A proposed legislation making paid sex a crime in the Republic of Cyprus is drawing criticism, after the country’s left wing declared the female body is not for sale and cannot be bought.
On Friday, Akel submitted a bill to the House calling for the criminalization of prostitution in Cyprus, with MP Skevi Koukouma calling prostitution the “oldest form of violence against women.”
Koukouma said her party based the draft legislation on the Nordic model, under which Scandinavian laws criminalize the purchase of sex under a broad ideological framework that sees all sex work as violence.
Fines and jail time
The bill proposes fines up to €3000 and one year in jail for any individual who has sexual intercourse with another individual in exchange for money, with people facing misdemeanor charges. An attempt to have paid sex is also a misdemeanor that carries a €1000 fine, according to the proposed bill, while payment in the form of goods or services, or payment through a third party, are also all considered part of the definition of paid sex.
It is also stipulated in the proposed legislation that any person who is convicted for the crime more than once could face up to five years in prison.
“Criminalizing the purchase of sexual services sends a powerful message especially to the younger generations. The female body is not a commodity. It is not for sale and it cannot be bought,” Koukouma wrote on Facebook.
But critics were quick to point out the bill was unfairly targeting individuals who either choose sex work as a profession or those who seek sexual services, while also lumping together consensual paid sex with pimping, exploitation, sex trafficking and other related crimes.
Critics say the bill is unfairly targeting individuals who choose sex work as a profession or those who seek sexual services, while also lumping together consensual paid sex with other crimes
One social media user wrote a question on Koukouma’s Facebook page, asking what would happen with female and male sex workers when their work becomes criminalized.
"There has to be a way out"
Koukouma responded to the comment, arguing “there has to be a way out” for these people, saying there would be a provision in the bill calling for “reintegration” sponsored by the state.
KISA, a Cypriot NGO for human rights, said it was against any direct or indirect criminalization of individuals who work in the sex industry, warning that the issue was far more complicated and describing the bill as having a very narrow view on prostitution.
One comment on Koukouma’s Facebook post pointed out that the bill’s definition of prostitution as “sexual intercourse” failed to address situations where intercourse may not be among paid sexual services rendered to a customer.
MP links prostitution to human trafficking
Koukouma pointed to a number of studies as well as information from police and NGO groups, saying there was a link between prostitution and human trafficking. The MP argued that even in cases where women resort “voluntarily” to prostitution, very quickly they find themselves trapped in trafficking networks.
“This is why we want to take out the demand, so that we can also take out human trafficking networks,” Koukouma wrote.
Last July, the House passed a bill sponsored by Diko MP Christiana Erotokritou, criminalizing customers who pay for sex with trafficked women, essentially making the solicitation of sexual services illegal.
During the same plenary session, the House defeated an amendment that would have provided legal recourse for defendants by giving them a chance to argue in court if they had no knowledge that a person was a victim of sex trafficking or a sex worker was under the control of a pimp.
Late last year, outgoing police chief Kypros Michaelides vowed to continue fighting prostitution on the island, saying law enforcement agents were focusing on the “fight against prostitution” as one of the main priorities.
But prostitution is not illegal in the Republic of Cyprus, while trafficking and pimping are offences punishable by law.
The sex industry is currently unregulated, meaning that sex workers and those who can otherwise legally make a living by prostituting themselves could end up in prison for up to two years on misdemeanour charges for violating laws that ban the organisation and running of brothels.
If the Akel-sponsored bill is passed by the House, police officers could arrest any individual engaging or otherwise being involved in paid sex, including consensual sex.
Calls on governments to protect sex workers
Amnesty International has called on governments to do more to protect sex workers from violations and abuse, pointing out that law enforcement officials in many countries, including the Republic of Cyprus, focus on prohibiting consensual sex work through surveillance, harassment and raids.
The organization has also called for ways to make sex workers’ lives safer and improve their relationship with police.
“If a customer is bad you need to manage it yourself to the end. You only call the police if you think you are going to die. If you call the police, you lose everything,” an Amnesty statement said.
While Amnesty has called for tough laws against coercion and exploitation in the sex industry, it has also spoken in favour of policies that help individuals leave the sex trade if they choose to do so without criminalizing the profession.