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Our View: Shades of grey between trafficking and prostitution

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OMBUDSWOMAN Eliza Savvidou has complained because the provision of the law making the use of the services of victims of human trafficking a criminal offence, has not been put into force. In the two years since the introduction of the provision there had not been a prosecution of a client using the services of a trafficking victim in any of the human trafficking cases investigated by the police, she noted.

Savvidou made her comments after the bizarre outburst at the Human Rights Committee the previous week, by Akel deputy Panicos Stavrianos, who tried to present the male in a sex transaction as a victim. He had said: “When there is sexual exploitation and prostitution of women, the man who takes the woman from the bar and leaves, is also a victim, in a way… He is also a victim in the case. He goes and pays and they take his money.” Earlier this week, he issued a contrite statement saying he never implied that the victim of sexual exploitation was in the same boat as the ‘client’.

Savvidou did not buy this, saying that “every suggestion equating the client with the victim of trafficking or his in-advance acquittal, constitutes subsequently, the cultivation of a culture of tolerance towards such behaviour and deals a blow to efforts for the prevention and combating of human trafficking.”

While this is a perfectly valid point, the provision of the law that has not been enforced is designed to victimise, much as this sounds incorrect, an innocent ‘client’. It stipulates that someone who buys services from a trafficking victim, even if he does not know the woman is a trafficking victim, is guilty of a criminal offence. The European directive and the law in most European countries requires the buyer of sex services to have known the woman is a trafficking victim to have committed a criminal offence, which is a more sensible approach.

The provision in the Cyprus law, which Savvidou described as an “advanced legal approach” does not make sense, because paying for sex does not constitute a violation of the law. Prostitution is legal, so a client paying for sex is not breaking the law. How can another law then make it a criminal offence for him to do this because the sex worker happened to be a trafficking victim? Not all sex workers are trafficking victims and there is no way for a potential client knowing that someone was such a victim. Under these circumstances, the “advanced legal approach” Savvidou spoke about is nothing more than an unjust law.

If they want to treat men who pay for sex as criminals, they should first outlaw prostitution.

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