I’d like to add something I didn’t include in my original piece Diary of a Sex Tourist.
The fact that the sex workers I met are primarily concerned with safety and good working conditions is why most choose to work in brothels. D___, the woman who I became friends with, recently returned from working in a brothel in Curacao on a 3-month contract and she talks about how that place stands apart from other places she has worked — all clients have to present their passport to be photocopied; there is an alarm button in all rooms to call security; and there is a driver to take and pick up workers from outcalls, which has its supervision purposes but also helps ensure worker safety. This is what full decriminalization can look like. The photocopying of the passport is a pretty key deterrent for abusive behavior, and that is something impossible under john criminalization schemes like the Swedish model. Not to mention removing police, the primary perpetrators of abuse and assault against sex workers, from the picture.
But brothels are often made illegal when other aspects of prostitution are decriminalized, as in England, with the assumption they are inherently exploitative — even if two sex workers share a flat for security and mutual support, that is considered an illegal brothel in most countries, including those operating under the Swedish model. And where my friend worked, the driver who provided her security (and, in effect, earns his living off of prostitution) would be considered a pimp under the Swedish model. So it’s complicated and critical to talk with and listen to sex workers in order to understand how their world works so that efforts to help and protect them don’t actually harm and endanger them.
Another thing about brothels beyond the security they offer is the camaraderie among workers they offer. D___’s best friend to this day is a fellow sex worker she met at the brothel in Sosúa. In a job that is difficult and stigmatized and isolating, the social support fellow workers offer is important. Under full criminalization and the Swedish model, that’s prohibited. These among other reasons are why Amnesty International, in their draft policy, reject the Swedish model as not supporting the human rights of sex workers.