An umbrella group of women’s rights activists in Europe is calling on the European Union to illegalize prostitution across the EU.

The European Women’s Lobby (EWL), on behalf of about 200 NGOs, along with Fondation Scelles and Mouvement du Nid France, told members of the European Parliament that prostitution “is a form of violence, an obstacle to equality, a violation of human dignity, and of human rights.”

Among other measures, the campaigners are seeking to remove repressive measures against prostitutes; the criminalization of all forms of procuring; the development of alternatives and exit programs for those in prostitution; the prohibition of the purchase of a sexual act; and the development of prevention policies in the countries where prostitutes originate.

“Anyone who knows anything about the reality of prostitution for the hundreds of thousands of women in Europe whom it has trapped cannot fail to endorse this call for urgent action from the EU and its member states,” said Viviane Teitelbaum, EWL’S president, in a statement.

Grégoire Théry, secretary-general of Mouvement du Nid France, declared: “We clearly see that the abolition of prostitution is a shared value across Europe. … EU policies on trafficking won’t achieve results as long as the impunity of procurers and sex-buyers is not addressed.”

The proposals have the support of at least 36 European MEPs, BBC reported.

“I am very pleased that the EWL has had the courage and foresight to initiate this campaign,” said Proinsias de Rossa, MEP.

It is high time for us to open our eyes to the reality of prostitution in our societies, and to its absolute incompatibility with the values of gender equality and human dignity that the European Union espouses and to which it is legally bound."

The campaigners cited a number of staggering statistics related to prostitution:

*Up to 95 percent of prostitutes suffered some form of violence – including rape, incest and pedophilia -- before joining the sex trade.  

*90 percent of prostitutes would like to quit the business, but feel trapped in it.

*62 percent of women prostitutes reported having been raped.

*68 percent of women in prostitution suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

*A pimp earns as much as 110,000 euros ($144,000) annually per prostitute under his control.

*Up to 95 percent of prostitutes in the UK are heavy drug users.

*After the illegal drug trade, prostitution is the biggest moneymaker for global organized crime.

“The system of prostitution represents a backwater of inequality, a place where violence and oppression are thinly veiled by a distorted image of equality through commercial exchange,” said Rada Boric, executive member of EWL.

EWL further noted that in two European countries which largely decriminalized prostitution, the problems of sex workers have not eased.

For example, in the Netherlands, up to 90 percent of women employed in brothels in 2008 were victims of trafficking.

"The most important thing to understand about prostitution is that imposing sexual intercourse with money is a form of violence that shouldn't be accepted," EWL spokeswoman Pierrette Pape told BBC.

"If we understand that, we can then put comprehensive policies into place that will change mentalities and respect gender equality between women and men."

However, as with other forms of vice, cynics, including The International Union of Sex Workers, charge that illegalizing the sex trade will only force it to go underground -- which would make the practice even more lucrative to pimps and mobsters.

Currently in Europe, seven nations -- Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Greece, Hungary and Latvia – have legalized and regulated prostitution. In other countries, laws range from an outright ban to partial legality.