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A-Z guide to the situation in the Member States

Prostitutes, Pimps, Clients: defining the Sex Industry

To legalise prostitution is to deny civil and human rights

Failure to legalise prostitution is to deny civil and human rights

New Technologies and the Sex Industry

How Many Sex Workers?

Where do Europe's Sex workers come from?

What is Trafficking for the Purposes of Sexual Exploitation?

Can Legalising Prostitution bring an end to Trafficking for the Purposes of Sexual Exploitation?

Articles, Documents, Legal instruments, Pressure groups ...


Forced prostitution   Male prostitution   Transgender prostitution   Child prostitutes   Victims of trafficking   Migrant prostitutes   Pimps   Clients



"It takes a village to make a prostitute"



Sex Worker and Sex Industry

The term 'prostitute' is generally considered to refer to a woman over the age of consent who willingly exchanges sexual services for money. The name, however, encompasses much more.  According to some, all forms of engagement in the sex industry, be it as a lap dancer, a pornographic actor(ess), or a 'call girl' equal prostitution.  'Prostitute' is a term those who work within the sex industry are seeking to move away from, arguing it is associated with the concept of a dirty woman (whore, slut, etc.), whereas 'sex worker' identifies someone who is a member of a legitimate profession.

"The term ‘sex worker’ was coined by sex workers themselves to redefine commercial sex, not as the social or psychological characteristic of a class of women, but as an income-generating activity or form of employment for women and men (Leigh, 1997). Similarly, use of the term ‘sex industry’, was aimed at inclusion of exotic dancers, masseurs, telephone sex operators, receptionists (maids) and a whole host of people (including men) who sell sex (Delacoste and Alexander, 1987). Both terms have gained increasing credence since the 1970s, better acknowledging the active, wilful, moral, reflexive and insightful agency of sex workers (Chapkis, 1997) and recognizing that the prostitute is socially situated in a culture that includes a range of other actors." Write Bindman & Doezema in Redefining Prostitution as Sex Work on the International Agenda.  Thus 'Sex Worker' refers to the group of people, female, transgender, male, under-age, immigrant, native, etc who actively choose to exchange sexual services for money or payment in kind. It is this group which is most vocal and organised, and indeed much debate revolves around what approach policy makers and law enforcers should and do take toward this group of prostitutes. 


Pimps & Exploitation

‘Pimp’ is often used as synonym for anyone who lives off the proceeds of prostitution. In some countries this extends to a prostitute’s landlord, partner, cohabiter, or even parents though generally a pimp is someone who offers protection and business to prostitutes in exchange for a sum of money or a proportion of her/his earnings. In cases of forced prostitution, pimp is also the name given the prostitute’s exploiter. There is a confusion of terms as the owner/manager of a brothel fits the description of a pimp, whilst often receiving different treatment from law enforcers, particularly where prostitution is criminalised but tolerated.

According to Kathleen Barry, pimps target girls or women who seem naive, lonely, homeless, and rebellious. At first, the attention and feigned affection from the pimp convinces her to 'be his woman'.  Pimps ultimately keep prostituted women in virtual captivity by verbal abuse and by physical coercion.  80% to 95% of all prostitution is pimp-controlled.


Forced prostitution

This term refers to the process of coercing women, men, children to exchange sexual services for money or other payment against their will. Individuals can be threatened with violence and/or sexual abuse, falsely imprisoned, held through debt-bondage, or in other ways coerced; The ‘owner’, exploiter or ‘pimp’ will sometimes split the revenue from the sexual act with the prostitute, sometimes simply offer the prostituted individual a minimum by which to live.  Some would argue that no woman can choose prostitution, and where a choice ix exerted, the decision was impaired by social factors, poverty, a history of violence or abuse, etc.  In other words, all sex work is forced prostitution to some degree, either by an individual (or group of individuals) or by personal or social circumstances.  All EU countries have some form of legislation which outlaws forced prostitution, most often under the bracket of living off immoral earnings or an equivalent.


Male prostitution

There is evidence, to a greater or lesser degree, of male prostitution in all EU countries. There is often discrimination in law between male and female prostitutes, even in countries where voluntary prostitution is legal, for example in the age of homosexual consent. Male prostitution, as female prostitution, is not necessarily voluntary, forced, underage, dominated by migrants, etc. However less data is regularly collected on male prostitutes than on female. Health services and clinics may be set up specifically for female prostitutes, and a vocal campaign is arguing that all references to gender should be removed from legislation which refers to prostitutes and provision for them. Male prostitutes and call boys, as transgender prostitutes, often face even more severe stigmatisation than females, affecting quality of health services provided them and increasing the isolation of an already socially marginalised group.


Transgender prostitution

Research into transgender prostitutes is a growing area. Many males who have had a sex change feel that selling themselves as females is a test on their credibility as a woman. This group of prostitutes has added pressures, both social and financial, which are not always recognised by authorities.


Child prostitutes

This is a prostitute who is under the age of consent, although this can vary from country to country. In Greece this is 14, in some Nordic states the age for legal prostitution is 20.  As pedophilia is an extraditable offence, or one to which extraterritoriality applies, there is need for harmonisation across the EU on this matter.  Assisting child victims and gaining sufficient evidence for a conviction, particularly where extraterritoriality is applied, is particularly problematic.


Trafficked prostitutes (victims of trafficking)

This group includes men women and children who have been brought to Europe from a third country, another EU country, or even just from a different region of the same country, either against their will or on false pretences. They may have had no knowledge of the work they would be forced to do once at their destination, or were deceived into believing they would be able to do this for a short time whilst making substantial amounts of money to take or send home. Trafficked prostitutes are very hard to get accurate data on, the very nature if their condition making them very hard to access.  Victims may work in brothels alongside independent sex workers, may be forced to work on the street, in pornography studios, live webstreaming sex shows, etc. The distinctions between trafficking and smuggling are described Here, however it s worth noting that many EU states are modifying or creating legislation to create a specific crime of trafficking in human beings.  In the UK the proposed legislation(pdf) extends to transporting a prostitute within the country, a notion which is raising concerns among pro-sex work campaigners.


Migrant Prostitutes

Migrant generally refers to an individual from a different country, though occasional references to North/South migration within one country are can be made. The vast majority of migrant prostitutes in Northern Europe are voluntarily in the sex industry, often as they can earn up to ten times their home wage once in the EU, however estimates are that 60-90% of the women from central Europe arrive with the intervention of smugglers or traffickers. A very extensive survey on the prostitution situation in Europe revealed that there is great mobility of prostitutes within EU countries, and individuals from eastern and central Europe constitute a significant proportion of all sex industries. Nearly 50 countries are mentioned, as outlined in Sex Work and Migration.



Anyone who buys the sexual services of another person is a client (occasionally 'trick' in the US).  This is quite straight forward if the 'services' are those of a consenting prostitute where prostitution is legal.  In Sweden, a client is also a criminal.  Where the prostitute is under the age of consent, the client is also a pedophile. For those who argue that 'prostitution' should cover all aspects of the sex industry, client extends to buyers of pornography (printed, televised via internet or otherwise).  In some countries 'curb crawling' (cruising) is sufficient to break the law.


Whatever 'prostitution' involves, a vociferous group argues that no woman can freely choose it.  Click below...


To legalise prostitution is to deny civil and human rights




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