Decrim Now is leading a coalition of charities and NGOs, trade unions, civil society organisations, academics, politicians, journalists, grassroots activists and more, asking UK MPs to stand up against continuing attempts to introduce Nordic model legislation into Parliament.
You can read our letter below, and add your name as an individual supporter HERE. If you wish to sign the letter as an organisation, please email us at email@example.com.
Please take one minute to use our online tool to email a copy of our open letter to your MP, and let them know that you want them to oppose the Nordic model: https://decrimnow.eaction.org.uk/nonordicmodel. Thank you for your support.
Dear UK Members of Parliament,
We are concerned about attempts to introduce legislation into Parliament that would criminalise paying for sex and close down online sites where sex workers advertise. Touted as solutions to sex trafficking and exploitation, these measures will only exacerbate violence against women, including those who are being exploited.
Legislation that criminalises the purchase of sex is known as ‘the Nordic Model’, or ‘End Demand’. It is widely opposed by sex workers and by organisations such as Amnesty International, the World Health Organisation, and the UK’s national frontline charity for sex worker safety, National Ugly Mugs. In countries where this legal model has been introduced, neither sex workers nor sex worker-led organisations have been consulted. Clear documented harm to the most marginalised women has followed.
Criminalising advertising sexual services online has been proven to exacerbate harm for sex workers. This is shown by evidence from the United States where similar legislation (SESTA/FOSTA) was introduced in 2018.
This pandemic is an indication of what happens when sex workers’ incomes are taken away: women are forced into poverty.
The Nordic Model does not help victims of trafficking
Proponents of the Nordic Model claim that criminalising the purchase of sex will help victims of trafficking by reducing prostitution, and by extension trafficking. But trafficking isn’t caused by the demand for sex, but by people’s poverty and lack of options: people are made vulnerable to traffickers for a number of reasons. They may be trying to migrate and become trapped in abusive situations because people without secure immigration status have few to no rights. They may be trafficked into sexual exploitation through deception, coercion or force, or may choose to enter into sex work knowingly before a situation becomes exploitative later on, and they are unable to leave because, for example, they are threatened. The solution therefore is not to further criminalise sex work, just as other industries where trafficking occurs are not criminalised; but to ensure people have legal ways to migrate, have routes out of poverty, and are empowered to seek support from authorities without the fear of penalty such as detention, deportation or destitution.
Some anti-trafficking initiatives don’t help victims and also cause great harm to sex workers. When police raid brothels in the name of anti-trafficking, it is often migrant sex workers who are arrested. In the UK, when victims of trafficking are ‘rescued’ by police, they can face arrest, detainment as criminals, and forcible deportation – often back to the same situation in which they were targeted. Sex workers know this and are therefore deterred from reporting ANY violence and exploitation, for fear of deportation.
Mass raids of workplaces in Soho, in which 250 police officers – many in riot gear, with dog units – raided and closed 18 brothels, resulted in police dragging scantily clad women out onto the street against their will. This was carried out under the guise of stopping trafficking, but failed to refer a single person to the National Referral Mechanism.
Even when people are officially recognised as trafficking victims, material and legal support for them to settle in the UK and escape poverty is absent or inadequate. Women left with no recourse to public funds have increased vulnerability to violence and exploitation.
The Nordic Model increases danger for sex workers
Evidence shows that the Nordic Model does nothing for the very groups it claims to protect. In the Republic of Ireland, violence against sex workers increased dramatically after similar legislation was introduced in 2017 (Northern Ireland implemented the law in 2015). According to Ugly Mugs Ireland, crimes against sex workers almost doubled in the two years following the introduction of the law. A 2020 study commissioned by HIV Ireland found that sex workers who experienced violence at work were increasingly reluctant to report to the police.
National Ugly Mugs worked with the National Police Chiefs Council on National Policing Sex Work and Prostitution Guidance for police officers encountering sex workers to “engag[e] respectfully and caus[e] minimal harm to sex workers in their role.” However, National Ugly Mugs also found that:
“Full consent to engage with police down from 28% in 2012 to 9% in 2019 among off-street independent workers. Anonymous consent to share intelligence with police also declined from 95% in 2012 to 75% in 2019. The most common reasons for these include fear of/experience of criminalisation, fear of/experience of stigma, inconsistencies in police responses and a lack of confidence in the ability of police to support sex workers in a discreet and informed way.”
This indicates that the negative treatment of sex workers in the past, coupled with inconsistent approaches by police, continues to impact sex workers’ willingness to engage with authorities and seek support.
