Debating the "Swedish Model"

Submitted by martin on 8 December, 2020 - 3:01 Author: Amy; Apsi Witana
Poster on Swedish Model from South Africa

Apsi Witana writes (Solidarity 572): "Economic pressure and a reduced client pool also increased a client’s bargaining power — it meant they were now able to haggle for cheaper prices and demand unsafe practices or acts which a worker may have felt the need to accept out of desperation."

Many prostitutes have to deal with this anyway. It sounds like what the Swedish model does is make the minority of high-class prostitutes who have chosen their line of work have to deal with what the vast majority of prostitutes who are already desperate have always had to deal with. Boo hoo. The countless women who are victimized by being coerced or steered this line of work because of misfortune shouldn't have to pay for the tiny minority's choice of preferred profession.

Not to mention, there will always be a call for cheap, unprotected sex, just the way the client likes it. This is the case with any commodity. Customers want to pay less and get more. There will always be prostitutes stuck at the bottom of this hierarchy, whose bodies end up being the "low quality" product. Legalising the entirety of sex work socially destigmatises men using other human's bodies in this way, and will increase the demand for all prostitution, while legitimising prostitution as a profession for (mostly) girls to enter. This will also create a greater reason to coerce girls into this line of work . Both the demand and the supply will go up, and pricing will become a competitive market for who can do the most, cheapest.

The Swedish model could definitely be tweaked, for example, to not push eviction onto prostitutes and to better guard against police harassment, but that doesn't mean throwing out the whole caboodle is the right answer.

And this is a crappy analogy: "Similar punitive approaches have backfired in the 'war on drugs' and in the huge human cost of criminalising abortion."

"The War on Drugs" heavily penalised, with extensive jail time, the victims of drug use - those with addictions. Doing drugs was illegal, having drugs on you was illegal, and selling drugs was illegal. Comparing johns to drug purchasers is inaccurate. Drug users/addicts are often victims of society - chemically dependent, emotionally troubled, stuck in the lower castes of society and unable to dig themselves out of the situation they're in.

Are we really going to label Johns (especially those paying for high-priced prostitutes (as we're hoping all prostitutes will be paid well) as "victims of society?" Prostitutes on the other hand, often are victims. They also frequently use and are addicted to drugs. If you want to compare drug purchasers/users to prostitutes, sure, but then The War on Drugs analogy makes no sense, since the Swedish Model decriminalises the victim of society - the prostitute.

The abortion analogy is inaccurate for similar reasons. Women having abortions in secret were often the victims of their circumstance. Again - Johns aren't victims.

New Zealand's model hasn't lowered levels of prostitution. The Swedish model has. And there are controversies as to whether NZ's less than great results are even accurate. Things could be worse than reported. Underage prostitution is technically legal, and therefore able to be taken advantage of. There's unforeseen complications, such as in Manukau.

There's no perfect solution, but full legalisation isn't anywhere close to it.


Amy, I think you've misinterpreted a lot here. What I've written does not pertain to protecting clients in any way - their treatment is inconsequential in the fight for sex workers' rights, and calls for decriminalisation (note - decriminalisation, not legalisation) should not be focused on them. I agree with you, clients are not victims, nor should they ever be treated as such. Our concerns lie with the knock-on effects of criminalising them, namely violence towards sex workers at the hands of dangerous clients and police.

Your point about "high-class prostitutes" is sadly the complete opposite of the reality of this law in practice - the few sex workers who support the Nordic model are the "high-class" workers you speak of who are able to charge far more by creating a niche in an underground market; it is the most marginalised workers who suffer the most under any form of criminalisation. Those who are coerced or pressured into sex work because of financial struggles are criminalised by proxy, fined and charged for brothel-keeping when simply working together for safety and migrant workers face deportation when their working flats are raided.


• This exchange is also posted here.


Submitted by kellyjaderogers on Sun, 03/01/2021 - 15:24

The key and simple question at the heart of debate around sex work is: what best empowers sex workers to fight for themselves? The answer is unequivocally recognising their work as work and giving them the rights and means to organise: against the bosses in brothels and clubs, for better pay and safer conditions.

The answer is not, no matter which way you look at it, to make their work more dangerous and make it more difficult for workers to seek help or exit the industry, which is precisely what the Nordic Model does. In her article ‘No to the ‘Swedish model’’, Apsi Witana makes this point well: the Nordic model drives sex workers away from brothers, where they are safer, onto to the streets by laws against brothel-keeping. It makes clients less willing to hand over information that can be used to identify them. It has led to increased surveillance and harassment by police. It offers no protection to sex workers from eviction or any support for those hoping to exit the industry. The list goes on… Meanwhile, plenty of evidence suggests that the Nordic Model has not led to a decline in sex work, its primary aim.

In any case, measuring the success or failure of a policy only in terms of a decline in sex work misses the point. There is, afterall, nothing inherently wrong with money exchanging hands when people have consensual sex. Why not, instead, ask: how many sex workers are members of trade unions? Have conditions in workplaces improved? Are sex workers able to conduct their work under conditions of their own choosing e.g. to set up their own brothels in their homes without fear of reprisal from their landlord or the police? Has pay improved across the industry? These are much more useful measures of whether we are truly helping sex workers stay safe and, ultimately, leave the industry - if they choose.

Socialists and feminists must concern themselves with redistributing power, and therefore wealth and the freedom to live well, to the working class. We must, then, listen to sex worker-led organisations when they say no to the Nordic Model, fight instead for sex work to be decriminalised and support those sex workers who are already organising in their workplaces, in spite of the risks.

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