‘If Sweden didn’t have the Nordic Model, I would not be alive’

This is an edited transcript of Cajsa’s speech in the afternoon session at the ‘Students for sale: Tools for resistance’ conference, held in London on 15 October 2022. You can watch the recording on YouTube. Cajsa’s speech starts at 55:27.

It haunts me that people use Sweden as an example to make a point about how the Nordic Model hurts women in prostitution. It haunts me that people use my experiences and manipulate them to fit their own agenda. If Sweden didn’t have the Nordic Model, I would not be alive today, and that’s a fact.

I was 14 years old when I met an older guy and we started dating. It was fine for three months – until the first time he raped me. I remember waking up and he was on top of me and I closed my eyes and pretended I was asleep. But he knew I was awake because afterwards he started crying and said, “I didn’t mean to do it. I didn’t mean to.” So I had to comfort him.

It was the same when he hit me in the face for the first time and he almost gave me a nosebleed and my lips were all swollen. I was sitting on the bed and he had his head on my knee crying. I had to comfort him because “he wasn’t like that” and “it wasn’t his fault” that he hit me in the face, and stuff like that.

When I was 16, I had to make a choice between letting him kill me if I dumped him or continuing to live with him for the rest of my life. I didn’t want to live like that anymore, so I said it’s over and walked out.

I sat at a bus stop, just waiting for him, because I knew he would come – and he did. He pushed me against the wall and I thought it was finally over. But it was a holiday in Sweden, and some boys were out and saw him – and they dragged him away from me.

Afterwards, I took the bus home and I told my parents that we had broken up. I told them it’s fine, it’s OK – we both agreed to break up and it’s not a problem.

One month after breaking up with him I got into amphetamines. I didn’t know how to live without someone telling me when to eat, when to go to the bathroom. I didn’t know how to live without him, because I was a slave to him and I didn’t know how to live a life without being told exactly what to do all the time. And having to do it.

Some months later, a drug dealer told me that because I didn’t have any money – because I was 16 – that I could get drugs from him if I gave him a blow job. I was like, Yes! I can get drugs for something I had to do for free before so I can get food and go out. That was like heaven to me.

It started to get around the drug dealers in my city and soon everyone knew I sucked dick for drugs. Later I understood that it was prostitution. I was fine with that. At the time, I thought that I was OK. Now I know that I wasn’t.

When I was, I think 20, in 2017 I tried to take my own life, again. I think that was the fourth time. I was really bad at it! I was admitted into a mental hospital and was in there for a month. While I was there I saw a therapist, who didn’t see a prostitute or a drug addict, but saw a little girl that needed help. She saw the little girl that I had tried so hard to let no one see. She saw that it was something else. It wasn’t that I needed money for drugs. I needed the drugs for something. I needed to have rough sex because that’s the only thing I knew.

Today I’ve been clean since 2018. I haven’t sold sex since 2018, and that’s mostly because of the Nordic Model. I would have been in a brothel otherwise. I was so close to moving to Denmark and going into the brothels there.

Gemma has spoken about Sweden, where we have the Nordic Model. It started in 1999, after the government carried out a big investigation. They talked to porn club owners, clients at porn clubs, sex buyers, women who sold sex, porn actors, everyone, and they concluded that prostitution is an extreme version of our patriarchal society.

I know that many people will say differently. Many people – probably the people outside – say that women in prostitution in Sweden don’t want the Nordic Model, but that’s not true.

[Editor’s note: While Cajsa was speaking, there were people outside the venue, protesting that the conference was taking place, because, they said, the Nordic Model makes prostitution more dangerous for women.]

I’ve been speaking in Sweden for three or four years now and I have met only a handful of women in prostitution who don’t want the Nordic Model. Three of those women came to me later and told me that they had stopped prostitution and now they understood where I was coming from.

When you are in it, you can’t tell yourself you’re a victim. You have to tell yourself that it’s something you want to do – because that’s the defence. But a few years later when you are out of that situation, that defence is gone and you understand that the Nordic Model is actually protecting us, because it is.

