Sex workers attend roundtable meeting and launch of photo exhibition in European Parliament


Sex workers attended a roundtable meeting and exhibition in the European Parliament this week, co-organised by Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld.

On 14th October, a photo exhibition opened in European Parliament, organised by Mariska Majoor, founder of PIC Amsterdam, featuring photos taken by her daughter, Robin, and from her book United Under a Red Umbrella: Sex work around the world. The exhibition was open 14th – 18th October in Parliament, and shared testimony from sex workers from around the world.

On Tuesday 15th, sex workers from NSWP, ICRSE and SWAN took part in a roundtable discussion in Parliament, entitled ‘the lives of sex workers around the world’. They were joined by Belinda Brooke Gordon (Birkbeck University), and a representative from the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Training. The group discussed the global sex worker rights context and the issues faced by sex workers due to stigma and criminalisation.

Yvette Luhrs, who worked on the book with Mariska, quoted from some of the sex workers included in the photo exhibition during the roundtable discussion, including mentioning the impact of poverty and discrimination, particularly for migrant, trans and Roma sex workers.

Ruth Morgan Thomas, Global Coordinator at NSWP, presented an overview of the needs and rights of sex workers across the world, drawing on NSWP  core values and consensus statement drafted and endorsed by NSWP’s membership. More than 65% of NSWP’s 260 member organisations are based in the Global South. During the meeting, she said:

“We have the right to say yes, and the right to say no. You cannot take away our right to say yes, and leave only the right to say no. That removes our agency and autonomy, and takes away our access to decent work.”

Sabrina Sanchez, co-convenor of ICRSE, presented on the situation in Spain and the difficulties faced by Otras. She also presented information on the expansion of the Nordic Model to other countries, including Northern Ireland, France, Norway and Sweden where clients are also criminalised.

Nataliia Isaieva spoke about her work with SWAN and Legalife Ukraine, which she set up in response to police violence and human rights violations. She discussed their successful sensitisation workshops with police in Ukraine, and called on decision makers to include sex workers in discussion and policymaking.

A significant outcome of the meeting was that the European Parliament, together with sex workers, initiated a process of developing an ethical code of conduct for police officers, which will involve examining all laws governing sex work.