This week, Iroko made a submission to the European Commission’s inception impact assessment proposal for a legislative initiative on preventing and combating gender-based violence and domestic violence, in the hope that the EC will take the important step of recognising sexual exploitation as a form of violence against women. We must thank our friends and colleagues at the Brussels’ Call for their support and input for this submission. 

Below you can read our submission in full.

Iroko is an Italian-based NGO that has, for over 20 years, campaigned on behalf of and provided assistance to victims/survivors of domestic violence, prostitution, and sex trafficking. 

As a frontline organisation we come into regular contact with predominantly migrant women, often victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation, who come to us for support. These women describe violence experienced at the hands of men, especially sex buyers. This violence often corresponds to the internationally accepted definition of torture. Not surprisingly, they are often reluctant to talk about the trauma they suffered or are unable to put it into words. Our aim is to help them rebuild their lives, but we cannot do this alone. Recognition at every level of the violence and trauma they have endured strengthens their rights and status as victims of violence, in order to obtain appropriate protections as such. Legislation on all forms of VAW is needed to ensure that unacceptable behaviour is punished, and serves as a signal of what we as a society deem acceptable behaviour. 

Concerted action at EU level is urgently needed to ensure adequate protection of women’s right to live a life free from violence, no matter where they live in the EU. Indeed, as the EC concludes, major discrepancies exist between European countries regarding legal and practical actions to fight VAWG. It is imperative that a holistic EU legislation ensures that all women in Europe are equally and fully protected from all forms of violence wherever they live. This is not only a moral obligation, it is also a legal obligation as per the EU treaties (Art. 2) and the European Charter on Fundamental Rights. 

The Istanbul Convention mentions prostitution as a factor making women and girls vulnerable to violence. Indeed, we recognise that prostitution is inherently violent, given that the majority of women in the sex trade report experiences of rape, harassment and PTSD. 

In order to tackle this form of violence, we call on the European Commission to include sexual exploitation in the scope of this legislative action to ensure the full continuum of VAW is tackled, and to allow for sexual exploitation as a Eurocrime to be tackled consistently throughout the EU. 

There is a clear legal basis for the inclusion of sexual exploitation. Article 83(1) of TFEU already clearly includes “trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and children” as a Eurocrime. Legislative action has been taken to combat trafficking, and sexual exploitation of children, but the sexual exploitation of adult women remains a gap in realising means to tackle this legally recognised international crime. Sexual exploitation is a clear form of VAWG and there is a clear legal basis in the TFEU for it to be legislated on. This law should be in line with existing relevant legislation, notably the Anti-Trafficking Directive, Directive on Child Sexual Exploitation and Child Pornography and the Victims’ Rights Directive, ensuring tackling demand is central and that sexual exploitation is defined in accordance with the existing definition of child sexual exploitation. 

In consideration of the impacts on fundamental rights, we would argue that this provision would also impact health-related rights and human dignity – in particular Article 3 (noting (2.c)) of the Fundamental Charter “the prohibition on making the human body and its parts as such a source of financial gain”, in that sexual exploitation and VAWG is clearly in contradiction with human dignity.

During the process for consultations, we emphasise the need to create opportunities for dialogue specifically with organisations on frontlines supporting those affected, including survivors of prostitution and trafficking.