Sex work and its relationship with human trafficking is a contested issue. The controversies on sex work are in fact so deep that the very phrase ‘sex work’ is also disputed. In the European Union, different approaches to sex work coexist, each with national particularities. Scholars disagree on which approach to take, and on the existence of a relationship between legislation and policy on sex work and trafficking in human beings. Despite some advancement, currently too few rigorous studies and especially empirical studies have been undertaken to be able to draw definitive conclusions. This project sought to fill this gap. DESIrE aimed at generating a better understanding of the impact of different approaches to sex work legislation and policies on the prevalence of trafficking in human beings. To examine this potential correlation, the DESIrE project focused on four case study countries that all adopt very different approaches on the regulation on the provision, facilitation and purchase of sex: Croatia, the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden.
Demand reduction is identified in the regional anti-trafficking legal framework as a means of preventing human trafficking, and taking into account the extent to which these provisions had been implemented in Member States, was the main point of departure for the research project. In order to enquire whether or not a demand reduction strategy is an effective strategy for the prevention of trafficking in human beings, the consortium undertook several steps in the project. In the first two stages of the project, all partners conducted desktop research - developed a working understanding of the key terms: demand, sexual exploitation, sex work and prevention (section 3), and outline the respective regulatory and policy approach adopted in their country, regarding the provision, facilitation and purchase of sex (section 5). The reflections on these approaches also situated in the context of the public discourse around these topics (section 4) that were further considered when engaging with and interviewing various stakeholders (sex workers/persons selling sex, buyers, civil society, policy makers, law enforcement officials and victims of trafficking) as well as the general public. This empirical research sought to determine the attitudes towards sex work and how sexual exploitation is understood by different actors (section 3.7 and section 4); the extent to which there is a relationship between national legislation and policies on sex work and human trafficking (section 5.5) and how demand for sexual services that may fuel human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation can be reduced (section 5.6); how legislation and policies could make persons selling sex feel safer from trafficking in human beings (section 5.7). Finally, the existing regulatory approaches were further considered, to identify complementary measures that could facilitate the prevention of trafficking in human beings for the purpose of sexual exploitation (section 6).
Demand reduction as an anti-trafficking strategy is at the core of the conclusions and recommendations that also take into account the need to acknowledge the socio-cultural differences between different regulatory approaches. The conclusions consider the demand for sexual services and the role of law (section 3.8); the role of the state in preventing exploitation in the sex industry (section 3.8); the perceptions of the impact of the regulatory approach and the risk of sexual exploitation in the sex industry (section 5.7); the additional measures needed to complement the legal regulation of sex industry in order to minimize exploitation and the risk of trafficking (section 5.7); and the social practices and alternatives to legislation that can assist in preventing human trafficking (section 6.5). The report ends with a number of recommendations for the future implementation and development of demand reduction measures that seek to tackle human trafficking for sexual exploitation.
VRIJE UNIVERSITEIT BRUSSEL