Communist Party statement on prostitution

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The May Executive Committee of the Party considered a draft document on Prostitution from our Women’s Commission. This has now been released as a public statement:

Prostitution is one of the worst forms of human exploitation. Although we recognise that some men and boys are exploited in this way, it remains the case that the vast majority of those trapped in the sex trade are women and girls; therefore, we focus this statement on women and girls.

We extend unwavering solidarity and empathy to all those who are trapped in the sex trade and as communists it is incumbent on us to put forward a class analysis of prostitution.

Those who founded the trade unions and the labour movement did so in a period where millions of women and children were forced to sell their bodies to survive, but they did not support prostitution as a form of “work”. They correctly saw prostitution as a social ill to be eradicated.

“…for the rest it is self-evident that the abolition of the present system of production must bring with it the abolition of the community of women springing from the system i.e. of prostitution both public and private!” 
(Marx & Engels, The Manifesto of the Communist Party, 1848)

In keeping with the history and traditions of trades unions and the labour movement, we reaffirm that prostitution is a social ill that should be eradicated. Prostitution proliferates in countries where economies are unstable and levels of inequality are high. Prostitution also increases in countries where there is conflict and war; refugee women are particularly vulnerable where there is complete economic breakdown and no other opportunities. We note that it is working class women and girls and the most oppressed who end up trapped in the sex trade due to a lack of economic choice.

Women and girls should be able to secure well-paid jobs, good housing and education without the need to prostitute themselves. Prostitution is not a genuine and free choice; it is a survival behaviour, mostly engaged in by working class women and girls who suffer economic disadvantage.

While prostitution exists, there can never be true equality between men and women. The continued existence of commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls has an adverse impact on how men and boys engage in relationships with all women. There are clear and undisputed links between the male demand for prostitution, child sexual exploitation and pornography. Prostitution, by its very nature, does not constitute a relationship of equals, as the man paying for sexual access to a woman’s body has full power and control.

Individuals and organisations with a commercial interest in the sexual exploitation of women and girls are running campaigns both inside and outside the labour movement and the trade union movement to get prostitution reframed as “work”.

We call on trade unionists and all in society to reject the assertion “sex work is work” on the following grounds: 

  1. Prostitution is inherently violent and requires in and of itself the subjugation of women and girls – there is no form of work where this could ever be acceptable.
  2. Health and safety regulation is impossible in the sex trade: in any occupation that involves exposure to bodily fluids workers wear masks, gloves, gowns, and goggles to protect themselves. Prostitutes can never benefit from these levels of protection because of the nature of prostitution.
  3. Extreme levels of violence, rape, degradation, and humiliation cannot be regulated against as they are part and parcel of prostitution. Such levels of harm against workers in work would never be tolerated. Women in prostitution experience more physical and sexual violence that women on average. A study by Germany’s federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth reports that 41% of women in prostitution experience physical or sexual violence, or both, in the context of prostitution.
  4. The sexual sadism that prostitutes are exposed to causes the type of physical internal injuries and psychological trauma that should never be accepted in the world of work.
  5. The murder rate is particularly high in the sex trade. Prostitutes are almost nine times more likely to be killed than soldiers in combat. Legalisation of the sex trade does not protect the lives of prostitutes. Since Germany’s legalisation of the sex trade in 2022, there have been 85 homicides of prostituted persons committed by clients. In addition, there have been at least 49 attempted homicides.
  6. Pregnancy and even multiple pregnancies are risks arising out of prostitution which have adverse implications for the woman herself, for children born out of prostitution, and for society itself. This should never be accepted as an overhead of “employment”.
  7. The high levels of substance use necessary to enable prostitutes to cope with the abusive practices of the men who buy sex should never be tolerated in the world of work.

