The Nordic Model vs. full decriminalisation: what do sex trade survivors say?

This is an edited transcript of the webinar we held on Sunday 24 January 2021.

Helen: Hello everyone! Welcome to the webinar. We’ve three great speakers who have all experienced prostitution. I’ll introduce them in a moment.

Dame Diana Johnson has tabled a Sexual Exploitation Bill in the UK Parliament. If passed, this would establish a Nordic Model approach to prostitution legislation and policy in England and Wales.

In the debate on the first reading of the Bill, Dame Diana spoke eloquently on why this Bill is urgently needed and Lyn Brown, the Labour MP for West Ham, spoke against the Bill. We will be asking the panel to respond to some of the things that Lyn Brown said.

But before we go any further, I’m going to go over what the Nordic Model is and also what full decriminalization means, because that’s usually put forward as the alternative.

This slide gives a summary of the key elements of the Nordic Model approach. Firstly, it decriminalises all those who are prostituted and provides support services to help them to leave the industry and rebuild their life. It ensures there are genuine alternatives for making a living.

Secondly, it strengthens laws against trafficking, pimping, brothel keeping and other activities by third parties who profit off other people’s prostitution. The enforcement of these laws needs to be fully funded and prioritized.

Lastly, prostitution-buying becomes a criminal offence – which has the aim of changing men’s behaviour.

Along with all this, there needs to be a public information campaign, education in schools, training for the police, CPS and other front-line staff, long term investment in services and alternatives for women, and real measures to address poverty and inequality.

This approach was first introduced in Sweden, and has now also been established in Norway, Iceland, Northern Ireland, France, Ireland, and most recently, Israel. Each country has framed the law slightly differently and with different degrees of commitment and success.

Next, we’ll take a brief look at what we mean by full decriminalisation.

Full decriminalisation of the sex trade, as its name suggests, means that all aspects of the sex trade are decriminalised, including pimping and brothel keeping. The sex trade is treated like any other business and there is no public funding for services to help women exit the trade.

Laws against trafficking are retained but in practice they are hard to enforce. For example, in New Zealand where this law is in place, the police are not allowed to enter a brothel without a warrant even if they suspect trafficking victims are inside – even though they can enter without a warrant to check a liquor license. There’s also little or no systematic data collection on the exploitation of children in the sex industry. And police are not allowed to ask about a person’s age even if they suspect they are a child being sexually exploited.

As a result, most sex trafficking is undetected.

To recap, here’s a comparison of the two approaches.

This check list compares the provisions of the Nordic Model with those of full decriminalisation.

The first thing to note is that both models decriminalise those selling sex. But only the Nordic Model makes ring-fenced provisions for services for those trapped in prostitution, including genuine routes out. Regardless what people say, such services do not materialise under full decriminalisation. Why would they when prostitution is defined as just another job that doesn’t need any special measures?

Full decriminalisation also decriminalises pimps, punters and brothel keepers. Large brothels come under planning regulations but small brothels are unregulated. So, if one opens up next door, there’s not much you can do to get it closed down, even if the punters accidentally knock on your door at all hours of the day and night.

In the debate on the Sexual Exploitation Bill’s first reading on 9 December 2020, Lyn Brown, the Labour MP for West Ham, spoke against the Bill and spoke very positively about the fully decriminalized approach that’s in place in New Zealand. This is what she said:

“I think we have to create policies so that women have the power to create the lives they want. In New Zealand, an emphasis has been put on reducing harm and ensuring that sex workers have access to their rights and to justice. These reforms enable sex workers to work together without fear of prosecution and thereby in greater safety. Coercion of people into sex work or to provide a share of the money received is, of course, illegal in New Zealand, and because sex work is treated as a normal form of work and taxed, all normal laws apply. In my view, the evidence from New Zealand is positive, with trust in the police improved, increased reporting of offences, better safety and health for sex workers, and, most importantly, an increased ability for sex workers to refuse clients.”

We asked Ally Marie to respond to this.

Ally Marie is of Maori/Pacific Islander heritage and grew up in New Zealand where she was groomed into prostitution as a vulnerable young woman, leading to seven years trapped in brothels. She co-founded Wahine Toa Rising, a survivor-led organisation that campaigns for a better deal and genuine alternatives for women involved in the sex trade in New Zealand.

Ally-Marie Diamond

Ally Marie: First, I would like to say a huge thank you to Nordic Model Now! and Anna for inviting me here this afternoon. The work you do is amazing, and we at Wahine Toa Rising are forever grateful to you. Thank you for gifting Wahine Toa a safe space to be heard.