In France, the Nordic Model has been in place since 2016. Since then, the already high murder rate of sex workers has dramatically increased. In the six months between June and December 2019, at least 10 sex workers were killed. The victims have overwhelmingly been migrant trans women. A 2018 Medicins du Monde report found that the law has led to 42% of workers being more exposed to violence, 38% finding it increasingly hard to demand condom use, 70% observing no improvement or a deterioration of their relations with the police, 78% losing income, and 63% experiencing a deterioration of living conditions.
The Nordic Model does not ‘decriminalise’ sex workers
In countries that have brought in the Nordic Model, sex workers have not, as is often promised, been ‘decriminalised’. Brothel-keeping – which is defined as two or more people working together – remains a crime, forcing women to work alone or risk arrest. When police raid workplaces with the stated aim of arresting clients, it is repeatedly sex workers who are charged. This has happened in Ireland, Norway, Finland, and Sweden.
We firmly agree that penalties around outdoor work, usually for soliciting, should be repealed. However, when clients are criminalised, sex workers are forced to evade the police. If you are working outdoors, that might mean having to get into a client’s car too quickly, and not being able to negotiate price, condom use or boundaries. It might mean working in a more isolated area, increasing the risk of violence.
The Nordic Model penalises the most marginalised
Criminalising clients has been shown to increase violence for the most marginalised workers, the same workers often conflated with trafficked victims. With the fall in clients, sex workers are forced to say yes to dangerous clients and services they would otherwise say no to, just to survive. Sex workers are often living under multiple forms of marginalisation. Over-represented groups include women, single mothers, migrants, people of colour, disabled people, LGBT people, and people who have experienced poverty and homelessness.
Nordic Model advocates lean on the provision of ‘exit services’. But in reality, these exit services don’t exist, or they make their support contingent on anti-sex worker ideology. This includes refusing to offer realistic harm reduction methods, such as condoms. In Ireland, Nordic Model supporters acknowledge that “there is no evidence that these things are in place in Ireland”. In France, two years after the law was enacted, the committees that were supposed to oversee exit programmes were still not set up.
Criminalising sex workers’ online presence is dangerous
Evidence shows that internet platforms have made working in the sex industry safer, allowing sex workers to share safety tips, lists of dangerous men, and screen potential clients. Despite claims by sex work prohibitionists that advertising websites only benefit third parties, online platforms allow more sex workers to work independently, taking control over their rates and services. Banning sex workers’ online presence also removes peer support and prevents labour organisation, resulting in an increase in the isolation of sex workers.
When the United States introduced the 2018 FOSTA/SESTA laws, online advertising platforms were shut down. Sex workers abruptly faced financial precarity; many were pushed into unsafe or exploitative working conditions. Many reported that the loss of their online presence made them more susceptible to labour exploitation and trafficking, or forced them to work outdoors. Research shows that the introduction of SESTA/FOSTA led to an increase in poverty, insecure housing, suicide, murder, isolation, and the deterioration of physical and mental health. Various sex worker-led organisations have spoken out about the dangers of FOSTA/SESTA.
According to one researcher: “[FOSTA/SESTA] has created an environment where marginalised populations are pushed into increased financial insecurity, which, in turn, makes them more vulnerable to labour exploitation and trafficking in the sex industry.”
We, the undersigned, call on MPs to take into account evidence about the harms caused by ‘Nordic Model’ style laws. We oppose any legislation which increases the criminalisation of prostitution by criminalising the purchase of sex or by closing down the online sites where sex workers advertise.
