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violence against women & prostitution

Eliane Sperling-Levin reports on a European Women's Lobby Seminar on Public Policy aspects of Violence Against Women and Prostitution in Brussels on December 1, 2011.
 
Holding this seminar at this particular time was triggered by plans to open a second "Eros Center" in Belgium, in the Liège area. The European Women's Lobby strongly  opposes this move and challenges both the national and local authorities.
 
The meeting was organized by the European Women's Lobby, in close cooperation with both French and Flemish Councils of Women of Belgium. Participants came from France, Luxemburg and Belgium.  
 
ICJW was well represented, with Lucette Pilcer, Liliane Seidman, Ayala Bleys and myself attending, together with Vicky Hollander, President of WIZO-Belgium. This seems to reflect the deep concern of Jewish women over the issue of trafficking and prostitution.
 
Significantly, the seminar was held on the anniversary of the United Nations Convention of 1949 against trafficking in Human Beings and exploitation of prostitution. This states that prostitution and its concurrent evil, trafficking in human beings for prostitution, is incompatible with the dignity and value of human beings. Despite ratification by European countries, this convention is widely ignored. 
 
Speakers addressed the issue from medical, social and legal aspects. The evil of prostitution, be it from a physical or social point of view, cannot be overstated. The legal position in most countries and the factual position on the ground are glaringly at variance. 

Luxemburg ratified the UN Convention of 1949, but the rulings of the police are in contradiction with this abolitionist approach. Attempts to have the Swedish model adopted - where the customer of sexual services is penalized - have failed. 
 
Holland has on its books a law passed in 2000 with a regulatory approach: making closed places of prostitution and pimping illegal, and making a distinction between freely chosen and forced prostitution. It seems that this approach has not made it possible to fight trafficking. 
 
France has also ratified the 1949 Convention, and recent developments tend to reaffirm its abolitionist stand. Action has been taken against pimping. On Nov 29, a meeting of 37 organizations called for an Abolitionist
Convention, stating that consent does not justify violence.
 
In Belgium, feminists want to establish that a human body is not a commodity to be traded, stating that prostitution is gender-oriented violence and is based on inequality between men and women.
 
Despite differences in the way this problem is dealt with in various countries, all the participants stressed that prostitution is the most glaring face of violence against women and can not be tolerated.