In Sweden you get paid double or triple what someone in Germany, New Zealand or Denmark gets paid in prostitution. That’s maybe not a big thing for people who haven’t been in prostitution but for us it’s really important.

The people who say they want the right to sell sex have a giant privilege because they can say no to the clients that I couldn’t say no to.

I talked to a friend yesterday about this. She’d been having a discussion with another girl about who in prostitution can say no. They were talking about a specific client who wanted to do something specific. He came to her after someone else had said no and he made her have sex while watching child pornography. She had to watch it and role play a child for him.

That’s the kind of man that comes to us that we can’t say no to. I had to get the money, I had to get my drugs and I had to stay alive. Some people need to pay for housing. Some people need food on the table, so they can’t say no. There may be a few women who can say no. Good for them. But what about the rest of us?

Some things that people say about Sweden make me very upset, especially how the Nordic Model is hurting women. They say that women get evicted from their apartments for selling sex. But it is in fact illegal to evict a woman from her apartment for selling sex. It’s illegal if your landlord does and you can go to the police and you will get a new apartment because it’s against the law.

It’s not against the law to carry condoms. You can go around town with condoms in your bag and it’s fully OK.

Under the Nordic Model, the men are more careful when buying sex.

But for me, a key benefit of the Nordic Model was psychological – knowing that buying sex is wrong – it isn’t a right thing to do. Like Gemma said, you can’t buy a human being.

Can we just stop buying human beings – because I’m not a product?

If you want to, then OK, but the men shouldn’t see you as one. You should be offered help – and if you don’t need help, that’s fine.

Men will buy sex. The law doesn’t stop them entirely. It stops some of them. But there will always be some men who buy sex.

I’m now going to name some of the support organisations that we have in Sweden. There’s Mikamottagningen, Talita, Evonhuset, and Pegasus. Pegasus provides chat support to LGBT+ people. That’s a big thing in Sweden, because care for trans people is shit.

The law is not perfect but it’s all we have and we are changing it as we go. Just this year we took away fines as a penalty for when men get charged for buying sex. They won’t just get a fine anymore – they will go to prison. That’s such a big thing because they listened to us. If we speak, they listen and that means so much to us.

For me it is so weird to hear people speak about not being protected by the law because it saves lives. There will always be deadly harms in prostitution but it’s so much less in Sweden. There has been only one murder of a woman in prostitution by a pimp or punter since we introduced this law in 1999. But in Germany and Amsterdam there have been so many murders – over a hundred – but in Sweden there’s only been one.

I had a friend who was murdered two years ago now and she was a prostitute. People use that against us right now in Sweden because she was a prostitute but she wasn’t killed because she was a prostitute.

As for me, I would be dead if it wasn’t for the Nordic Model.

I have seen things and I have done things I would never think I would do. There’s a cop in Sweden called Simon Häggström who been part of the Stockholm Police’s Prostitution Unit. I’ve been to his lectures and he’s amazing. His work is amazing. He’s doing amazing work for women in prostitution and if you want to understand the reality in Sweden read his book.

I really hope you talk to some Swedish people if you want to know about the law because it doesn’t look like the impression you get on the internet. Prostitution is fucked up everywhere. Men do fucked up things and these men who want to rape you in their daughter’s bed, they don’t care if it’s illegal or not. They will do it either way. But under the Nordic Model, women can call the police or go to a support group afterwards and get free trauma therapy. You can’t get that anywhere where they don’t have the Nordic Model.

It’s so important to us women in prostitution in Sweden that we have the Nordic Model. It’s so important and it’s more important than the media wants to tell you. It’s saved lives. It really has.

Thank you.

Watch the recording

Here is the recording of the afternoon session of the ‘Students for sale: Tools for resistance’ conference. Cajsa’s brilliant contribution starts at 55:27.

Further reading

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