This article, by a group of people who have experienced prostitution in Sweden, explains why they formed the organisation #intedinhora (#notyourwhore) and why they back the Nordic Model approach to prostitution policy.
The year was 2017 when people from countries all around the world would join together to speak out about sexual harassment under the #metoo hashtag. In Sweden, several social groups collected experiences and signatures about the sexual abuse people had experienced in their workplaces, schools and elsewhere.
We felt that there was a group missing from this movement – a group of people who not only suffer a much higher risk of being sexually abused and harassed, but for which those risks are in many ways part of the so-called “job description”. The group we are talking about is of course us, people with experience of commercial sexual exploitation – also known as prostitutes or sex workers.
This was why we started #intedinhora (#notyourwhore) as a part of the #metoo-movement to speak out about the experiences of violence and abuse that we carry. What we quickly found, however, was that there was a need for something more, something greater than just having temporarily spoken out about our experiences and putting forward demands about better support for our target group.
Many of us had gone a long time feeling immensely alone in our situation. There was a strong need for being able to talk to others who carried the same experience as ourselves, and a wish for a community where we could organize ourselves together, raise political issues that affect us from an inside perspective that does not romanticize or normalize the vulnerability that prostitution brings with it.
That is why #intedinhora started out as a non-profit organization for women, children and trans people with experiences of commercial sexual exploitation. Our main purpose is to help and support each other as well as others with our experiences, by peer-to-peer methods, and also to work politically towards better supportive measures and legal protection for our target group.
Before #intedinhora, the only active organisations in Sweden for people with our experiences were working for the full decriminalization of the sex industry and aimed to establish prostitution as a profession like any other. We noticed that this was a common attitude among feminists, so called progressives and people saying they want to fight for humanitarian purposes and equal rights. That attitude has been gaining ground here in Sweden, even though most people still support the Nordic Model.
It is completely disheartening to watch this development.
We see prostitution as neither work nor sex, but as an oppression built upon oppression based on gender, race, class and/or age. We believe this, not despite our own experiences of being in the sex industry, but because of them.
We do not believe that the decriminalization of sex buyers and pimps is advantageous for people in the industry. On the contrary, examples from country after country demonstrate that the growing market and hardened competition in the sex industry following decriminalization does not serve us, but rather the men buying sex and those making money on our bodies.
We now want to speak out in an international and English-speaking context about the same things that we have been able to direct attention towards in Sweden – namely that we exist. That we, in the capacity of people with experience of the sex industry, in which many of us still remain, believe that the Nordic Model, which criminalizes the buyer and pimp but not the one who sells sex or is sold by others, is the best model to diminish trafficking, violence, child pornography and vulnerability (even though it, of course, is not enough and needs strengthening and expanding with further and better support methods, for example).
We believe that those who loudly proclaim that everyone must “listen to sex workers” before getting into the discussion out of their own reasoning must also listen to us, as we are after all part of that very group they define as sex workers or ex-sex workers.
We also believe that there are many people with experience of prostitution like us in other countries who have yet to be heard, because they do not have an organization to back them up where their experiences can be represented, just like we did not have before #intedinhora.
“No one heard the cry for help”
#intedinhora now includes more than 100 members. We’ve written many articles, held several seminars a month, and have worked with the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare, the Equality Ministry, local government-run support organisations, as well as NGOs who help and support those involved in prostitution and the commercial sex industry.
We have also been involved in changing policies – for example, an increase in the penalty for the exploitation of children in commercial sexual acts. We understand that it was because of our work that Mikamotagningen, a Stockholm-based publicly funded support centre for people with experience of prostitution, has now taken on two trauma psychologists.
And last but not least, we worked with two other NGOs to create the largest national survey to date about the support needs of persons involved in prostitution and their rights as crime victims. It had more than 200 respondents with experience of prostitution as children and/or adults. The report on the findings is called “No one heard the cry for help.”
Their website is: http://intedinhora.se