Prostitution is the selling of sexual services in exchange for money or some other benefit, for example – housing, gifts, goods.
It is not illegal to sell sex. It is illegal to buy sex in Ireland as of 2017. Human trafficking, pimping, brothel keeping & other activities related to organised prostitution are also illegal.
Countries that have implemented the Nordic model (also known as the Equality Model) have seen reductions in sex trafficking and street prostitution, attitudinal changes, better exit services for women involved and lower numbers of men purchasing sex, amongst other successes.
Take Sweden for example. In a 2008 review of the law, carried out by the Swedish government, street prostitution had halved since the introduction of the law in 1999 and there was no evidence to suggest the situation for those in prostitution had worsened or that prostitution had ‘gone underground’. The Swedish National Crime Police confirmed that the law had acted as a deterrent to sex traffickers and reports of sex buying had decreased from 13.6% in 1996 to 7.9% in 2008.
From a gender equality standpoint, a Swedish survey revealed a marked change in attitudes to purchasing sex, coinciding with the new law. Support for the law (which the Swedish public had opposed originally) had increased to around 70-80% and public attitudes to women in prostitution had improved. Public support was strongest among youth, suggesting that the law conveyed new social values and norms in sexual interactions between men and women.
As a result, countries like Iceland, Norway, France, Ireland and Canada have followed suit and implemented the Equality Model in their own countries. There is a growing realisation globally that prostitution is incompatible with gender equality and human rights. This is due to the inherent harm of a highly gendered sex trade (in almost every case, men buying sexual access to other individuals, primarily females) and the danger of the commodification of sexual consent. There is also a high proportion of migrant, marginalised and disadvantaged communities present in the sex trade, as the system of prostitution itself is held in place by structural inequalities.
The Nordic Model was approved as the best model to address prostitution by the European Parliament in 2014 (The Honeyball Report) and by The Council of Europe in 2014 as well as a number of other bodies – see our 2018 Annual Report for more.
We advocate for the decriminalisation of women only. We do not believe that women (or indeed) anyone in prostitution themselves should be criminalised.
We do advocate for the criminalisation of the purchase of sex (Nordic/Equality model). This position is informed by our frontline work with women, who have experienced inordinate levels of violence, abuse, coercion and harm in the sex trade. We do not believe sex is a legitimate form of work for women or that the sex trade can be made a safe place for women to ‘work’.
Countries that have fully legalized and decriminalized prostitution have made the situation worse for individuals in prostitution. These regimes have proven to be failures, specifically as decriminalisation results in an expanded sex trade, a resulting increase in sex trafficking, criminality and sexual exploitation to meet demand and fewer exit options and services for women in prostitution who truly need them (as prostitution is deemed simply a form of ‘work’ under decriminalisation). Read more about the effects of legislation on prostitution here.
Firstly, there is no credible data to suggest that violence increases with the Nordic model legislation in place. It makes no logical sense. The Nordic Model has little to do with decisions made by perpetrators and buyers to commit acts of violence against women in prostitution. In fact, the balance of power between sex buyers and women shifts under the Nordic model. Women are decriminalised in the prostitution transaction and men are now criminalised, so they are at increased risk of detection by police, if they commit violent acts against women.
Perpetrators of sexual violence should solely be held to account for their actions. We have to confront the violence in the sex trade, not use the laws around prostitution as a scapegoat to absorb the blame for what is male violence against women, in almost every instance.
Secondly, violence is inherent to the sex trade. The women we support at Ruhama (reflected in international research also) have experienced enormous levels of violence, rape, sexual assault and harassment in the sex trade, regardless of the country they operated in or the legislation they operated under. This has much to do with the presence of organised crime in prostitution also. Where a sex trade exists, there will be violence against those in prostitution, carried out by violent individuals, organisers and sex buyers.
Firstly, few of the women we work with refer to themselves as ‘sex workers’. They are more likely to use the term ‘selling sex’ or ‘escorting’ and a high proportion do not see this as ‘work’, more as a temporary means to an end (financial) that they become involved in. Others are, or have been, under the strict control of pimps or traffickers. With this in mind, it would be a disservice to the women we work with and their experiences to term what they view as abusive, as ‘work’.
Secondly, our policy position is informed by working with women in prostitution since 1989. We’ve seen the well documented harms of the sex trade at play – violence, abuse, coercion, dissociation; the list goes so on. Having seen this and worked with women who have experienced such, we do not believe that sex is a legitimate form of work or that the sex trade can be made a safe place for women to ‘work’. To frame prostitution as ‘work’ also negates the need for exit supports when, as outlined above, we know that most people seek to exit prostitution.