CSW 52--Oral Statement on Eradicating Commercial Sexual Exploitation

CATW February 25, 2008 United States

United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, Fifty-second Session, 2008 February 28, 2008

The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, UNANIMA International, and Mouvement pour l'Abolition de la Prostitution et la Pornographie urge immediate action to eradicate the commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls through changes in laws and policies, including economic and political measures. 

Commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls of all ages, including prostitution, pornography, the Internet bride industry, and sex tourism, is one of the most devastating, and escalating practices of gender-based violence assaulting the human rights and dignity of women and girls. Victims of the sex industry, often suffer severe physical and mental health consequences including injuries from beatings and rapes; psychological trauma; HIV/AIDS; and alcohol and drug abuse either induced by pimps or by victims' attempts to reduce their physical and mental pain. 

Increasingly, governments prioritize revenue and profit at the expense of women's rights and equality. Specifically, they have adopted policies tolerating, regulating, and, in some places, even legalizing prostitution as a form of work and legitimate source of state revenue, with the explicit encouragement of inter-governmental organizations. Such policies fail to acknowledge the enormous extent to which women and girls in the sex industry have been trafficked and exploited, nationally and across borders, as defined by the Palermo Protocol. Prostitution should not be labeled "sex work" and accepted as any other job. It is also a mistake to assume that trafficked children are no longer victims but voluntary workers' when they reach the age of 18, or that prostitution no longer poses the same harms to their well-being.

Trafficking, prostitution and other forms of commercial sexual exploitation are fueled by male demand. Codifying male sexual privilege by legalizing or regulating prostitution gives men permission to increase the demand for trafficking for sexual exploitation. Legitimizing prostitution as work thus commences a vicious cycle in which the sex industry expands, and increases the demand for sex trafficking victims. Countries that have legalized prostitution activities should recognize the integral link between prostitution and sex trafficking, and that they are, in fact, creating profitable markets for traffickers.

We believe that no society that purports to uphold gender equality should tolerate and accept the sexual commodification of women and girls. The UN, governments and civil society must, therefore, shift the moral and criminal responsibility for sexual exploitation away from the women and girls who are victimized to the men who harm them, the traffickers who enslave them, and those governments who countenance such violence. Governments must increase support and services for all victims of sex trafficking. Governments must initiate public education campaigns aimed at preventing victimization and eliminating demand. Governments must create and enforce effective laws against trafficking and sexual exploitation, as obligated by the Palermo Protocol, the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others, CEDAW and other international instruments. 

It is unacceptable that a sub-class of impoverished and socially marginalized women and girls are exposed to the harms of prostitution in an ill-fated attempt to address development and the feminization of poverty. Legitimization and normalization of the sex industry have a profound, negative long-term impact on the human rights, integrity and dignity of all women and girls. We therefore urge that governments prevent the proliferation of the sex industry.