How The Nordic Model Harms Sex Workers

October 19, 2018

Sexy woman in underwear touching high heels indoors

Lately the Nordic model has been put in the spotlight. Most people think that it is a good idea. If you make it against the law to purchase sex then everyone will simply stop, right? Wrong. Yet people are still calling for it to become a reality in the UK.

The truth of it is that the Nordic model actually harms sex workers more than it helps them. In fact, the vast majority of sex workers oppose the law. They want to be able to work safely, and this law doesn’t allow that. So how does the Nordic model hurt sex workers?

What is the Nordic model?

Not sure what I’m talking about? Don’t worry. It is, on the surface, a simple model to understand. It goes by many different names, but is perhaps best known as the Nordic model. It can also be referred to as the Swedish Model, since Sweden was the first country to instate this model back in 1999. It is also known as the Sex Buyer Law and the Abolitionist Model.

In theory, is decriminalises anyone working in the sex industry. If you sell sex then you are now totally free and not going to get into trouble with the law at all. Isn’t that nice? The trick is that anyone who purchases sex is committing a crime.

The idea is that, by banning the purchase of sex, everyone will stop buying it. They don’t want to get into trouble with the law, so they won’t do it. Then all sex workers will easily be able to get the support they need to exit the industry (because of course they’ll exit when all of the clients stop seeing) them. They’ll get respectable jobs in other industries and everything will be great again!

We already know that Sweden was the first country to bring the model into use. However, it is also being used in Norway, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Canada, France, and Ireland. More and more countries are debating bringing this law in, and the support is growing for it.

Corbyn backs the ban

Back in July of this year, we learned that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn supported the idea of Britain pursuing the criminalisation of the purchase of sex.

This is frustrating to hear, especially because it seems that his views have changed. Back in 2016, the Guardian quoted him as saying “I am in favour of decriminalising the sex industry”.

It was a controversial move but showed solidarity with Amnesty International’s stance the previous year to support the decriminalisation of the industry. They feel that sex workers’ rights are human rights, and that criminalisation of any kind would only hurt them.

Now it seems that Corbyn has changed his tune. In an interview with Sophie Ridge he stated that the blame needs to be put on those “promoting the sex industry”, going on to say that anyone who has been criminalised currently shouldn’t have been. “They’re not criminals they’re victims”.

Unfortunately, Corbyn’s statement placing all sex workers as victims sounds a little too familiar. People often believe that there is no way that someone could want to do this job. They see it as abuse, that no-one would willingly do this. As @WhoresofYore points out on Twitter, there are thousands who choose this work. They are consenting adults just trying to do their job, and the laws are making it harder and dangerous to do so.

Luton South MP speaks out

If that wasn’t frustrating enough to hear, the Luton South MP has also spoken out this week. Gavin Shuker believes that the criminalisation of the purchase of sex would solve a wealth of problems and bring about “stronger action against prostitution”. Remember how the model is supposed to be for sex workers in order to help them? It seems that Shuker doesn’t.

Shuker is also the chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Prostitution. The committee recommended that the government should make the purchase of sex a crime. If the government pursue this idea, then the UK would join the growing list of countries opting for this model.

What I find most interesting in this article is that Shuker states that “paying for sex is abuse”. He goes on to say that, under the Nordic model, it is sexual abuse to pay for sex and that doing so would fund “a dangerous and exploitative industry”. He also states that “you will be committing a crime if the person you pay for sex has been forced or coerced”.

It seems that Shuker doesn’t know as much about the subject as he perhaps should. Under the current laws in the UK, as the Metro points out, that is already against the law.

In the UK, it is legal to pay for sex is the person is a consenting adult, aged 18 or over. They cannot have been forced into or coerced into the industry. They must work independently and it must be indoors. If they do that, then there is no crime committed. They also highlight what makes it illegal in the UK:

  • Advertise in phone boxes
  • Kerb crawl (approach people in public to ask them for sex)
  • Rent or allow a property to be used as a brothel
  • Exploit someone selling sex, for example by using force, threats, deception or other forms of coercion
  • Traffic people to the UK or around the UK for sex
  • How the model harms sex workers

    The theory behind the Nordic model just doesn’t work. Many clients continue to date sex workers and simply take more precautions when doing so. They will use a burner phone so that they can’t be traced and give a fake name. This makes it more of a challenge to screen clients, which is an important safety measure.

    It increases the stigma surrounding the industry. This puts sex workers at greater risk of violence from the community and clients. What is worse is that the stigma is seen as positive because it will then deter people from entering the industry… instead of attempting to make it safer for those still in it.

    Good clients will be less likely to see sex workers. After all, they could be criminalised for it. Sex workers then lose out on good clients. However, the law won’t deter bad clients. Bad clients, or ugly mugs, might be those who would act aggressively to a sex worker or be dangerous. It increases the chances that sex workers will end up getting hurt as a result of the law.

    Safe sex also becomes a problem. In some places, condoms may be confiscated as evidence of the selling of sex. This makes sex workers unwilling to carry them, and so they are more likely to have unprotected sex. They might also offer higher risk services in order to draw in more clients and make more money. Many sex workers have also stated that they are more reluctant than ever to report problems to the police. They are concerned that the police will demand information on their other good clients. The relations between the police and sex workers are getting worse over time.

    The information shared here was collected by Alison Phipps, who has looked at a huge range of references in order to help highlight just how dangerous the Nordic model is for sex workers. You can find the references and even more statistics on their site.

    Time for a change?

    The laws on sex worker aren’t working. They are making the job dangerous for those in the industry, and they aren’t having the effect that people are hoping they will. People aren’t leaving the industry because of it. They are instead staying in it and taking more risks.

    Dr. Lynzi Armstrong wrote a fascinating article on the Independent, highlighting the fact that, in terms of sex work laws, New Zealand has the best approach:

    “To make policy that truly benefits sex workers we must separate myths from facts. Despite the oft-repeated claims of its shortcomings, the academic evidence that has been gathered so far clearly supports the New Zealand decriminalisation model as an ideal starting point.

    No law is perfect, but this is the best approach we have so far for supporting sex workers rights and facilitating access to justice. There is no alternative worth pursuing.”

    The Nordic model is not a good solution to sex work. It is harmful to sex workers, the very people that those pushing the model claim they want to help. But instead of talking about what is best for sex workers, how about we listen to them instead? They know what they want and need best, so isn’t it about time that we listen to what they have to say?

    Lara Mills
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