All attempts to organise prostitutes into trade unions have so far failed to effectively challenge those who profit from this form of exploitation. There are several reasons for this failure: 

  1. There is no genuine employee/ employer relationship. 
  2. Lines become blurred between those running sexual entertainment services and those offering sexual services.
  3. Strippers and others are treated as independent contractors who rent space and equipment from the clubs and as such they are freely exploited, financially and sexually. If they don’t tolerate the exploitation, they are not booked and therefore are reluctant to challenge the profiteers. Stripping is closely associated with prostitution, can include full sexual services and is an entry point into other forms of prostitution.
  4. Criminal gangs and organised crime are deeply embedded in the sex trade and the trafficking of women by these gangs is widespread, a fact that is ignored by those running “sex work is work” campaigns. Dutch prosecution services estimate that up to 70% of prostitutes have been forced into the sex industry. There is a strong link between prostitution and trafficking in human beings for the purposes of sexual exploitation. Trafficking is defined by the European Parliament as the recruitment, transfer, harbouring, or receipt of people through threat, force, fraud, deception, abduction, abuse of power, a position of vulnerability or other forms of coercion with the aim of exploiting them for profit. Trafficking of human beings for the purposes of sexual exploitation remains the most prevalent form of trafficking in the EU.

All “campaigning” across the sex trade has been limited to keeping sexual entertainment venues open, which is in the interests of those who have power and control in the sex industry. It is impossible for trade unions to organise, to push for improved health and safety, to engage in talks or disputes to improve pay, terms and conditions. The industry is fragmented and mostly unregulated; it is driven by organised crime and therefore criminal gangs are rife, with additional forms of criminality. There are no bargaining units, and no genuine pressure is put to bear on the profiteers and criminal gangs who have complete control of the sex industry. The light touch regulation at the legal end of the market – the strip clubs – enables the clubs to exist and does nothing to protect the women involved in the industry.

 The Communist Party of Britain opposes all forms of campaigning to decriminalise prostitution. According to Europol, legalisation makes it easier for traffickers to use the legal system to exploit their victims, and legal businesses are used to cover up exploitation with the result that this increases the incentives for human trafficking. The negative consequences of the decriminalisation of pimping, the purchase of sex and societal normalisation of prostitution increases demand for prostitution, which leads to an increase in trafficking.

We accept the extensive evidence and testimony that in countries where prostitution is legalised, conditions are even worse for those selling sex. For example, “menus” are available in multi-storey brothels offering sex buyers the opportunity to try out forms of extreme sexual violence on women and girls. Hard core violent pornography is played on a loop, further encouraging male sex buyers to act out extreme forms of abuse on the women they pay for.

We reject the poor-quality data from “sex work is work” advocates who claim that prostitution is “safer” in countries where the industry is fully legalised. These studies are flawed as they were carried out in countries where prostitution is illegal. Prostitutes continue to suffer significant harm and are murdered in countries where prostitution is fully legalised, as 2024 press reports from Austria highlight.

It is of concern that the voices of the women who have successfully exited prostitution and speak out against it are deliberately and consistently ignored. This leads to a false and misleading narrative about prostitution which is dominating public discourse. The existence of commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) has an adverse impact on everyone in society; we all have a stake in society and a right to express views and take a position on CSE. As rates of violence against women and girls are on the rise, we reject the view that only certain groups of prostitutes, pimps and pornographers who agree with the existence of the sex trade have the sole right to speak about prostitution.

The Communist Party affirms our commitment to the following: 

  1. To reject the assertion that prostitution is a form of “work” and to oppose the idea that the sex industry provides any suitable alternative for the material survival of women and girls. It is the worst form of exploitation that divides working class people and is falsely promoted as a form of work by those seeking to gain financially from the sexual exploitation of women and girls.
  2. To support campaigns opposing the licensing of sexual entertainment venues, on the grounds that the existence of such establishments diminishes the safety, security and rights of women and girls.
  3. To oppose the decriminalisation of prostitution.
  4. To ensure that all comrades are accurately briefed on the harms and abuses integral to prostitution, their adverse impact on those who are exploited for commercial gain, on relationships between women and men and on wider society.
  5. To fully support the “Nordic model” which has been successfully rolled out in other countries and has led to a fall in prostitution. This model endorses the criminalisation of the purchase of sex and the decriminalisation of prostitutes. It calls for investment in high quality services for women and safe exit routes from the sex industry. In Sweden, where the Nordic model has been introduced, the demand for prostitution fell by more than 40%.
  6. To join the wider movement in campaigning for a decent social security safety net and public services for women so that they do not have to resort to prostitution to survive.
  7. To encourage young women workers to become organisers in trade unions and lead struggles for decent jobs, decent pay, terms, and conditions.
  8. To join in campaigns for affordable childcare for working women.
  9. To join in campaigning to secure flexible working agreements for working women.
  10. To always uphold the right of women to secure, well-paid jobs, good housing, and education without the need to prostitute themselves.