The Nordic model, the legal approach taken towards sex work in Sweden and Norway, is being spun by its supporters internationally, including those behind the Prostitution Narratives launch tonight, as being done in the interests of women in the sex industry. The reality of what it has actually done to Swedish and Norwegian sex workers has been very different, and it has had catastrophic consequences for those who have had to live under it. This is not a bug in the system, rather, it is an intrinsic feature: Ann Martin, the head of Sweden’s anti-trafficking unit and a key promoter of the Nordic model, told a journalist “I think of course the law has negative consequences for women in prostitution, but that’s also some of the effect that we want to achieve with the law.”
For all the rhetoric of its promoters, the Nordic model has made being a sex worker in Sweden much more dangerous. Sex workers who work in pairs for safety now risk arrest, so sex workers are forced to work alone – and predators know this. Sex workers cannot report violence to police, because they will be placed under surveillance and lose their livelihood from police trying to catch clients. Sex workers are at great risk of losing children due to the immense stigma towards them; in one notorious case, a Swedish court ruled that a man who was known to be violent was a better parent than a current sex worker. That court ruled that she could only see her child under supervision, and while at one such supervision, that man stabbed her to death. Policing human trafficking has become more difficult, because it is not differentiated from sex work, while the promised “income support programs” to assist workers out of the industry have not eventuated. The amount of sex workers has not gone down, yet their lives have gotten considerably worse as a result.
From 2007 to 2011, police in Oslo, Norway, specifically targeted women in the sex industry for forced evictions, in what was literally called “Operation Homeless”. In 2014 – after that had supposedly ended – nine Nigerian sex workers reported a horrifically violent rape, and police responded by instructing their landlord to evict them or face prosecution. In the same year, another group of migrant sex workers who reported a rape were deported from the country before they had even healed from their physical injuries, while police did not follow up on their rape. Oslo police continue to use the presence of condoms as evidence of sex work, leaving workers in fear of possessing them. The Norwegian government’s own 2014 analysis into the impact of the Nordic model stated “women in the street market report to have a weaker bargaining position and more safety concerns now than before the law was introduced”.
This is the reality of what the Nordic model, sought after by the editors of Prostitution Narratives, has done to sex workers in Sweden and Norway, as anti-sex work ideology was allowed to trump sex workers’ right to be free from violence and persecution. We will not let them do it to us.