Decrim Now write open letter opposing the introduction of the Nordic Model in the UK

An open letter from Decrim Now calling on UK MPs to oppose further criminalisation of sex work has received over 150 signatures. NSWP have joined organisations such as Amnesty International, Liberty, Freedom United, Stonewall and Sisters Uncut in adding their support to the sex worker-led call, as have unions including GMB and United Voices of the World, and celebrities including FKA Twigs.

You can read extracts from the letter below or view the full letter on the Decrim Now website, where you can also add your name as an individual supporter.

“Dear UK Members of Parliament,

We are concerned about attempts to introduce legislation into Parliament that would criminalise paying for sex and close down online sites where sex workers advertise. Touted as solutions to sex trafficking and exploitation, these measures will only exacerbate violence against women, including those who are being exploited.

Legislation that criminalises the purchase of sex is known as ‘the Nordic Model’, or ‘End Demand’. It is widely opposed by sex workers and by organisations such as Amnesty International, the World Health Organisation, and the UK’s national frontline charity for sex worker safety, National Ugly Mugs. In countries where this legal model has been introduced, neither sex workers nor sex worker-led organisations have been consulted. Clear documented harm to the most marginalised women has followed.

Criminalising advertising sexual services online has been proven to exacerbate harm for sex workers. This is shown by evidence from the United States where similar legislation (SESTA/FOSTA) was introduced in 2018.

This pandemic is an indication of what happens when sex workers’ incomes are taken away: women are forced into poverty.

The Nordic Model does not help victims of trafficking

Proponents of the Nordic Model claim that criminalising the purchase of sex will help victims of trafficking by reducing prostitution, and by extension trafficking. But 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. They may be trying to migrate and become trapped in abusive situations because people without secure immigration status have few to no rights. They may be trafficked into sexual exploitation through deception, coercion or force, or may choose to enter into sex work knowingly before a situation becomes exploitative later on, and they are unable to leave because, for example, they are threatened. The solution therefore is not to further criminalise sex work, just as other industries where trafficking occurs are not criminalised; but to ensure people have legal ways to migrate, have routes out of poverty, and are empowered to seek support from authorities without the fear of penalty such as detention, deportation or destitution.

The Nordic Model increases danger for sex workers

Evidence shows that the Nordic Model does nothing for the very groups it claims to protect. In the Republic of Ireland, violence against sex workers increased dramatically after similar legislation was introduced in 2017 (Northern Ireland implemented the law in 2015). According to Ugly Mugs Ireland, crimes against sex workers almost doubled in the two years following the introduction of the law. A 2020 study commissioned by HIV Ireland found that sex workers who experienced violence at work were increasingly reluctant to report to the police.

The Nordic Model does not ‘decriminalise’ sex workers

In countries that have brought in the Nordic Model, sex workers have not, as is often promised, been ‘decriminalised’. Brothel-keeping – which is defined as two or more people working together – remains a crime, forcing women to work alone or risk arrest. When police raid workplaces with the stated aim of arresting clients, it is repeatedly sex workers who are charged. This has happened in Ireland, Norway, Finland, and Sweden.

We firmly agree that penalties around outdoor work, usually for soliciting, should be repealed. However, when clients are criminalised, sex workers are forced to evade the police. If you are working outdoors, that might mean having to get into a client’s car too quickly, and not being able to negotiate price, condom use or boundaries. It might mean working in a more isolated area, increasing the risk of violence.

The Nordic Model penalises the most marginalised

Criminalising clients has been shown to increase violence for the most marginalised workers, the same workers often conflated with trafficked victims. With the fall in clients, sex workers are forced to say yes to dangerous clients and services they would otherwise say no to, just to survive. Sex workers are often living under multiple forms of marginalisation. Over-represented groups include women, single mothers, migrants, people of colour, disabled people, LGBT people, and people who have experienced poverty and homelessness.

While wealthier sex workers may emerge unscathed, it will be marginalised groups who, facing destitution, are forced to take on worse, more dangerous work.

Criminalising sex workers’ online presence is dangerous

Evidence shows that internet platforms have made working in the sex industry safer, allowing sex workers to share safety tips, lists of dangerous men, and screen potential clients. Despite claims by sex work prohibitionists that advertising websites only benefit third parties, online platforms allow more sex workers to work independently, taking control over their rates and services. Banning sex workers’ online presence also removes peer support and prevents labour organisation, resulting in an increase in the isolation of sex workers.

When the United States introduced the 2018 FOSTA/SESTA laws, online advertising platforms were shut down. Sex workers abruptly faced financial precarity; many were pushed into unsafe or exploitative working conditions. Many reported that the loss of their online presence made them more susceptible to labour exploitation and trafficking, or forced them to work outdoors. Research shows that the introduction of SESTA/FOSTA led to an increase in poverty, insecure housing, suicide, murder, isolation, and the deterioration of physical and mental health. Various sex worker-led organisations have spoken out about the dangers of FOSTA/SESTA.”