Call for input to the report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls to the Human Rights Council on prostitution and violence against women and girls
31 January 2024
31 January 2024
Women and girls constitute the majority of those in prostitution. International law has recognized that prostitution is incompatible with the dignity and the worth of the human person and has included prostitution as a key element for the crime of trafficking in persons for the purpose of sexual exploitation. It has very importantly called on States to “take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women”.
Furthermore, article 9(5) of the Palermo Protocol calls on State Parties to “adopt or strengthen legislative or other measures, such as educational, social or cultural measures, including through bilateral and multilateral cooperation, to discourage the demand that fosters all forms of exploitation of persons, especially women and children, that leads to trafficking.” In a number of jurisdictions, States have adopted legislation or policies through the criminalization of pimps and traffickers and discouraging the demand that fosters such sexual exploitation.
Two international treaties are particularly relevant: one is in the 1949 Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Other. The 1949 Convention presents two shifts in perspective on the trafficking problem, in that it views prostituted persons as victims of the procurers. The Convention requires State parties to punish any person who "procures, entices, or leads away, for purposes of prostitution, another person, even with the consent of that person"; or "exploits the prostitution of another person, even with the consent of that person" (Article 1), or runs a brothel or rents accommodations for prostitution purposes (Article 2). Article 3 of the Palermo protocol lays out the situations where the consent of the person trafficked would be deemed irrelevant. . It also prescribes procedures for combating international traffic for the purpose of prostitution, including extradition of offenders.
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) notes that: “States Parties shall take all appropriate measures, including legislation to suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women” (article 6). Although the CEDAW Convention does not mention violence against women and its different forms, prostitution has been included in the CEDAW Committee’s General Recommendations No. 12, 19, 35, and 38. For example, in General Recommendation no 19 on violence against women (para. 15 and 16) it noted that poverty and unemployment often force women into prostitution, and that armed conflicts often lead to an increase in prostitution. In its various concluding observations to State party reports, it also noted that the vulnerability of prostituted women and girls to exploitation is heightened based on intersecting grounds. Foreign women, and women of ethnic and other minorities - amongst others - are particularly vulnerable. Moreover, the CEDAW Committee recognised how law often facilitates marginalisation and violence (including by State agents) and it has asked States to take punitive, preventive and rehabilitative measures to protect prostituted women.
General Recommendation No. 38 on Trafficking in Women in the Context of Global Migration of 2020 has clarified the indivisible link between trafficking and sexual exploitation , while also acknowledging prostitution as a phenomenon rooted in structural, sex-based discrimination, constituting gender-based violence, which is often exacerbated in the context of displacement, migration, the increased globalization of economic activities, including global supply chains, the extractive and offshore industries, increased militarism, foreign occupation, armed conflict, violent extremism and terrorism . It also states that sexual exploitation persists due to the failure of States parties to effectively discourage the demand that fosters exploitation and leads to trafficking along with the persistent stereotypes and norms regarding male domination and the need to assert male control or power, enforce patriarchal gender roles and male sexual entitlement, coercion and control, which drive the demand, especially in the context of digital technology, for the sexual exploitation of women and girls. It also recommends that States discourage the demand and investigate, prosecute and convict all perpetrators involved in trafficking in persons, including those on the demand side. According to Article 9 (5) of the Palermo Protocol, States are obliged "to discourage the demand that fosters all forms of exploitation of persons, especially women and children, that leads to trafficking."
Reference should be made to the divergent views between advocates on the issue, with some arguing that the criminalization of any act related to prostitution, including pimping and the purchase of sexual acts, as well as the criminalization of prostituted women and girls, violates certain human rights such as the right to agency, bodily autonomy and integrity, as well as to non-discrimination. Others however argue that the acts and actors involved in prostitution should be disassociated from prostituted persons, who often come from the most marginalised communities, being considered as victims of violence, and as such, should not be criminalized and should be afforded protection, while pimps and those who pay for sex acts should be considered as their exploiters and penalised.
The Special Rapporteur would like to receive input to better understand the relationship between prostitution and violence against women, to clarify terms, approaches and actions States should take in order to maintain the spirit of international human rights law and to effectively protect women and girls from all forms of violence.
The Special Rapporteur kindly seeks the support of States, international and regional human rights mechanisms, National Human Rights Institutions, civil society actors, UN agencies, regional human rights organizations, academics, victims and survivor organizations, and other stakeholders to respond to one or more of the following questions:
Respondents may wish to answer some but not all these questions and provide supportive information focusing on either woman, girls, or both.
The Special Rapporteur is particularly interested in hearing from organizations that facilitate the recovery of women and girls who have been prostituted; those that are advocating for the rights of women and girls who have been prostituted; as well as well as from survivors.
For minors who wish to send input, the express consent of one of their parents or a guardian will also be required.
Should the number of submissions remain manageable, they will be published on the mandate’s webpage, unless they are marked by their authors as confidential or if the expressed consent of victims has not been secured.
Please send your contributions in English, French, Spanish, Arabic or Russian by email to [email protected] with the subject line: Input for SR VAWG's report on violence against women and prostitution, and no later than 31 January 2024.
To ensure accessibility of information submitted for persons with visual impairments, submissions are preferred in Word format.
Please limit contributions to a maximum of 2,000 words and, if necessary, provide links to relevant documents or attach annexes.
Email address: [email protected]
Email subject line: Input for SR VAWG's report on violence against women and prostitution
Word limit: 2000 words (no more than 5 pages)
Accepted languages: English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Russian