Wahine Toa also recognises the unique role of Māori as Tangata Whenua while embracing the three guiding principles of the Treaty – partnership, participation and protection. We will endeavour to implement policies and practices that incorporate and value Māori cultural concepts, values and practices.

Awareness and education are the key to change. It’s important that Governments and politicians understand that if they are going to continually reference Aotearoa New Zealand, and our culture and our most vulnerable, that they hear from us as a culture and a people in any and every debate or discussion. After all they are talking about us, our heritage, our country.

Sadly, I don’t feel that Lyn Brown MP is educated on Aotearoa New Zealand at all, only hearing maybe what she wants to hear while ignoring the voices of those who matter – that’s our most vulnerable women and children, the majority of whom are women and children of colour.

If she truly wants to make an informed choice about prostitution policy, if anyone does, then they need to hear from all sides not just the ones who yell the loudest.   

They need to hear from those who are constantly silenced; those too afraid to speak up for fear of reprisal; those who fear for their lives every moment of every day; and those who suffer in silence.

Please, listen to what you cannot hear, and look where others are too blind to see.

If you look for it, you will see the suffering. Or is it that the suffering is too painful for you to look at so you ignore it completely?

I’m so exhausted from explaining. It is really is so simple. 

Once you take away the glamour that so many seem to promote and you peel back the layers, you truly see what needs to be seen: The ugly, the fear, the shame, the poverty, the sadness, and the darkness of our most vulnerable woman and children.

While some women may choose the sex trade and don’t experience coercion, these women are the minority. We need to meet the needs of the most marginalised in the sex trade, who are coerced into selling sex due to life circumstances such as poverty. Most importantly, we need to STOP, LISTEN, and show vulnerable women our respect by HEARING them, and SEEING them.

Let’s focus on the choices of men and governments, and think about whether a trade that exploits those with few other choices is one we want to see flourish.

Is it not the job of Governments, politicians, and leaders to protect our communities, to make them safer, to protect our most vulnerable?  How and why then are they being ignored?  Why are they not being heard in this debate?  Why are they not being valued?

In the Busting 16 Myths About the Sex Trade booklet, we talk about the most common myth that sex work is safe if it is fully decriminalized. I will read it to you now.

“It is argued that the sex trade is safe if it is fully decriminalised. Yet this is not the case — and the experiences of women in Aotearoa New Zealand’s sex trade post-decriminalisation are evidence of this. Since full decriminalisation in 2003 under the Prostitution Reform Act (PRA), violence and sexual assault within prostitution have remained, and some women have even died at the hands of sex buyers.

A report by Aotearoa, New Zealand’s Prostitution Law Review Committee, noted that women in the sex trade were still vulnerable to “exploitative employment conditions” and that there were “reports of some sex workers being forced to take clients against their will”. The report went on to note that “the majority [of women interviewed] felt that the PRA could do little about the violence that occurred”.

This same report also refers to the sexual assault that women routinely experience in prostitution as “adverse work experiences”. The risk still inherent in this decriminalised sex trade is underscored by advice offered by the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective document, ‘Stepping Forward’.

When “dealing with violent clients”, the document advises:“Make as much noise as possible to attract attention. Try calling FIRE, a passerby will probably pay more attention. If you wear a whistle around your neck, blow it in his ear”.

Decriminalisation promotes women and girls as objects to be purchased, fuels men’s entitlement and contributes to societal misogyny. A society that enables this is not ‘safe’ for any woman or child. In contrast, the Nordic/Equality Model decriminalises people selling sex and supports them to exit the sex trade. It also criminalises sex buyers, pimps and procurers and aims to inform and raise awareness about the harms caused by prostitution.

Don’t women deserve better than a system that normalises men’s sexual entitlement and abuse of us?”

Don’t our future generations deserve better than a system that normalises the buying and selling of women and children?

Sex trade advocates say that women have a right to choose what they do with their bodies. Therefore, it is only right we ensure all women in the sex trade have real choice to begin with. This is why exit services are crucial.

The preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes ‘Freedom from Fear’ as an important right. Therefore, regardless of law, it is essential that countries provide funded services to give women and young people who are being sexually exploited in the sex trade a means to safely exit, and live free from fear.

It is time for us to go Nordic. To hold buyers accountable, and re-educate them that the buying and selling of vulnerable women and children is not OK. To hold the pimps, managers, and those who profit off our most vulnerable women accountable. To support women and children to exit, to heal, to support them to dream again, and know they are so much more valuable than a piece of meat, or a product or some man’s play toy.  Women and children deserve so much more than this. 

