An expert on prostitution laws and their effect on society has said the “Nordic Model”, which criminalises the client rather than the sex worker, is “extremely dangerous”.
Dr Belinda Brooks-Gordon, reader in psychology and social policy at Birkbeck, University of London, and author of The Price of Sex: Prostitution, Policy, and Society, made these comments following a vote in the European Parliament’s Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee, which passed through a report recommending the adoption of this model.
The Swedish government passed the law that makes it illegal to buy sex, but not sell sex, in 1999. The model has since been adopted in Norway and Iceland, and is currently being pushed through parliament in France by women’s rights minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem.
Advocates for the law say it protects women from dangers such as sex trafficking. However, others say it actually places both women and men at far more at risk.
Speaking to IBTimes UK, Brooks-Gordon said: “Any law has to be based on some philosophy or evidence, for example, harm is one – the reason murder or theft is a crime is because they cause demonstrable harm. There is no reason to criminalise prostitution clients when you cannot show demonstrable harm. In fact all the evidence is in the other direction, that it is harmful to criminalise.”
She said criminalising the purchase of sex can lead to blackmail, that it makes both clients and sex workers less likely to report violence and that it leads to other levels of underground criminality.
“Like with other forms of prohibition it criminalises a vast group of people who would otherwise be law abiding. When you have a law that is based on morality, morality around which not everybody agrees, you end up with something called status law or symbolic law.
“And that was the example with prohibition. You then end up with the legitimacy of the law being called into question. We had it here with our abortion laws and our divorce laws. It brings the law into disrepute. You end up with upright citizens and members of the establishment completely side-lining the law.”
But why are many politicians so keen to see this law pushed through? In 2010, Mr Justice Eady said: “Dangerous and discriminatory new provisions against sex workers’ clients have repeatedly been put before parliament in England and Wales. Female ministers keen to punish clients of sex workers eagerly supported the Bill. However, while sex work has become a rights issue it is no longer just about women’s rights.”
Brooks-Gordon explained: “Some female ministers have a vested interest because they feel that they like to be seen to be giving something to women. And this is something that they can give to women. That completely undermines the argument or the evidence that 25% of men who pay for sex pay other men for sex. When you put that argument to them, they try to side-line it and say ‘no we’re saving women’.
“It’s [also] been picked up by a lot of radical feminists. One strand of feminism finds it very attractive. Within separatist lesbian feminism whose ideology is that all heterosexual sex is exploitation, because the only way to overthrow patriarchy is to only ever sleep with women, they find it very attractive.”
Explaining how the Swedish law came to pass, Brooks-Gordon said it was pushed through at a time when there were huge concerns over immigration: “They were having a referendum and tempers were very frayed. When you look at the discourse around that, it was ‘look at these dirty black people invading our clean white land’ – really racist discourses – because there was a fear they would be overrun and this led to rhetoric around trafficking.