Amnesty International UK
Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI)
United Voices of the World (UVW)
University and College Union (UCU)
A Way Out
Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC)
Alliance for Choice
Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF)
Bakers, Food, and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU)
Baroness Natalie Bennett, Green Party
Basis Sex Work
Chardine Taylor-Stone, Black Feminist, Trade unionist and writer
Cleaners and Allied Independent Workers Union (CAIWU)
Daisy Cooper MP, Liberal Democrats
Dr Alison Phipps, University of Sussex
Dr Belinda Brooks Gordon, Birbeck, University of London
Dr Ella Cockbain, University College London
Dr Jane Pitcher, retired lecturer
Dr Julia Laite, Birkbeck University of London
Dr Kate Hardy, University of Leeds
Dr Kate Lister, Leeds Trinity University
Dr Laura Connelly, University of Salford
Dr Lynzi Armstrong, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand
Dr Mary Laing, Northumbria University
Dr Ronald Weitzer, George Washington University
Dr Sam Okyere, University of Bristol
Dr Sophie Lewis, author of ‘Full Surrogacy Now’
Emily Kenway, author of “The Truth about Modern Slavery”
English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP)
FKA Twigs, singer
Florence Schechter, Director and Founder of the Vagina Museum
Georgina Horne, Influencer
Global Alliance against Traffic in Women (GAATW)
Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP)
Hannah Witton, Author and Sex and Relationships content creator
Inclusive Mosque Initiative
International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers Europe (ICRSE)
Jamie Stone MP, Liberal Democrat
Jason Domino, Health campaigner
Labour Against Racism and Fascism (LARAF)
Labour Campaign for Free Movement
Labour Coalition for Justice Reform
Labour Party LGBT+ Network
Nadia Whittome MP, Labour Party
National Ugly Mugs (NUM)
National Union of Students – Union of Students in Ireland (NUS-USI)
National Union of Students (NUS)
North East Sex Work Forum
Prof Jane Scoular, University of Strathclyde
Prof Julia O’Connell Davidson, University of Bristol
Prof Mark McCormack, University of Roehampton
Prof Teela Sanders, University of Leicester
Prof Tracey Sagar, University of Swansea
Prof. Maggie O’Neill, University College Cork
Prof. Nicola Mai, University of Newcastle Australia
Red Umbrella Sweden
Roxane Gay, Writer, Podcast Host
Sex Work Polska / Sex Work Poland
Sex Worker Advocacy and Resistance Movement (SWARM)
shon faye, writer and journalist
Socialists of Colour
Sofie Hagen, Comedian, Author and Podcaster
Support After Rape & Sexual Violence Leeds (SARSV)
Sussex Labour Representation Committee (LRC)
The Josephine Butler Society
The Radical Association in the Liberal Democrats
Traveller LGBT Pride
Ugly Mugs Ireland
Women’s Strike Assembly
World Jewish Relief
Young Scots for Independence
Zarah Sultana MP, Labour Party
Belfast Feminist Network
Bent Bars Project
Bottoming: the LGBTQ+ mental health podcast
Collective Action London
Daisy Jones, Author, Vice editior
Dan Frost, Editor, New Socialist
Dawn Foster, Jacobin Magazine
Devon Radical Queer Network
Doris Murphy, University College Cork
Dr Alison J Carr, University of Huddersfield
Dr Alison Jobe, Durham University
Dr Angela Jones, State University of New York
Dr Angelika Strohmayer, Northumbria University
Dr Barbara G. Brents, University of Nevada, Las Vegal
Dr Elizabeth Faulkner, Keele University
Dr Gemma Ahearne, University of Liverpool
Dr Joel Quirk, University of Warwick
Dr Kate Brown, University of York
Dr Kate Hausbeck Korgan, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Dr Max Morris, Kingston University London
Dr Nadine Gloss, University of Leeds
Dr Nathan Dawthorne, Franz Boas Papers Project, University of Western Ontario
Dr Raven Bowen, independent scholar
Dr Victoria Brooks, University of Westminster
Eamonn McCann, Civil rights activist
East Midlands Sexual Health
Em. Prof. Dr. Ine Vanwesenbeek, Utrecht University & Rutgers
Emma Garland, Vice
Feminist Nursing Network
Gerry Carroll MLA, People Before Profit
Good Night Out Campaign CIC
Hannah Ewens, journalist
Joana Hofstetter, Scuola Normale Superiore
John Foster, Editor, New Socialist
Josie Sparrow, General Editor, New Socialist.
Jude Wanga, Editor, New Socialist
Kelechi Okafor, Actor, Director, Podcast host, Founder of Kelechnekoff studio
Kill the Bill York
Lauren O’Neill, journalist
Lesbians and Gays support the Migrants
Marjan Wijers, University of Essex
Micha Frazer-Carroll, Writer
Mutual Aid Trans Edinburgh
Nana Baah, journalist
Niina Vuolajarvi, New School of Social Research
Northern Police Monitoring Project
Peyton Bond, University of Otago
PG Macioti, PhD, Social Researcher, Sydney, Australia
pink peacock די ראָזעװע פּאַװע
Rachel Stuart, University of Kent
Rachel Woods MLA, Alliance Party
Reclaim the Night Belfast
Rev’d Helen Burnett Vicar of St Peter and St Paul’s Chaldon, Diocese of Southwark
Rhian E Jones, Red Pepper Co-Editor
Ruby Lott-Lavigna, journalist
Scientists for Sex Worker Rights
Sex and Rage
Solidarity Federation Southampton
Sophie K Rosa, writer and journalist
South London Bartenders Group
Support for Student Sex Workers
Tess Herrmann, University of York
The Gemini Project
The Love Tank CIC
The Men’s Room
The Rainbow Project
Tom Gann, General Editor, New Socialist
Tom Williams, Editor, New Socialist
UK Adult Professionals (UKAP)
Ulster University Pro Choice Society
Wendy Lyon, Solicitor
World Jewish Relief
Zing Tsjeng, Vice
Zoe Samudzi, writer
The letter can be viewed in PDF form here: