Comparing Croatian and Slovenian Prostitution Regimes

Surpassing Exclusions and Securing Human rights

Dr Ivana Radacic
Ivo Pilar Institute of Social Sciences
Dr Mojca Pajnik
The Peace Institute, Ljubljana

The Research Idea

Prostitution is a taboo topic in the former Yugoslav countries and engaging in sex work is criminalised in these countries, except in Slovenia (although the instrusive offering of sexual services in public has been prohibited since 2006). There is a lack of research on prostitution, while the development of policy is ideological rather than empirically driven (Radačić, forthcoming; Pajnik, forthcoming). This comparative research will assess commonalities and differences of prostitution policies in the two countries – if and how the differences are reflected in legal discourses as well as the narratives of sex workers. Addressing the gap in research, the project is focused on eliciting experiences of sex workers, as the most important source of information in designing and implementing feasible and effective policies (Wegenaar & Altink 2012). In addition to the analysis of public policy documents we shall examine prostitution case-law of selected courts in the two capitals in the recent two year period and conduct interviews with 10 to 20 sex workers. This is a pilot project of a comparative, interdisciplinary and practice oriented nature, which makes it an innovative and important endeavour. Apart from bringing new theoretical and empirical knowledge, the project also aims at empowering sex workers. As no initiatives exist in the two countries that work in the area of sex workers’ rights, and the two countries also face a complete lack of self-organisation, the project field work will create partnerships of researchers and sex workers to contribute to the protection of human rights.


Prostitution is generally an under-researched topic and public policy on prostitution has been led more by ideological stances than with facts and evidence (Wegenaar & Altink 2012). This is particularly the case with Croatia and Slovenia, countries which both fall outside the two dominant models of prostitution policies in Europe (client criminalisation and legalisation). There is little scholarship on prostitution in Croatia. A few scholars interested in the topic are professors of criminal law and criminologists who mostly analyse the legal framework without engaging in theoretical or empirical work (Kovčko Vukadin 1998; Milivojević Antoliš et al 2013; Kanduč and Grozdanić 1998) and social epidemiologists, interested in the risk of HIV transmission in sex workers (Štulhofer et al 2009; Štulhofer et al 2014). In Slovenia, prostitution has been analysed by a few researchers who have considered the legislative and policy aspects, analysed media reporting and the occurrence of sex work online (Pajnik 2008, 2010, 2012; Pajnik and Šori 2014). A few studies in both countries have included interviews with sex workers but this was done sporadically, leaving research on sex workers’ own perspectives in need of further exploration. Moreover, there are no studies comparing Croatian and Slovenian prostitution policies and their impact on sex workers. Undertaking comparative actor focused research into prostitution policies of Croatia and Slovenia would elicit views and experiences of sex workers, with a view of furthering knowledge production and developing empirically informed public policies which would respect the human rights of sex workers.

The Focus

Prostitution is an old phenomenon in both countries (Radulović 1986) but is still a taboo topic. There is a lack of sex workers’ organisations and of any assistance programs, while policies are not informed by the human rights of sex workers. On the contrary, the Croatian prostitution policy of criminalising sex workers furthers human rights violations in the form of arbitrary arrests, violations of the rights to a fair trial and the right to privacy as well as a denial of socio-economic rights (Radačić, forthcoming). While in Slovenia prostitution was deleted from the misdemeanour offences in 2003, a move which was not a part of a consistent prostitution policy, in 2006 a new Law on Protection of Public Order and Peace criminalised “intrusive offering of sexual services in public spaces” as indecent behaviour, leading to similar problems as in Croatia (Šori and Pajnik, forthcoming). The project aims to shed light on these problems with both academic and practical outputs aimed at advancing public policy and securing human rights of sex workers. It is informed by a critical perspective that acknowledges the multidimensionality of the phenomenon determined by the economic situation of a specific society, normative sexual practices, relation between sexuality and identity, legal norms, cultural patterns and values (Pajnik 2008, Scoular 2010). Challenging the binary construction of prostitution as work or violence and concerned with the violations of the human rights of the sex workers, the project adopts a fresh perspective to the under-researched phenomenon which has important social implications.

Theoretical Novelty

As stated above, both Croatia and Slovenia are under-represented countries with respect to prostitution research. The theoretical framework of prostitution scholarship has been mostly informed by studies from Western Europe. By undertaking research in two post-transitional new EU member states in which prostitution regimes fall outside the dominant frameworks, this study brings new perspectives to the scholarship on prostitution, which can make prostitution theories more inclusive. It will question the main concepts of victimhood vs. agency, work vs. violence in the context of specific cultural, economic and political circumstances of the two countries. It will also analyse the impact of different policies on the lives of sex workers and compare the different prostitution policy models, all of which advances the scholarship on prostitution. Our theoretical framework is informed with recent literature that theorises sex work as a profession (Brewis and Linstead, 2000, 2002; West and Austrin, 2002) and the literature on human rights of sex workers (SWAN 2009). Both strands of literature replace the focus of research from objectifying and victimising sex workers to treating them as active agents in the complex economies of prostitution. This project replaces the dominant focus of researching only the social and economic circumstances or the personal characteristics as push factors into prostitution with a focus on the activities of individual agents and the work and life strategies they employ. As such it will be carried out with a novel theoretical frame that avoids simplistic reduction of prostitution to violence or exploitation.


There are two main methods used in this project: semi-structured interviews and critical discourse analysis/critical legal analysis. These methods have been used by different social science disciplines and in the humanities, primarily by anthropology, law, political science. These are the disciplines represented in our interdisciplinary study. As the aim of the project is to compare prostitution regimes and in particular how they impact sex workers with a view of identifying problems and good practices, all these different disciplinary inputs are indeed necessary. Theoretical insights and methodological tools of critical legal studies are particularly valid for the analysis of case-law, insights from political science are necessary for policy analysis, while anthropological methodological and theoretical insights are necessary for the development of interviews, together with knowledge from the disciplines of law and political science.
Field work engaging sex workers will follow approaches from ethnographic research. Interviewees will be engaged in the research projects as “partners in communication”, i.e. we aim to explore sex workers’ own expertise. Special attention will be paid to secure safe environments, anonymity and protection from any potential harmful exposure.

Work Plan

In the first phase of the project we shall analyse relevant literature, policy documents and the selected case-law to inform development of the interviews with sex workers, which is in the second phase of the project. It is expected that the first phase will last 4 months, second 5 months, while the last 3 months will be used for dissemination. In the first month of the project there will be a kick off meeting of the partners in Zagreb to define the conceptual framework, methodology and establish a precise work plan. The second meeting will be held after the first phase of the project in Ljubljana, to discuss the results achieved and further plans. At the end of the project, there will be a conference where we shall disseminate the results and to which key international experts and sex workers activists will be invited.


Outputs of this project are not only academic but also practical, aimed at advancing public policy and public debate, as well as securing human rights of sex workers. In line with our goals, our results will be disseminated in the following ways: 1. Academic book or articles (in English) 2. Leaflets for sex workers on legal and policy framework and their rights, and policy guidelines (in the two languages), 3.Information for general public to better inform public debates 3. Interactive web portal that will mostly serve as an empowerment tool for sex workers, but also as an online point to read relevant information on prostitution regimes.

  • Lynette Sikic Micanovic Ivo Pilar Institute of Social Sciences
  • Josip Sipic University of Zagreb
  • Iztok Sori The Peace Institute, Ljubljana