At the end of last week, DecrimNow, a lobby group for the full decriminalisation of the sex trade in the UK, published an open letter to Westminster MPs calling on them to “stand up against continuing attempts to introduce Nordic model legislation into Parliament”. The open letter was signed by an impressive array of academics and organisations.
We were immediately contacted by a number of our followers who were disturbed by this development and wanted to know how to respond. We are therefore making this brief statement about why the open letter is full of flaws and providing suggestions about what you can do about it.
What’s wrong with the open letter?
The letter says, “trafficking isn’t caused by the demand for sex, but by people’s poverty and lack of options: people are made vulnerable to traffickers for a number of reasons.”
Sex trafficking is enormously more lucrative than any other form of human trafficking – ten times more lucrative according to a recent study – precisely because so many men are prepared to pay for sexual access to vulnerable women and girls. To suggest that cashing in on this bonanza is not a cause of sex trafficking is naive in the extreme.
Yes, poverty and brutal immigration laws cause large numbers of people, particularly women and children, to be trapped in situations where they are vulnerable to traffickers who want to use them as a meal ticket. But they wouldn’t be such a great meal ticket if so many men weren’t such enthusiastic prostitution users.
The solution to poverty and brutal immigration laws is not opening up prostitution but tackling these inequities head on.
The open letter’s aspiration to make ‘sex workers’ safer is an oxymoron. Prostitution in all its forms is inherently dangerous and can never be brought into line with even the most basic health and safety guidelines.
What’s more, all the evidence suggests that prostitution-buying brutalises men, making them more entitled, and more likely to rape and harass women and girls and to sexually abuse children. This means that anything that gives the green light to the prostitution system (as full decriminalisation certainly would) will inevitably lead not only to more women and girls being drawn into the sex industry where inevitably they will be harmed but also to more male violence against women and girls in the general community.
But the open letter doesn’t mention any of this. Which begs the question of whose interests they are promoting? It certainly doesn’t look like they are promoting the interests of the most vulnerable women and girls. They seem to be advocating prostitution as the solution to their poverty and disadvantage, and that that should be sanctioned and recognised in law and policy.
Is this really what we should be aiming for? A world where poor women and girls have no alternative but to prostitute themselves in order to survive? And the corollary that large numbers of men have sufficient disposable incomes to buy sexual access to them?
That doesn’t sound like a world I want to live in. Surely it will lead to an ever-greater divide between women and men.
I prefer to believe that equality between the sexes is possible, that we can aspire to a world where no one is forced to do things that are against human dignity just to survive, and where men’s patriarchal sex right is no longer considered valid.
The open letter cited support for full decriminalisation from Amnesty International and the World Health Organisation (WHO) without mentioning that these organisations were advised by a pimp who has since been sentenced to 15 years in prison for sex trafficking, that their research is generally of very poor quality, and that their position has been robustly critiqued.
The main thrust of the open letter is that the Nordic Model increases dangers for ‘sex workers’, does not decriminalise ‘sex workers,’ while not helping trafficking victims and penalising the most vulnerable.
This all sounds very damning – except that we do not believe it is true or at least that it is not as simple as they set out. We have previously addressed many of these arguments and the sources they rely on – in, for example, the following articles:
- Dame Diana Johnson’s Sexual Exploitation Bill: The Debate
- The Nordic Model vs. full decriminalisation: what do sex trade survivors say?
- German ex-police officer demolishes common arguments against the Nordic Model
- A critical review of ‘Revolting Prostitutes: The fight for sex workers’ rights’ by Juno Mac and Molly Smith
- A Sexist Prism: National Police Guidance on Policing Prostitution
They misrepresented our work
Page 3 of the open letter includes what purports to be a quote from one of our articles, which you can see in bold here:
“Nordic Model advocates lean on the provision of ‘exit services’. But in reality, these exit services don’t exist, or they make their support contingent on anti-sex worker ideology. This includes refusing to offer realistic harm reduction methods, such as condoms. In Ireland, Nordic Model supporters acknowledge that ‘there is no evidence that these things are in place in Ireland’.”
The quote linked to a statement we published in the summer of 2019 about the jailing of women in Ireland for brothel keeping. This statement included the following paragraph:
“Passing Nordic Model-style legislation alone is never successful without a whole raft of accompanying holistic measures: training for the police, prosecutors and judiciary; a public information campaign and education in schools and universities; investment in a network of high-quality services for women involved in prostitution, including real material support to recover and build a new life outside; along with general measures to address women’s poverty and inequality. We have seen no evidence that all these things are in place in Ireland.”
Again, we have bolded the sentence they reproduced. Notice that they removed the word “all” and presented it so that it gives the impression that we were only referring to exit services – when clearly, we were referring to a whole raft of measures. The Republic of Ireland does have some exit services and we would never have said otherwise. They may not be perfect, but they do exist. We understand that there has been significant progress in implementing some of the other measures since then.
Misrepresenting your opponents’ arguments is not a good look and suggests that your position is not in fact based on robust evidence. But in fact, this is rife among those who promote full decriminalisation (as we have documented elsewhere) – and it is hardly surprising because their arguments simply do not stack up.
In the light of what we have set out above, the only conclusion that can be drawn from the fact that so many academics, NGOs and trade unions have signed the open letter, is that academia is in a parlous state and those who promote the interests of pimps have managed to infiltrate civil society institutions to a terrifying degree.
This must be a wake up call to step up our campaign.
Please help us to raise awareness of the harms of prostitution and of the Nordic Model as an effective and humane solution. Please do everything in your power to amplify our message.
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Write to your MP
If you are based in the UK, please write to your MP asking them to support women and the Nordic Model. We have some resources to help you: