Solution to the Impossible?
A modern approach to an age-old problem.
Despite the fact that it is illegal, prostitution affects every community across the nation. It does not discriminate on basis of race, color, religion, sex or age. The commonly accepted estimate is that there are around one million prostitutes in the US. This estimate is an astonishing number considering that 92% of sex workers report the desire to leave the trade. Those seeking to exit prostitution fear criminalization. Uncertainty surrounding the consequences under current laws is one of the greatest worries of those who are trying to make a change. To protect and grant the rights sex workers are entitled to, we must decriminalize prostitution.
Let me be clear, I am not calling for complete decriminalization. I am proposing that we follow the Nordic model of decriminalization. Most simply put, the objective of this model is to make it legal to sell sex but illegal to buy it. It criminalizes johns that are purchasing sex but protects and offers support to those who are selling sex. Countries that have adopted this policy recognize that prostitution is a form of violence against women and girls by normalizing sexual exploitation. Whether prostitution is a consensual choice or trafficking, it hinders the advancement of gender equality.
The Nordic Model is an approach first adopted in Sweden in 1999. Due to its large success countries such as Norway, Iceland, Northern Ireland and Canada have followed suit. Since 1995 Sweden has cut street prostitution in half. Several reports claim that this is directly correlated with the 1999 legislation. Criminalizing the purchase of sex causes it to be unappealing for many. The punishments are often considered modest for the weight of the crime but they aim to erase the anonymity of the perpetrators. Common punishments include a small fine, as well as a name or photo released to the public. Johns that enable the sex industry to thrive are fearful of the consequences and feel as though that the gain isn’t worth the public humiliation. Surveys conducted by Swedish researchers conclude that since the introduction of the new legislation the amount of men that responded to have purchased sex decreased from 13.6 percent to 7.9 percent.
The Nordic Model is unique because it does not criminalize prostitutes. People engage in prostitution for many reasons. These include drug addiction, poverty, choice and fear of violence from a pimp. The model recognizes these as valid reasons and will not punish someone based on their circumstances. This allows for people to identify their pimps and johns without fear of prosecution. If wanted, it also gives sex workers the freedom to come forward and request help.
An additional benefit of the Nordic Model is that it offers counseling to sex workers in the industry. Counseling is critical because 67% of those victimized in the sex industry have met criteria to be diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a mental condition which is caused by an individual having experienced overwhelmingly, horrific life events. Higher occurrences of depression have also been found in sex workers. Improving the mental health of these women is a priority of the Nordic Model.
Another unique aspect of the Nordic Model is that it offers exit strategies to those looking to get out of prostitution. Exiting is a very difficult and complex process that often takes 5 to 6 attempts to be successful. This is mostly due to social stigma but also a lack of support and training. Development of dedicated services and programs to educate, train and employ former sex workers is crucial. Having a criminal conviction for prostitution related offense is a large hinder for those in the process of rebuilding their lives. Instead of criminalizing people for the circumstances of their past the Nordic Model offers resources and opportunities to those trying to break the cycle.
Few argue that the Nordic model isn’t promoting the most equality. They claim that women aren’t being held responsible for their choices. They don’t feel it it is fair to put all of the blame on those who purchase it. Their proposed solution is complete decriminalization that punishes neither the seller nor the buyer. Legalization has been tested in Germany, New Zealand and most famously in the Netherlands. Without fear of being punished the demand for sexual services increases as does trafficking to meet the demand.
Discussion of adopting the Nordic Model has shifted public opinion on prostitution which is revolutionary in itself. When Sweden first adopted the model in 1999 the taboo on discussing prostitution lifted. The paradigm shift in Sweden caused countries to analyze their existing laws regarding prostitution and consider revising them. People began to think critically about the effects prostitution has on society.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a perfect solution to combat an industry that has developed and existed for centuries. Considering the current state of our society the Nordic Model is the most effective solution because it promotes equality and offers support to those who need it the most. It may not be perfect, but it is necessary to revise our current laws to some degree, because it is obvious that they are ineffective. Legalization however, is incredibly radical and brings other issues. Adopting the Nordic Model is a pragmatic, yet efficient solution.