We live in a free society where consenting adults are entitled to exercise their sexual freedom in any way they choose. Whether we like it or not, criminalising the buying and selling of sex is an attempt to legislate morality and exercise control over private sexual behavior. Sex workers are human beings and selling sex is their business. Sex workers must be entitled to the same labour rights as other workers and the same human rights as other people.1 It is vulnerability, not sex work, which creates victims.
1. The Swedish Model of sex work makes it illegal to buy sexual services, but not to sell them.
2. The model has been adopted by Norway, Iceland and France. Labour MEP Mary Honeyball wants the UK to adopt the same policy, but she has her facts and figures wrong.
3. So wrong that 560 NGOs and civil society organisations, as well as 86 academics and researchers have written to her to voice their objections. They urge other EU member states not to criminalise the purchase of sex.
3. The argument in support of the Swedish model is that attacking the demand to buy sex is a method of reducing the sex industry in general, and trafficking in particular. However there is no credible research to support the idea that the Swedish Model reduces selling, buying or trafficking.2 There is however, a lot of research to show that the conflation of sex work and trafficking is a conscious attempt to prevent people from voluntarily migrating to do sex work. 3
4. Instead of improving the situation, a Swedish National Police Board report shows that the policy has driven sex work underground and made sex workers even more vulnerable. It has also lead to an expansion of indoor sex work. For example, Thai massage parlours offering sexual services in the Stockholm area increased from 90 in 2009, to 250 by 2011/2012. 4
5. Current UK law does need to be reassessed to improve safety for sex workers. In the UK sex workers are forced to work alone, a regulation which dramatically increases the risk of them being subjected to rape, violence and robbery. 5
6. Four out of five female sex workers in the UK work indoors. 6 Decriminalisation would enable these women to work from premises in teams of two or more which would be safer for them. The same is true for male sex workers.
7. Decriminalising the sale of sex would also empower sex workers to use the justice system to seek redress for abuses and discrimination. 7
8. Removing the threat of criminal penalties would enable sex workers to work with police, to facilitate the enforcement of anti-trafficking laws. 8,9
9. It would also encourage more open access to health, legal and social services. 10
10. Sex work challenges current social and cultural norms in the same way that homosexuality, illegitimacy, anal sex and even masturbation once did. We changed the way we thought about those issues and its about time that we changed the way we think about sex work too.
1. Harcourt C, Egger S and Donovan B (2005). Sex work and the law. Sexual Health 2:121-128.
2. Dodillet, Susanne and Petra Östergren, The Swedish Sex Purchase Act: Claimed Success and Documented Effects, Conference paper, 2011.
3. Agustin, L. (2006, August) The Disappearing of a Migration Category,Migrants Who Sell Sex, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies.
4. The Swedish National Police Board, Situation Report 13 “Trafficking in human beings for sexual and other purposes” for the year 2011)
5. Bedford v. Canada, 2010 ONSC 426413
6. Scambler, G., & Paoli, F. (2008). Health work, female sex workers and HIV/AIDS: Global and local dimensions of stigma and deviance as barriers to effective interventions. Social Science & Medicine,
7. Harcourt C, Egger S and Donovan B (2005). Sex work and the law. Sexual Health 2:121-128.
8. Harcourt C et al. (2010). The decriminalization
of sex work is associated with better coverage of health promotion programs for sex workers.
Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 34(5): 482-486.
9. United States Department of State,Trafficking in Persons Report (2010),
10. Shannon K and Csete J. Violence, condom negotiation and HIV/STI risk among sex workers. Journal of the American Medical Association 304(5):573-74.