Ex-Prostitute Niki Adams cautions against ‘the Swedish Model’ and raises concerns about the role of the religiously-motivated, State-funded Irish pressure group ‘Ruhama’.
Niki Adams, an English former sex worker and current spokeswoman for the International Prostitutes Collective, is a highly intelligent, strong, campaigning woman. But she refuses to describe herself as a feminist.
“At this moment in time, feminism is too closely associated with elitist women,” she says. “It isn’t really speaking for grassroots women, and it certainly isn’t speaking for sex workers. So I couldn’t describe myself as a feminist.”
Since 1975, the International Prostitutes Collective has been campaigning for the abolition of the prostitution laws which criminalize sex workers and their families.
“The International Prostitutes Collective is comprised of the English Collective of Prostitutes,” she explains, “the US Prostitutes Collective, based in San Francisco, and has a network in other countries, including New Zealand, various countries in Africa, in India, and in some countries in the Caribbean, such as Guyana. We work closely with women in those countries.
“We actually started in 1975, and our two aims, which are still a priority for us, were to end the criminalisation that sex workers face, which undermines safety by preventing sex workers from coming forward to the courts in relation to violence; and to fight for financial alternatives to prostitution, so that women can leave it, if they want to. We campaign for safety, and against imposing either a stigma or discrimination on sex workers.”
Adams recently participated in an RTÉ Prime Time debate on the proposed legislation to criminalise the buying of sex in Ireland. She was pitted against Sarah Benson of the highly funded Catholic organisation, Ruhama, and Denise Charlton of Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) – and performed superbly, effectively skewering the fallacies being touted by the Turn Off The Red Light campaign.
The legislation currently under discussion here, is based on what’s known as the ‘Swedish model’. In 1999, Sweden introduced a law that criminalised the purchase of sex, targeting the men who paid rather than the women who provided it. Grieviously sexist in its conception, it was also profoundly condescending to those women who freely choose to work as prositutes.
Loudly trumpeted as a success by the Swedish government, the authorities in Ireland are now under pressure to follow suit.
“The Swedish model is disastrous for sex workers, and would be disastrous for Ireland, and for England, where it is being talked about as well,” Adams insists. “They claim that, as a result of criminalising clients in Sweden, prostitution has reduced, and that there are less women out there. But our question is: where do the women go? Do they know whether the women are safer? Whether they’re happier? Whether they are better off? Whether they’re working more, for less money?
“Or whether, in fact, as we have heard from women in our network, they have been displaced to border towns, that they are now working even further underground, and have been generally maligned and persecuted.
“The Swedish model,” she adds, “is premised on the fact that there is a lot of rape and violence against sex workers. Which is true, there is a lot of rape and violence against sex workers.”
But Niki Adams makes the point that this is part of a much wider issue of violence against women in general.
“That’s what should be addressed. In Ireland, and the UK, there are already existing laws against rape and violence and assault and false imprisonment, and all kinds of coercive and violent acts – which are not being implemented. That has to be the first priority: to use those laws against people who are violent. And prostitution, which is essentially consenting sex, has to be distinguished from rape and other forms of violence.”