Our women and children of colour have fought to be seen, heard and valued. Yet here governments, leaders and politicians are still ignoring their cries for help, still turning their backs on them, still not hearing or seeing them as valued equal members of their communities.

I will leave you with this quote:

“So, what supporters of the sex trade are really saying is that the lives of vulnerable women and children who are being coerced, forced and trafficked should be sacrificed for the few women who feel ‘empowered’ by being bought and sold for sex?”

Thank you.

Helen: Thank you, Ally Marie, for sharing with us the experiences of those in prostitution under full decriminalisation where the emphasis is placed on harm reduction alone.

Our next speaker is Cajsa who has had experience of prostitution under the Nordic Model in Sweden. When she was 14, Cajsa became involved with a violent man. She stayed with him for two terrible years. After she managed to get away, she started to abuse drugs and turned to prostitution to finance her habit. She is now 23 and has been clean for three years. She now fights for women’s rights and is a member of #intedinhora, an organisation of people who have experienced prostitution in Sweden.

Lyn Brown made a number of negative claims about the impact of the Nordic Model on women involved in prostitution. Some of those claims originated in a study conducted by Médecins du Monde in 2018 into how the Nordic Model approach that was passed into law in France in 2016 was working out in practice.

We won’t discuss those claims today because we’ve published a critique of the study by the French NGO, Amicale du Nid, on our website. That concluded that the Médecins du Monde study was biased by its pro-prostitution position, was based on a naïve belief in the possibility that prostitution happens in good conditions with good clients, autonomy and the free choice of those involved in it. And it also found that the Médecins du Monde report presented many alarming claims that simply weren’t backed up by the data they collected.

So, I’m going to ask Cajsa, to respond to the more general claims that Lyn Brown made about the Nordic Model: That it puts women at greater risk; that women are less likely to report violence to the police; and because clients are frightened of being arrested, they insist that meetings happen in darker corners where the dangers for women are greater.

So Cajsa, can you tell us a bit about the reality in Sweden? Has it turned out like Lyn Brown says or is the reality somewhat different?

Cajsa: Hello. First, I want to say that my English is not top notch. So, if I change direction entirely, it’s because I don’t know what to say in English.

In Sweden, we have the Nordic Model, which Helen already explained. I can’t imagine living anywhere else where we’re not protected by law like we are here.

The law came after a big investigation. They interviewed prostitutes, owners of porn clubs, sex buyers, etc. and came to the conclusion that prostitution is an extreme version of patriarchal society – men using women’s social and economic vulnerability for their own benefit.

The law is not perfect. We still have problems here. But it protects people in prostitution and it also reduces the number of trafficking victims. The police have the hardest time investigating trafficking in the labour market. What would happen if prostitution were to be just a normal job? It would be more or less impossible to investigate.

So how does it work? First, it is a comfort to know that the law is on your side. It makes the prices a lot different here. A woman in prostitution here can take a lot more than in countries without the Nordic Model. We can take more than double what someone in a brothel, for example, in Denmark would. And that excludes the fees they have to pay for having the room.

It also protects a lot of people from the sex industry. If prostitution were to become the norm, it would be marketed as such. Small girls would learn that their bodies are products that can be sold and bought and that this is totally normal. Young girls who have problems with money would walk by brothels every day. So, they’d probably start with that instead of having a weekend job and there’d be social and economic problems as a result.

The Nordic Model law makes it harder for people to capitalise on our prostitution – we don’t have as many pimps because it’s illegal.

Since the Nordic Model came to Sweden, we’ve only had one murder of a woman in prostitution – so it heavily decreases the deadly violence.

Most women in prostitution are troubled with trauma, a history of sexual abuse, mental health issues, drug abuse, self-harm and more. The sex industry is made to catch the most broken and vulnerable women and children.

This is why it is so important to be protected by law. We’re not the ones in the wrong here. It is such a comfort to know that the law is backing you up.

We also have exit organisations that help us stop prostitution. I have so many friends who have had such good experiences being able to quit prostitution just because of this help.

I get so frustrated when I read about how Sweden is one of the worst places for ‘sex workers’ because it’s really not. We have it so much better than in, for example, Germany and New Zealand, and I get so disturbed when I hear the stories from the other speakers here and it breaks my heart that they can’t even get help.

The people in prostitution here in Sweden don’t have it easy. I will never say that. We have a really hard time and most of us have PTSD and really traumatic backgrounds. But we will always have the law backing us up. We will always have help that can enable us to stop. And we will always have society not telling us that what we are doing we have to do because it’s a normal job.

