Criminalizing prostitution will make working conditions unsafe for sex workers, argues Stella Gray.
Women’s bodies are a perennial battlefield for social control. There are legions of examples that illustrate this, and one is the debate surrounding the so-called ‘Nordic model’ of prostitution, a legal doctrine that outlaws the purchase but not the sale of sex.
The Nordic Chill
The Nordic model was first conceived in Sweden over a decade ago (to this day it is still referred to as the Swedish model by some) and its key selling pitch is cloaked with humanistic concern: curb the problem of sex trafficking by attacking the demand instead of the supply. If this strategy sounds familiar, it’s because you may have heard of the ‘war on drugs’, where governments tried the same approach and got nowhere.
Looking at the Nordic model issue through a public health lens, the evidence against its merits is clear. The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network has pointed out that under this model in Sweden, sex workers who have experienced assault and harassment are less likely to go to the police for fear of their own arrest; carrying condoms is seen as complicity in prostitution-related offences; ‘decreased negotiation power for safer sex practices – increased competition means fewer options for workers’. Most disturbingly, they note: “After the passage of the Swedish model, HIV prevention projects aimed at clients of sex workers also ceased.”
In effect, what the Nordic model does is drive a sizeable, mostly unregulated industry further underground.