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Centre Party youth wing calls for legalisation of brothels in Finland

An advocate for sex workers has raised concerns about how information on brothel workers would be used if registration is compulsory.

Seksityöläinen kadulla (jalat kuvassa).
Image: Jussi Nukari / Lehtikuva

The youth wing of Prime Minister Juha Sipilä’s Centre Party has called for the legalisation of brothels, saying the measure would safeguard the rights of sex workers in Finland. However an advocate for sex workers has raised concerns about how information on brothel workers would be used.

The party's youth arm accepted the initiative during its national congress in Pieksämäki, eastern Finland on Sunday. The initiative was sponsored by youth representatives from the Pirkanmaa district, who argued that legalising brothels would make them easier to monitor, safeguard the rights of sex workers and eliminate the dangers of human trafficking.

Centre youth party chair Janne Kallunki said that the organisation supported the measure for a number of reasons.

“In this way, we would be able to provide professional practitioners with a safe working environment and we might be able to eradicate human trafficking as well as other related criminal activity,” Kallunki said.

He also raised the issue of health, saying that decriminalising brothels could pave the way for compulsory health checks and tame the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases.

Kallunki said that youth delegates also discussed the risks of legalising brothels, such as the danger that individuals could be forced into sex work at brothels as well as the ethics of the profession.

Pirkanmaa MPs cool on proposal

According to the youth party chair, professional sex workers could organise themselves into cooperatives or independently, however he could not say which entity would be able to provide facilities for such an enterprise.

Kallunki said that the initiative has also been put forward for discussion at the Centre Party’s annual congress, due to take place in Sotkamo, eastern Finland during the summer.

However on Monday, Centre Party MPs from the Pirkanmaa region appeared cool on the proposal. Satsamala MP Pertti Hakkanen called for a level-headed look at the requirements for allowing brothels to operate in Finland.

“This is a rather bold initiative from the youth [wing]. It is a good starting point to ensure a safe working environment and that everyone has equal opportunities in this regard. Otherwise I would not be too quick to support the idea of legalising brothels,” Hakkanen said.

Sex worker NGO highlights unanswered questions

Jaana Kauppinen, executive manager of Pro-tukipiste, an NGO that works with sex and erotica workers as well as victims of human trafficking, described the Centre youth arm’s initiative as a good conversation opener. However she said she needed more precise information about the measure. For example, she questioned who would be responsible for maintaining such establishments – the government, municipalities or provincial administrations?

Kauppinen said that since a regulatory system is not a real solution, she would settle for the decriminalisation of sex work.

She said compulsory health checks would not be required if sex workers had easy access to good services. She described the proposal for establishing brothels based on cooperatives as a new approach to organising sex work.

”Nowhere have brothels been organised to that they are based entirely on the cooperative approach; in such a case there would be less direct control from the state,” she noted.

Registration, security problematic

She pointed out however that regulation has proven to be problematic for sex workers, who then have no say in matters such as working conditions. There is a focus on other administrative issues such as required space, the number of showers, and how to organise health checks, Kauppinen observed.

The NGO head noted that countries with this kind of experience have in practice been more interested in whether or not brothels meet administrative criteria than the safety of the environment for the people working there. She added that Finnish pimping legislation has many problematic areas in this regard.

”According to the law, several people cannot work in the same space, nor are they allowed to hire security guards. There are many parts of the current legislation that prevent [sex workers] from independently introducing security arrangements,” she explained.

Countries that require sex workers to register have also had problems with the practice.

”How will information that someone has worked in a brothel be used? How many people would apply for a job that requires registration? There is a great social stigma. Many people fear it will ruin their future,” Kauppinen remarked.

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