The problem we have in Sweden is that we don’t talk about it. That’s why the law has been a little fucked up because you get very shamed for being a prostitute. You feel ashamed to ask for help. In Sweden if you don’t speak about it, it doesn’t exist. We have that for a lot of problems, not only prostitution.

I think Lyn Brown should come here and see how wrong she is because her idea of how prostitution is in Sweden is not right.

We don’t only have really dangerous clients or sex buyers. There are no good sex buyers that have disappeared because of the law.

There are no good rapists and there are no bad rapists. There absolutely is a difference between someone who just wants to have sex and someone who forces you to. But that doesn’t happen because of the law.

There will always be those men even if it is decriminalised or not.

I cannot imagine living anywhere else that doesn’t protect us by law. Somewhere where you’re not the one doing the wrong. The sex buyers are doing the wrong.

Thanks. That’s all I have to say.

Helen: Thank you, Cajsa, for sharing with us the reality of the Nordic Model and how it offers protection for women selling sex and benefits women and girls more generally.

Our third speaker is Huschke Mau. Huschke was, with interruptions, in prostitution in Germany for ten years, having been introduced to it by a German police officer as a sexually traumatized girl living through an economic emergency. She is the founder of Network Ella, an organisation of prostitution survivors.

In Germany they have a legalized system of prostitution – which in theory is quite different from the full decriminalization they have in New Zealand. This is how Frankie Miren, a campaigner for full decriminalisation describes the difference:

“Under legalisation, sex work is controlled by the government and is legal only under certain state-specified conditions. Decriminalisation involves the removal of all prostitution-specific laws, although sex workers and sex work businesses must still operate within the laws of the land, as must any businesses.”

That said, there are in fact quite a lot of similarities. In both New Zealand and Germany, there are multi-story brothels operating in plain sight, pimps and brothel owners are considered respectable business men, and men’s prostitution buying is considered completely normal – just like going to the pub.

But before we go any further, we need to consider a little bit of geography.

First let’s look at New Zealand.

Here is a satellite image of New Zealand. It is a small country with a population of only about 4.5 million and it is uniquely isolated. It has no land borders and apart from some tiny Pacific islands, its nearest neighbour, Australia, is more than two thousand miles away, and otherwise it is surrounded by the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean.

Now let’s consider Germany.

Germany, in contrast, is a large country with a population of approximately 82 million. It is in the centre of the European Union and has land borders with nine other countries.

Both countries are ‘sex tourist’ destinations, but Germany’s mega-brothels are only a short drive or cheap flight away from Europe’s approximately 300 million male citizens over the age of 14 (compared to approximately 1.8 million in New Zealand).

Moreover, the European Union’s open borders make bringing young women from Europe’s poorer regions to Germany’s mega-brothels a piece of cake compared to doing something similar in New Zealand.

So, of course, any negative results of the legislation will be more obvious in Germany than in New Zealand.

But in Britain we need to ask ourselves, are we more like Germany or New Zealand geographically? And there isn’t much doubt that we are more like Germany – having a large population (of about 67 million), and being so close to mainland Europe.

This is why we must pay close attention to what has happened there, and why we are so thrilled that Huschke is with us today to tell us about the prostitution system in Germany. Over to you, Huschke.

Huschke Mau

Huschke: Hi. Thank you for the invitation and I am sorry for my bad English. So, if you have any questions, please ask them in the chat. I will talk about legalisation in Germany.

It is important to know that in Germany prostitution was never prohibited. It was always legal, but it was deemed counter to good morals – that is, it is harmful to the community. Therefore, prostituted women couldn’t legally exist on their payments until the year 2000 when prostitution was no longer considered counter to good morals and as a result the German Prostitution Act came into effect in 2002. The law introduced full legalisation and was pushed for by the sex industry lobby.

The law’s purpose was to make prostitution safer for the women in it and to make it possible for them to take the buyers to court over non-payment and to ensure they would be able to enter regular health and social insurance services. This was not achieved. Only 44 women in Germany registered under the social security system.

The number of murders of prostituted women in Germany is very high. 100 women have been murdered since 2002 when the law came into effect.

Germany has become a sex tourist destination. There has been a massive increase in the number of prostituted women – there are now between 400,000 and 1 million but we don’t know exactly how many. What we do know, however, is that over 1 million men in Germany visit a brothel each day.

The state has recognised that the law has failed. Unfortunately, it couldn’t bring itself to consider the Nordic Model. Since 2017 there has been an additional law, the Prostitute Protection Act. Prostitution is still legal but subject to significantly tighter regulations.

