welcome a rights-based approach on prostitution rooted in the reality of international Human Rights law, in contrast with ideological positions taken by certain UN Agencies in contradiction with the UN Conventions they are supposed to uphold.

The Special Rapporteur addresses the incompatibility of prostitution with the obligation to eliminate all forms of discrimination against Women under the CEDAW Convention, specifically referring to its articles 1 and 2. She also refers to Article 5 of the CEDAW Convention to address States’ obligation to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women.

The report calls for decriminalising, protecting and supporting prostituted persons through the adoption and implementation comprehensive exit strategies, in line with the provisions of the UN 1949 Convention which Article 16 of creates a status of victim of prostitution as well as obligations for member States in terms of prevention and rehabilitation policies (Articles 16,20), access to justice and compensation (Art.5) or regarding the repeal of all discriminatory laws and measures specifically targeting prostituted persons (art. 6).

The Special Rapporteur also calls for a reinforced fight against pimping, in particular through the adoption of legislations based on articles 1 and 2 of the UN 1949 Convention, which creates an obligation for Member States to punish any person who: (Art.1.1) Procures, entices or leads away, for purposes of prostitution, another person, even with the consent of that person; (Art.1.2) Exploits the prostitution of another person, even with the consent of that person ; (Art.2.1) Keeps or manages, or knowingly finances or takes part in the financing of a brothel; (Art.2.2) Knowingly lets or rents a building or other place or any part thereof for the purpose of the prostitution of others.

On that matter, the Special Rapporteur recalls that both the UN 1949 Convention and the CEDAW Convention (Article 6) create a common obligation for Member States to eliminate the exploitation of prostitution and that the CEDAW Committee itself explicitly recognized that international law on combating all forms of trafficking and exploitation of prostitution of women had been codified and developed in the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others.

The report calls upon States to refrain from adding conditions to the criminalization of pimping, such as the burden of proof required to validate the situation of trafficking or subordination by the exploiter of the prostituted person. Complementarily, it underlines the need to Prevent the weaponization of anti-trafficking policies to avoid addressing the issue of prostitution as a form of violence against women by creating a harmful and artificial dissociation between so-called “forced” prostitution assimilated to trafficking from a so-called “free” prostitution assimilated to “sex work”.

The Special Rapporteur calls for the criminalisation of the purchase of sexual acts as the most effective way to fulfill the Member States’ obligation under article 9.5 of the Palermo Protocol to discourage the demand that fosters all forms of exploitation of persons, especially women and children, that leads to trafficking. In addition, the Special Rapporteur adds that the criminalization of the purchase of sexual acts must not be related to the need to prove a potential situation of trafficking. This recommendation confirms many observations made by frontline organisations on the failure of approaches such as the “knowing use” in Germany and Finland or the “strict liability” in Cyprus.

We welcome this reality check on what international Human Rights law really says: the prostitution system is a form of violence against women, its victims must be supported, and the impunity of their exploiters – pimps and buyers of sexual acts – must end.


Call for the adoption of the Equality Model by States and a paradigm shift at the UN level

Observing the harmful impacts of both prohibition, full decriminalisation or legalisation models on prostitution, the Special Rapporteur recommends to adopt the abolitionist legal framework and its five pillars, including the decriminalization of women in prostitution; providing comprehensive support and exit pathways; criminalizing the purchase of sexual acts; criminalizing all forms of pimping; and implementing sensitization campaigns for sexual act buyers.

The Special Rapporteur also stresses the need for a paradigm shift at the UN level, calling upon United Nations agencies, the treaty bodies and the special procedures of the Human Rights Council should adopt a rights-centred approach on prostitution.

 We welcome the Special Rapporteur’s observations and conclusions and urge States and UN institutions to follow her recommendations. We note that they are in line with those of the Resolution of the European Parliament of September 14, 2023, which demonstrates a progressive paradigm shift on prostitution at the international level.

Tags: , , ,