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.
11 thoughts on “Statement on the DecrimNow open letter opposing the Nordic Model”
“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?”
This seems an extreme, faulty choice, as if legalizing prostitution is incompatible with fixing at the same time poverty and lack of options for women. Are you suggesting we should ban also other sensual related work, like pole dancing because it denigrates women? Shall we ban other types of jobs that exploit women and men? Most jobs exploit us in one way or another. How about we fix poverty at the same time that we fix the prostitution market so women are supervised, have health insurance, decide which customers to take. It should be a free choice if everyone is actually free to choose. I remember talking to women in the sweat shops who were really upset with privilege women fighting against sweat shops, when that was the only option for them. What would they do? Did these women bother to fix poverty first?
We disagree. All the evidence shows that when prostitution gets institutionalised as the go-to option for poor women, motivation to address women’s poverty is lost.
We do not believe that prostitution and related practices that are based on the commodification of women and their sexuality for the benefit of men can reasonably be compared with any other job.
We see prostitution as an institution of oppression that has been used for centuries by the capitalist system to co-opt men, and to ensure the subordination of women and the division of the working class. You can read more about this position here:
Thanks, I do understand your point. However, you do mention “The solution to poverty and brutal immigration laws is not opening up prostitution but tackling these inequities head on”, meaning that you believe poverty can be tackled simoultaneously.
I still don’t understand how anyone can claim that a state of “Full Decriminalisation” can exist. Trafficked and “illegal immigrant” women will still be criminalised by immigration law. How do they seek police support if they have been criminally assaulted knowing it will lead to deportation. (I don’t like to describe any human being as “illegal” either, but I hope I’m expressing myself clearly). Also, one of the “success” measures of full decriminalisation should be an increase in reports of abusive behaviour as daylight is cast on what happens in private. Where is the evidence on this? Why in every other aspect of crime do we see increases in assaults on women, but not there.
Also, it would be great if you could provide peer-reviewed studies that show that prostitution gets institutionalised as the go-to option for poor women, motivation to address women’s poverty is lost.
A last point: I think by decriminalizing prostitution we decrease the damage to those women because there would be a regulation in place, healthcare for those women, etc.. However, if we criminalize it, as with drug dealing, it will only make it worse for the victims, those women.
I don’t think peer reviewed studies will tell us much that we can’t observe just by opening our eyes. The UK has a de facto decriminalised system – provided it’s fairly discreet – and even the Government has accepted that large numbers of women are turning to prostitution just to keep a roof over their heads – and has steadfastly refused to do anything substantial to fix the social security system so that it provides enough to live on.
We can also look at Germany and New Zealand where we are in touch with women who have had a terrible struggle to get out of the brothels because the social security system does not provide enough to live on, etc. For example:
I fear you are misguided if you think that decriminalisation of the entire sex trade makes women involved in prostitution safer. It sounds like it SHOULD be true, but in practice it doesn’t work out like that. We recommend this:
Thanks for the links. I think you have strong arguments to support your view. However, without proper peer-reviewd articles we can’t truly know, because for every woman that is hurt, another one says the opposite. You could find those who make the opposite claim that provide counter evidence of women who have freely chosen to do prostitution. So it becomes a question of free choice and free use of your body.
… which is why we have to look at the bigger picture. When we look at industries that cause damage to the health and wellbeing of the community and the environment (e.g. fracking), we don’t base the decision on whether to allow them free rein on whether people like working in those industries. We look at the big picture.
The big picture of the sex industry is very grim and it brutalises us all and results in more male violence and more inequality between the sexes. The Nordic Model aims to reduce the size of the sex industry while providing those caught up in it with support, alternatives and routes out.
Thanks for this conversation. You are absolutely right. Your arguments are solid and can’t refute them. I have made up my mind.
Thank YOU for being prepared to investigate and listen and put in the work to make up your own mind.