These regulations mainly target prostituted women, not the sex buyers. As before, pimping is only illegal if it is deemed exploitative – that is, if the pimp keeps more than 50% of a prostituted woman’s earnings.

Regarding forced prostitution, there are no legal prosecutions without a victim’s statement, which is a problem. It is up to the victim to prove the coercion or force, which leads to very few sentences. About 350 a year.

What happened in Germany since full legalisation? Today the police say that only 10% of the women have no pimp. About 90% of the women are migrants from very poor countries, mostly Romania and Bulgaria.

What we see is that prostitution is a very racist system. It is usually the racially discriminated women who enter prostitution – like Roma women from Romania. And prostitution itself is racist too because it fetishizes ethnicity. We have brothels that have a kind of apartheid system when it comes to the women. You go to the first floor for the Romanian women. You go to the second floor for Asian women. You go to the third floor for African women.

We see that prostitution in Germany makes sex buyers more racist. They use very racist and sexist slurs against women and they try to offer refugee women from Syria money for sex.

To allow prostitution makes a country more racist because the sex buyers who, for example, buy Asian women won’t see other non-prostituted Asian women as human. This is what we see. It’s as if we are still a colonialist country.

Legalisation normalises prostitution. For example, we had a TV show that was called ‘Pimp My Brothel’ where a brothel keeper who’s now in jail for human trafficking went into brothels to tell them what they could do better.

Legalisation brings more capitalism into prostitution because the women are the product and are only there to serve the client. So, legalisation strengthens the client’s rights. We even had a court case. There was a girl, I think she was 19, and her punter had not orgasmed and went to court over that. She had to pay him money because he wasn’t able to orgasm with her.

This is what legalisation does.

And we see that legalisation always comes with criminalisation because it has to be regulated somehow and the rules are for the prostituted women and only for the clients when they are in a forbidden area.

We see that legalisation increases human trafficking but the police are not allowed to go into the brothels anymore. There are no exit services because it is a “job like any other.”

If you turn to officials as a prostituted woman, mostly they want something from you. There was a case where a prostituted woman wanted to exit and went to the unemployment office, where she was told that if she wanted another job and didn’t want to be in prostitution anymore, she had to prove with a psychiatric certificate that her mental health does not allow her to prostitute herself any longer.

So, so much for exiting prostitution in Germany.

We see that legalisation covers up the abuse that happens. Prostitution is a “job like any other” here but the stigma still remains on the women. The punters are not ashamed. But to be a prostitute is still very shameful.

We see that legalisation makes clients more dangerous and brutal because they feel entitled by the law. They say, I paid for this so I will do this and they don’t care if women cry or are in pain or are forced.

To cut a long story short, we see that legalisation leads to more clients and therefore to more prostitution and more forced prostitution. It impoverishes the conditions for the prostituted and it only helps johns and traffickers and pimps. Thank you.

Helen McDonald

Helen: Thank you Huschke for drawing attention to the significant levels of exploitation that exist in Germany, the abhorrent racism and the ways in which the system traps women into selling sex.

Now we’re going to move on to a discussion based around other claims that Lyn Brown made in the debate in Parliament and questions that have been sent in by audience members. We’ll take these claims and questions as they’ve been submitted – even though some contain language and suggestions that we don’t agree with.

The first question to the panellists is: Lyn Brown claimed that under the Nordic Model “sex workers can no longer distinguish between clients who are a threat and those who are not.” What are your thoughts on this? Can women involved in prostitution ever really know in advance if any given man is going to be a threat or not? Does the legislation really change this?

Huschke: We see that legalization brutalizes clients more. They feel entitled because what they do is legal and legalization does not protect women. Almost all of the 100 murders of prostituted women in Germany since the full legalization law were in legal brothels. So, legalization only protects the clients, not the women.

Cajsa: To me it has not been different even though [buying sex] is illegal here. You can’t see on someone if they are a threat or not. What they say they are going to do is not always what they’re going to do. So, you have no idea if the person is a threat or not until you meet them and then it’s too late.

[Unfortunately, Ally Marie Diamond, was unable to join us on the day, so Rebecca Mott stood in for her. Rebecca used to do indoor prostitution of various types.]

Rebecca: I find it quite a surreal question. It shows that Lyn Brown really doesn’t understand prostitution. It’s like saying to a woman who is battered, why didn’t you know he was going to batter you beforehand. Well usually they’re just normal men. And it’s the same in prostitution. The vast majority of men come across as the same whether they are violent or non-violent. You don’t know until they hit you that they’re going to be violent – or until they’re raping you that they’re rapists.

Men who buy sex are just like any man on the street and that’s the main thing that needs to be known.

Helen: Thank you. So the second question: In the debate in Parliament, Lyn Brown argued against shutting down websites where women are advertised for sale and/or where punters can write reviews of the women they buy because she thinks it would push them onto the dark web and make women less safe because they won’t be able to screen their clients.

Do online advertising sites really make things safer for women involved in prostitution? And what are your thoughts about shutting down these sites and other ones where punters post reviews?

Rebecca: I think the idea of shutting them down is a good idea but in some ways, we’ve left it really late because they have got quite a hold on it now.

I think to say that it makes it safer is wrong because you can’t make prostitution safer. You can make it safe enough that people can ignore it completely, by making it indoors and putting it on the Internet. But that doesn’t mean that it’s safe for the women. It just means that people refuse to see what is happening to the women.

That’s the way I see it.

Cajsa: In Sweden, it’s not legal to have those sites but they use Danish servers to be able to run them.

I also love how she talks about the dark web – because that’s not how it works. You don’t need to be on the dark web for that. You can talk about it anywhere. I get people trying to buy sex from me on TikTok, on Snapchat, anywhere. You don’t need to go to the dark web for that.

Huschke: I would like to say something about the reviews in the punter forums, where they rate women and their “services” like products. I think it is a very good idea to take these down because these forums are not about screening clients but about referring to women as a product. And they use very sexist language and they talk about very brutal things they do to women and they push each other.

When a punter talks to other punters about the rapes he does and the other punters tell him what they do to women, it creates more violence.

In Germany we had a woman, who had a punter who always visited her and then wrote reviews saying he thought she didn’t really respect him like he wanted her to. And the other clients said, yes that’s true and in the end the punter murdered the woman.

So, it’s not only that the review forums are using very bad language and slurs and so on, they can also lead to more rape and to murder.

Helen: Thank you. Our next question is another thing Lyn Brown said: “The truth is, I believe, that sex work will be around for as long as there is poverty and inequality—and frankly, poverty and inequality are rife in our communities. Last year, before Covid hit, 2.4 million people were destitute in the UK, including more than half a million children. […] Those numbers will include many sex workers and their children.”

It looks like she is saying that prostitution is a solution to women’s poverty – and that we must accept men having a right to buy sexual access to women because they are poor and desperate. What’s your response to that?

Cajsa: This question bothers me so much because basically she’s saying that you have to solve poverty by selling yourself. But why not focus on the poverty itself instead of making women sell their bodies, even if they don’t want to, just to get out of poverty and feed their children.

It seems so bad that this is an argument for her. She should focus on what the problem is.

Rebecca Mott

Rebecca: I find that this is an argument that is used to silence exited women. It’s used to suggest we don’t care about poverty, almost. It’s also really important to understand that poverty is not the only reason that people become prostituted. There are multiple reasons why people become prostituted.

Are they going to attack incest and pornography in the same way that they attack poverty? I doubt it very much.

We also need to look at the fact that many women are poor but the vast majority of women who are poor do not do prostitution. We need to ask why is this? Why do so many women refuse to do prostitution even in the most dire circumstances? The reason is that they know that prostitution will destroy them in the long term.

I feel very angry that so many people on the left are using prostitution as a way of silencing exited women and abolitionists. It is a very cynical in my opinion and I am sick and tired of it.

Huschke: I too think it’s weird to see prostitution as a solution to poverty because I don’t know one woman who became rich from prostitution. Those who get rich from prostitution are not the ones who prostitute themselves. It’s the pimps and human traffickers and so on who get rich.

I don’t really get it why she thinks it’s a solution to poverty. Why not help them without exploiting and traumatising them?

Helen: Thank you. Our next question was sent in before our last webinar but we didn’t have time to address it.

“Is it only the currently dangerous and inhumane working conditions that we oppose about prostitution, or are we opposing the industry on the basis that there’s something inherently, universally wrong about commodifying one’s body, sexual privacy etc. which even consent and physical wellbeing cannot justify? Or in other words, if there were perfectly safe working conditions (let’s imagine for a second that it’s possible), would it all be fine? Or even then, would there still be something wrong?”

Huschke: It doesn’t matter in which conditions it takes place, there is something wrong with prostitution, because the Yes the prostituted woman says is a Yes to the money and a No to the sex. It is unwanted sex. And unwanted sex is sexual assault always. So, prostitution goes without sexual consent.

It is strange male behaviour to sleep with a woman without being able to say whether the woman actually wanted to sleep with you as a man. The punter cannot tell afterwards if the sex was forced or not. He goes away and he can’t tell whether he just raped the woman and he doesn’t care. And that is clearly problematic sexual behaviour.


