Nordic Model Now! (NMN) regularly gets accused on social media and elsewhere of all sorts of bizarre things that are simply not true. Life is short and we don’t have time to do everything we want to do as it is – so generally we turn a blind eye. But we felt it was time to set the record straight for some of the most common ones.

MYTH 1: Nordic Model Now is well-funded

For example, @TrudePerkins tweeted this in October 2021:

The reality: NMN runs on a shoestring. We have never received any public or institutional funding. All of our members are unpaid volunteers and most pay their own expenses associated with the campaign.

Our main source of funding is donations from individual supporters (the majority in the range £10 to £25), and we publish annual financial statements.

We sell printed copies of our handbook for universities and flyers through our website shop, but we’ve kept the prices to the minimum to cover costs and we provide PDF downloads for free. Similarly, when we run events, we keep the price of tickets to the minimum required to cover costs and we endeavour to provide free tickets on request to anyone who otherwise could not come.

MYTH 2: NMN is an astroturfed group

For example: @bloodandt3rf tweeted this in November 2021:

The reality: As stated above, we are a grassroots group of unpaid volunteers who receive no institutional or public funding.

According to Wikipedia, astroturfing is “the practice of masking the sponsors of a message or organization […] to make it appear as though it originates from and is supported by grassroots participants.”

The claim that NMN is an astroturfed organisation is ironic, given that most of the big funding bodies favour the full decriminalisation of the sex trade (‘full decrim’).

For example, the Open Society Foundation provides funding to organisations that advocate for full decrim, including large amounts to big human rights organisations (such as Amnesty International) who have a huge impact and reach.

Other big funding bodies, like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Mama Cash and some of the UN agencies are known to favour researchers, groups and organisations that advocate full decrim.

The team behind the Leicester student sex work toolkit received significant funding from the ESRC – first to write the toolkit and then to attempt to get universities all around the UK to adopt it.

NMN has received no such funding. None of the dozens of people involved in the development of our Handbook for Universities received any payment. Every single one of us gave up our free time to contribute because we understand this as an issue of life and death, particularly for disadvantaged women. Some of the contributors are survivors of the sex trade, some have a child whose life was blighted by sexual exploitation, and some have extensive experience of working with those involved in prostitution and witness the damage it causes.

So, sorry to disappoint you guys, but no, NMN is not astroturfed. It really is a group of grassroots activists who give up their time because they care.

MYTH 3: NMN doesn’t listen to sex workers

For example, @TheJasonDomino tweeted this in December 2021:

The reality: A significant proportion of the members of NMN are women who have direct experience of prostitution and other areas of the sex industry. The whole group is committed to listening to them and prioritising their voices and insights.

More than 100 women who have lived experience of prostitution have contributed written pieces about their experiences for our website. (For example, see the Survivors’ Testimony and #MeToo Stories sections.)  

In addition, we have hosted many events over the last three years, all of which have featured speakers who have first-hand experience of prostitution. Recordings of most of these events are available on our YouTube channel.

This does beg the question of what people mean when they claim we don’t listen to “sex workers”. Could it be that their real beef is that some “sex workers” don’t agree with their “sex work is real work” and a “free choice” rhetoric?

Is the real problem that those who complain that we don’t listen to “sex workers” are themselves not listening to the full range of voices of those who have experienced the sex trade – and do not want to acknowledge that many of them are vehemently opposed to full decrim?

This myth also suggests an utter failure to recognise how very hard it is for those still involved in the industry to speak out publicly against an industry they are dependent on. Speaking publicly about how you want your ‘clients’ and ‘managers’ to be criminalised is not actually good for business and might well put you in serious danger.

We have written about this before and about how speaking out against the sexual exploitation industry even years after exiting can put women at risk – of reprisals from old pimps, of losing employment opportunities, and of being stalked and harassed – or worse – by opportunistic men. It also risks their children being bullied or denied opportunities.

The risks are so grave that there are not many sex trade survivors who can speak out publicly in their own name about their experiences and their support for the Nordic Model. Those who do deserve our full attention and respect.

MYTH 4: NMN benefits financially from the labour of sex workers

For example, see @TrudePerkins’ tweet above.

The reality: No one benefits financially from the work of NMN or of the many survivors who contribute to the campaign. See above.

MYTH 5: NMN is an evangelical extremist group

For example: @itslittlepbigd tweeted this in December 2021:

The reality: If you take the time to examine the NMN website and other materials we’ve produced, you won’t find a single word advocating faith or religion. We’re a secular feminist group, not a religious one. We have a robust joining process for people who wish to volunteer with NMN, but having a faith isn’t one of the criteria and isn’t something we’ve ever asked a prospective (or present or past) member about. Our work is political, not religious.

As to whether we are extremist, yes we’re extreme in that we want prostitution abolished. We make no apologies for that and don’t attempt to disguise it. Time’s up for the sexual exploitation industry. If that’s extreme, so be it.

MYTH 6: NMN wants to kill sex workers

For example: see @itslittlepbigd’s tweet above.

We were doubtful whether we should dignify this with a response, but decided we would. We believe that this myth is based in the myth that the Nordic Model is more dangerous for those involved in prostitution than full decrim, and as we campaign for the Nordic Model, ergo we must want ‘sex workers’ to die.

We have written before about how the sex trade lobby now dominates most academic institutions just as they dominate the large funding bodies. This means it is difficult for academics to get or retain jobs, funding, or even recognition, if they diverge from the prevailing dogma that ‘sex work’ is empowering for women and a normal kind of work and that full decrim is a ‘human rights-based approach’. The studies that are churned out from this position are often of very low quality, with headline claims that are not backed up by the data, for example.

It is now widely recognised that prostitution is the most dangerous occupation of all, with the women involved having the highest murder rate of any social group, and a much higher mortality rate than women in the general population. We do not believe that anything can make prostitution safe and significantly change this. Germany, where the sex industry is legal and regulated, and New Zealand, where it is fully decriminalised, both continue to have an unacceptably high rate of murder of women involved in prostitution.

We believe that the best solution is therefore measures to reduce the size of the sex industry and the numbers of women and girls who are drawn into it, and to provide those already caught up in it with genuine routes out and viable alternatives. This is the aim of the Nordic Model approach and reports from Sweden suggest that, when implemented fully, it can be successful.

We are in touch with #intedinhora, a Swedish group of people who have lived experience of the sex industry in Sweden, who strongly support the Nordic Model approach, while campaigning for improvements in the services provided to those involved.

To suggest that we want to “kill sex workers” is at best an ad hominem attack. It is not the behaviour of someone who is confident in their arguments.

MYTH 7: NMN claimed that National Ugly Mugs has “close connections with pimps”.

The Global Network of Sex Work Projects has published a briefing paper entitled, The Consequences of Misinformation about Sex Work and Sex Workers. Under the heading ‘The Myth of the Pimp Lobby’, it says:

“National Ugly Mugs (NUM), a UK-based organisation that provides tools for sex workers to report dangerous clients, was subject to attack by the anti-sex work group Nordic Model Now, which sent a letter to the UK Home Secretary claiming the organisation had “close connections with pimps.” NUM threatened to sue Nordic Model Now, leading the group to retract its accusations.”

This is not correct. We said that Ugly Mugs Ireland has close connections with pimps and others who profiteer from the sex trade – which was confirmed to the Northern Ireland Justice Committee by a spokesperson from Ugly Mugs Ireland.

Our mistake was to suggest that the UK Ugly Mugs was a “sister organisation” of the Irish Ugly Mugs organisation. This is not true and is what we retracted and apologised for.

This page was first published on 6 January 2022.

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