There is a contentious debate about the best way to address sex work. The options most frequently put forward are either decriminalisation — supported internationally by sex workers and many others — or the Nordic Model, also referred to as the ‘sex buyer law’, or an ‘end demand’ approach. The Nordic Model purports to decriminalise sex workers and criminalise clients and in doing so reduce the demand for prostitution and shrink the sex industry.
In reality, the Nordic model:
Undermines safety and gives clients more power over sex workers. France criminalised clients in 2016 and a two-year evaluation report found that 42 percent of sex workers are more exposed to violence (insults in the street, physical violence, sexual violence, theft, and armed robbery in the workplace) and that 38 percent have found it increasingly hard to demand use of condoms. The Norwegian government acknowledged that the Nordic model made the the sex industry “a buyer’s market”. As the client bears criminal risk, he can demand the worker meets him in a less safe place, demand unprotected sex and a lower price. This brings risks of violence and STIs/HIV, in addition to impoverishing already precarious workers. A social services report on the Swedish city of Malmo found that as a result of the law, “prostitutes who are still working in street prostitution experience a tougher existence”.
Does not decriminalise sex workers. Claims that under Nordic-model prostitution law, sex workers are supported and not subject to policing or criminalisation are not supported by the facts. Sex workers can be prosecuted for sharing premises or for street work. In Oslo in 2011, a sex worker was prosecuted for ‘brothel-keeping’ for sharing a flat with other workers, despite the judge agreeing that her primary motivation for sharing her space was safety. Amnesty International found that street-based sex workers in Norway were still being fined several years after the Nordic model had supposedly ‘decriminalised’ them. In France, municipal laws against street sex work have been retained, meaning street sex workers are still being arrested and fined. In Northern Ireland, the much-trumpeted ‘first arrest’ of a client was accompanied by the arrest of three sex working women sharing a flat.
Contrary to some claims, the sex industry has not shrunk as criminalisation can never address the reasons people go into sex work, which is to get the money that they need to live their lives.
SCOT PEP are a sex worker-led charity that advocates for the safety, rights and health of everyone who sells sex in Scotland.