Cajsa: I would like to say that it will always be universally wrong to buy another person. Like Huschke said, it is saying Yes to the money but not to the sex. If you ask any prostitute if you would have sex with him without the money, they would say No. Because we don’t want to have sex. We want to have the money.

Rebecca: I agree with everything that everyone has said. And also, that it’s like saying that slavery is OK if it’s in the house or if the master or mistress says they like you. To buy another human being is never right and to justify it by saying at least they’re not being hit, that is so detached from reality.

I find a lot of what the sex work lobby says is completely detached from reality and is very sad.

Helen: Thank you. Next question: While a sex buyer law may reduce demand somewhat, we know it won’t deter those who happily rape and abuse women and children, so what else would the survivors suggest should be done about trafficking, both domestic and international?

Cajsa: I think we have to talk about women in a non-product way and talk to boys about what’s OK and what’s not OK. Because right now, we’re teaching boys from when they are very small – for example that if they pull a girl’s hair it means he likes her and things like that.

These men don’t just come out only because it’s OK to buy sex, they have always been there and will always be there. That isn’t to do with the law but how society forms men and how it tells them that it’s OK to hit a woman or rape a woman because she was wearing this and it’s OK to buy sex if your partner doesn’t want to do something. We have to start at the beginning and work with the small boys who are learning that it’s OK to hit a girl you like.

Rebecca: I think this is such a defeatist argument. It is almost like saying that we’re going to have a class of women you can rape and batter and we’re going to make it a non-crime. Basically, it’s talking about criminal acts and saying that you can do that to prostituted women but if you did it to non-prostituted women, we would arrest you.

It’s very clear that that is treating prostituted women as sub-human.

Helen: Our next question is: What do you think the mantra ‘sex work is work’ and the glamourisation of prostitution is doing to young women today, especially with the rise of OnlyFans (could that be a gateway)?

Huschke: I think the fairy tale of “sex work is work” is harmful to women and girls and boys – because it tells the girls that sex is work they have to do for the men and it’s only for the pleasure of the boys and men and it’s work for the girls – and they have to deliver.

And I think OnlyFans is a big gateway to that. Because when it comes to the objectification of women in the porn industry and the sex industry in general, most women who enter prostitution come from the porn section first.

Helen: So our next question: Do “choice sex workers” (as opposed to women who are trafficked or forced into it for survival) have a choice over punters and timing and acts, etc. As in can they say no and have an element of choice over who buys them?

Huschke: I think the separation of women who have no agency and cannot decline punters and women who have more agency and who can say no to a punter makes no sense because in the end she has to see one of the punters because she needs the money. Some women may have more agency but that doesn’t change that there is always economic pressure.

I always wonder why we make this a question of women’s agency when it’s men’s behaviour that is problematic. Because what a punter does is have sex with a woman without consent and that is what we should talk about and it’s not relevant if there are women who sometimes are allowed say no to special punters. This is not the question. This is not why prostitution is bad. Prostitution is bad because it allows men to behave in a very problematic way.

Cajsa: I also don’t like the separation of “for choice” and “not a choice.” But in response to the question, I was a “choice sex worker” and I never had much choice over who I saw because if I needed money, I needed money. And that was like, now.

And, again, how will I know that this sex buyer is a bad guy who’s a threat to me or not. I will never know that. And if I say No to one sex buyer, there will always be a more vulnerable and desperate woman who says Yes to it. So even if I say No, he will still get what he wants. And that’s the problem.

The problem is not whether I can say No or not. The problem is that a man can get what he wants but from someone else.

Rebecca: I think this is red herring question again because it’s not about women in prostitution’s choice. It’s about men’s choices to buy prostituted women. No man is forced to buy a prostitute.

We need to look at the men’s choices. Men choose to be violent towards these women. Men choose to rape them and buy them as goods.

We do not talk about that. We talk about women’s choices all the time.

We need to say, let’s talk about men’s choices. Let’s talk about whether you’ve chosen it or not, the men can still rape you, can still kill you if he wants to.

Most men who buy women do not care about the background they come from. They don’t think, She chose it, or She didn’t choose it. It doesn’t bother them.

It’s like looking at slavery and saying that maybe some of them like it. I don’t really care if some of them like it. It’s wrong. That’s it.

Helen: Our next question has come in from someone who is with us this afternoon: I’d like to ask all the participants what do they think about the issue of consent. Can sex work ever be consensual, setting aside the obvious issues of trafficking and coercion?

