The Nordic countries are often at least one step ahead of the rest of Europe when it comes to social progression. It’s perhaps unsurprising then, that their approach to prostitution – outlawing the purchase of sex – is seen by many in this country as fair, liberal, and forward-thinking. The people behind the Demand Change! campaign in particular, are adamant that the UK must adopt the Nordic Model if it is ever to see a fairer society for sex workers, and for women everywhere.
OBJECT and Eaves, the women’s welfare groups behind the Demand Change! campaign, refute the idea that prostitution is ever harmless. Rather, they argue that this industry of profoundly gendered sexual exploitation is not only harmful to the vulnerable people it involves, but also a cause and a consequence of wider-reaching gender issues: a society that says it is okay to buy women for sex will never eradicate discrimination against women.
For those in sympathy with sex workers, but uncomfortable with the idea of prostitution as a valid profession, the Nordic Model ticks the relevant boxes. It states unequivocally that it is not acceptable to use (normally) women for sexual gratification, but recognises that sex workers are not the ones that should shoulder the blame for the industry. Rather, it is the buyers that must “take responsibility of their exploitative actions.”
Of course, it can be argued that not all sex workers are in fact exploited, and those in favour of decriminalisation argue that when it comes to consenting sex between adults, there’s no place for criminal law. Indeed, Clause 14 of the Policing & Crime Bill states that it is illegal to pay for the sexual services of a prostitute that has been subjected to force. This has been the law since 2009, so why does Demand Change! feel that this must be altered to include all prostitutes? “Because,” says an Eaves representative (who did not wish to be named), “it is not a brave enough law. It’s too difficult to implement and it’s ineffective.”
Eaves’ position is that the argument that some prostitutes are willing, is weak. “While there may well be some that benefit from their work – that manage to buy a second home in the Cotswolds and avoid having their children taken from them,” their representative stated, “there are many more that need support”. And it is more than just the protection of exploited women that Demand Change! is fighting for – it is a different society down the line. “As with the change in the drink-drive limit and the legal age of buying tobacco, this would alter what is seen as acceptable for future generations.”
So while there is an imposition of morals in the Demand Change! campaign, Eaves believes that even if you feel selling sex should be allowed, decriminalisation would not mean an improvement in prostitutes’ welfare. “The brothels in Nevada and Amsterdam are not safe places. There are still attacks. It’s the pimps and brothel managers only that would prosper from decriminalistion. It would just give the green light to exploiters.”
But would the Nordic Model really be able to quash ‘the world’s oldest profession’? campaigners believes so: “The normative effect would remove this nonsense about “inevitability”. You wouldn’t say that poverty in Africa or race discrimination was inevitable – you’d look to a future in which that was eradicated,” the representative said.
Demand Change! is a strident campaign, certain that prostitution underpins far more gender-related issues, and that the Nordic Model is the only way forward. And with talks of outlawing the buying of sex in Northern Ireland getting serious, it seems likely that the rest of the UK won’t be long in following suit.