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From the Merlin Law to the Abolitionist Model

The Italian law no. 75 from 1958, which carries the name of Senator Lina Merlin, has turned 61. This law, as we know, abolished brothels – 560 of them when it was approved -, the embodiment of State regulation of prostitution. It abolished the keeping of records of prostituted women, freeing them from the heavy stigma and providing an opportunity for them to escape from prostitution. Essentially, this law aimed to avoid any woman being forced, coerced or encouraged to get into or to remain in prostitution.

The Merlin Law can be seen as a pioneer for recent abolitionist laws, approved in various countries around the world and it serves as our point of reference to reflect both culturally and politically on prostitution itself.

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Convention on the Sex Industry and Human Trafficking, Rome, May 2018

“We all want to find ways for the women to be safe. But we know that the women and the men, the boys and the girls can never be safe in prostitution. We can only reduce the harm. That’s not good enough. We don’t talk about reducing the harm for sexually abused children or women who are raped. We talk about ending it. And yet, when you talk about ending the sex trade, many people laugh at you and say ‘we can’t stop prostitution’. I say ‘really? Do you not think that we can end poverty?’ and they’ll say yes. ‘Do you think that we can end child sexual abuse?’ ‘Well, yes.’ ‘Do you think we can end racism?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Well why can’t you imagine ending prostitution? Men are not born with this innate desire to have sex with a woman who isn’t consenting. We call that socialisation and patriarchy. Of course there is no innate need for men to have one-sided consensual sex with a woman who doesn’t want to be there. The propagandists that spin the mythology that leads people to say legalisation is the only way, know very well that, if they say prostitution is inevitable, it’s always been here and it always will be here, people somehow absorb this and believe it. If I hear the phrase ‘the oldest profession’ one more time, I might have to do some damage. Of course it’s not a profession. Of course that isn’t the case. Children have been sexually abused forever. Does that make it natural and inevitable? Of course it doesn’t.”

Julie Bindel, Convention on the Sex Industry and Human Trafficking, Rome, May 2018.

To read Julie Bindel’s speech in full, as well as others from the convention, click here.