Cajsa: No. If there is money involved, there is no consent any more – because someone now has power over you – he can say I’ve got the money so you have to do what I say. So as soon as there is money involved, there is no longer consent.

Rebecca: Like Cajsa said, money does not give consent. And prostitution is always about money. I feel like people want there to be consent – because it makes them feel that they can forget about prostitution and say, oh well, some women are OK in it.

I don’t really understand why people think that buying sex can ever be consensual. I find it really hard, as an exited woman, to put my head around that. I know a lot of people do think it. But I can’t understand it.

Huschke: I will just repeat myself. Consent is not for sale. It’s a Yes to the money and a No to the sex. Prostitution is unwanted sex. There is no consent in prostitution.

Helen: Thank you.

The next question is another one that has been asked by someone who is with us this afternoon. They’ve said: The personal accounts so far, all look to the abhorrent end of the sex work spectrum. Sex work can be healthy. Many women elect to sell sex to a small number of men. It’s empowering in that they can earn more in a few hours than they would in a month of normal work. Why not take the approach of strengthening both the law and the enforcement of the law for activity including trafficking, coercion, violence, etc. I worry that the tragic personal experiences of those present blind them to the positive experiences at the other end of the spectrum.

Huschke: OK. That was hard to listen to. We have to answer the question, do we allow men to have sex without consent, Yes or No? This is the question and not if there are a few women who maybe like to be in prostitution. This is the minority and the Nordic Model does not take away their “sex work” stuff. They can still prostitute themselves if they want to. But the Nordic Model answers the question, do we allow problematic sexual behaviour from men? No, we don’t.

And the Nordic Model helps to fight against human trafficking and forced prostitution because when we have very few punters as a consequence of the Nordic Model, we have less prostitution, we have less prostitutes, and therefore automatically less human trafficking and less forced prostitution.

The Nordic Model is the law that we should implement when it comes to the fight against human trafficking and forced prostitution.

Rebecca: In some ways, it’s a quite insulting question really. To say that it’s just a sad story that we’re telling is actually… [shakes her head]. When they listen to women they choose to listen to, they often get them to talk about their individual experiences. That’s not called a story; that’s called factual or whatever.

I think that it is a way of saying that we don’t want to hear about the pain; we don’t want to know about grief; we don’t want to know about trauma. That’s all too difficult. Let’s talk about these so-called happy hookers because that will make us all feel at ease and we can watch nice TV programmes about prostitutes being really happy and then we can all go to bed.

I really think that we need to say that the reality is that no prostitute can ever by safe whatever form of prostitution she is in. There is no form of prostitution that is safe enough to be allowed and that is the bottom line.

Helen: So we have one final question: Do you agree with Dame Diana Johnson who wants to bring the Nordic Model to England and Wales or do you agree with Lyn Brown who opposes it and thinks it will put women at risk?

Cajsa: I think we can all agree with Diana and because Lyn Brown obviously doesn’t know what she’s talking about and doesn’t have any clue what prostitution is about.

Rebecca: Obviously, I agree with Diana and I feel that Lyn Brown needs to meet exited women.

Huschke: Yes, I agree with Diana too. In Germany we have so many women fighting for the Nordic Model. Many prostituted women too. And we want it because we know what legalisation does and how dangerous it is and we are so hurt. There is so much trauma. We are absolutely desperate for the Nordic Model and we don’t only want it, we need it because women in prostitution are raped and trafficked and murdered every day. We need it.

Helen: OK. So now we’re practically out of time. So first I want to thank our incredible panellists for giving their time and sharing their knowledge and experience so brilliantly.

Before we close, I just want to mention what you can do practically if you are convinced that the Nordic Model is the best option for women. If you live in the UK, please write to your MP and ask them to support Dame Diana’s Sexual Exploitation Bill.

Otherwise, the most important thing you can do is to raise awareness. We have loads of information on our website, do please read it and share it. Watch our YouTube videos. Listen to our podcasts. And please follow us on social media. We’re on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram as @nordicmodelnow. Please follow us and ‘like’ and share our stuff.

We’re going to close today’s webinar with a short film on the Nordic Model in Sweden that has been made especially for us by Ygerne Price-Davies.

Thank you everyone for coming today. We hope to see you again at another webinar soon.

3 thoughts on “The Nordic Model vs. full decriminalisation: what do sex trade survivors say?

  1. Good god, and here I thought full decriminalization was generally a good idea to make prostitution more humane. As a man reading your columns, my mind has been completely changed. It seems to me that pimps and the men who work with them must be put away for good, because they commit great evils on a daily basis.

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