Serbia punishes women in prostitution 5 times more often than their customers

An analysis by the Autonomous Women's Center in Belgrade shows that Serbia's current model of prostitution legislation results in harsh and often disproportionate punishments for women in prostitution while their male clients walk free.

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Why this story matters:

-- by Sanja Pavlović

This is the first research on prostitution of this kind in Serbia. It shows how the judicial system discriminates against women in prostitution and how institutional sexism is very present, espeically with regard to women with the least power in our society. It also shows that the prohibitionist model with which prostitution is legally regulated is in and of itself discriminatory.

Only a few days after the research was published, the committee of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women mentioned prostitution for the first time in its questions to the Serbian state.

CEDAW asked if and how Serbia punishes buyers, and what resources it provides for women wishing to exit prostitution.

We find this encouraging and useful for all women's organizations that are advocating for the abolitionist model, in which buyers and traffickers are penalized rather than the sellers - those involved in prostitution.

Details from the story:

  • The reports finds that people who engage in prostitution are punished over five times more often than those who purchase prostitution services.
  • Out of the 89 convictions for engaging in prostitution that were studied, 79 convictions (89%) were women, while 10 convictions (11%) were for men who engage in prostitution. Out of 17 convictions for purchasing prostitution services, all 17 were for men.
  • “Since the price was acceptable I chose a female who was not Roma.”-- said a purchaser of sex services.
  • “I work in prostitution whenever I am broke and I need the money for food and for my child since I have no other income.” -- said one of the women punished for engaging in prostitution.
  • “I have known M. for a month, had met her on a sidewalk near a fast food shop on Bogoslovija. We engaged in sex for the first time, that is, she provided me the service of oral sex; I have not paid much for that -- just about 100 dinars, the amount she was missing to buy a hamburger. After that we exchanged phone numbers and saw each other on several occasions and I usually gave her, after oral sex, money for hamburgers and cigarettes -- only around 200-300 dinars. Tonight, we agreed that she would provide oral sex again and I gave her 300 dinars for cigarettes” -- said another purchaser of sex services.
  • The two main recommendations of the report are to adopt the abolitionist system, namely to punish buyers and facilitators, and to invest resources into providing alternatives for women engaged in prostitution.
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