Greek Sex Workers Organise Conference and Demand Law Reform

European Regional Correspondent

On 25 May, 2017, NSWP members Red Umbrella Athens (Greece) and Hellenic Association of People Living with HIV “Positive Voice” organised a conference on policy issues regarding sex work in Greece. It was very successful. It was the first time this topic was discussed by representatives from the government, political parties, civil society, sex workers and the scientific community.

According to the Greek sex work legislation adopted in 1999, sex work is legal but heavily regulated. Only sex work that occurs in state-licensed brothels is legal. Street-based sex work and sex work that occurs in hotels is illegal. Municipalities are allowed to determine the number of licensed brothels. Brothels are not allowed within 200 meters of public buildings, i.e. schools, churches, kindergartens, playgrounds, health clinics, hospitals, sport centers, libraries, squares and nursing homes. This means it is impossible to have a state-licensed brothel in any Greek city.

According to the Criminal Code Law 2734/1999, sex workers are not allowed to be married. They must be single, divorced or a widow. Sex workers are only allowed to work for 3 years and require a number of legal and medical documents to work legally. For example, they must provide their legal identity, passport, residence permits, HIV test results, and a chest X-Ray to the government. The law demands mandatory medical testing for STIs every 15 days, which is one of the strictest regulations in European Union. Furthermore, the law prohibits sex workers from working together.

The use of an apartment for sex work requires the consent of all the residents and the owners of the rest of the apartments. Finally, according to the sex work legislation, the assistant staff of brothels should be older than 50 and should have mandatory medical testing.

All of the speakers agreed on the necessity to change the current legal framework that violates the rights of sex workers as outlined in the NSWP Consensus Statement.

It is noteworthy that the conference was organised with the official support of the Greek Ministry of Interior and the Minister. Panos Skourletis, with the political party “Coalition of the Radical Left,” spoke of the need to examine other legislative models on sex work.

Anna, representative of Red Umbrella Athens, described the services and the experiences of the drop-in day center and stressed that the term “prostitution” is abusive and thus it should not be used in any public dialogue. Furthermore, she shared her own personal experience as a sex worker, emphasising the need to recognise sex work as any other profession.

“Unfortunately, still here lots of stakeholders see sex work as trafficking and so they support the Nordic model,” said Maria from Red Umbrella Greece.

Thierry Schaffauser from the “International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE)” spoke about the different policy models implemented in France, Sweden, Holland, and New Zealand. He spoke about how criminalisation is a violation of sex workers human rights. He actively participated in the conference and spoke out against statements arguing that sex workers are only women and victims of trafficking and that there is no need to talk about their rights.

Trajche Janushev, the chairperson of SWAN's Management Committee, focused on best practices and the successes of SWAN. Ms Duif, the Secretary of the Board and legal consultant for PROUD (Dutch Sex Workers Union), and Ms Luhrs, the Chair person of the Board and press officer for PROUD, presented the Dutch model on sex work policy. They highlighted the importance of meaningfully including sex workers in the development of legislation and policies about sex work.

Finally, of particular interest was the discussion of the six members and representatives of the parliamentary parties who were present. They unanimously supported the need to modernise the legal framework. The ‘SYRIZA’ member of parlimeant and former Minister of Justice Nikos Paraskevopoulos, argued that the state should respect the right of sex workers to self-determination.

“One of our priorities is to continue increasing the pressure for changes in legislation in favor of sex workers,” concluded Maria.