thai model

The feminist debate on the sex trade has become polarised, heated and vicious. An event organised by the abolitionist organisation Space International in parliament on Wednesday called Shifting the Burden: A Symposium of Sex Trade Survivors will present evidence from 12 survivors of the sex trade from eight countries, including New Zealand, which decriminalised its sex trade in 2003. But there are women and men involved in prostitution, as well as profiteers, academics and so-called human rights campaigners who argue that the only way to reduce the harm within prostitution is to see it as a job like any other, and remove all laws that seek to reduce demand.

Feminist abolitionists, like myself, support the Nordic model. Under this legislation, buying or attempting to buy sex is criminalised, and the selling of sex is totally decriminalised. Additionally, support is available to those wishing to exit prostitution. This is no moralistic anti-sex law. The aim is to create a society in which commercialised, one-sided sexual gratification has no place, because women are no longer deemed saleable objects.

Since Sweden passed the law in 1999, several countries have followed. Norway and Iceland have passed the same laws, and similar legislation has been adopted in Canada, Northern Ireland and France. Governments in Ireland, Israel, Latvia and Lithuania are considering the law, and in 2014 the European parliament and the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe both passed recommendations that the Nordic model be implemented as the best way to tackle the sex trade across Europe.

Opponents of the Nordic model, such as the International Union of Sex Workersand the English Collective of Prostitutes, claim that criminalising any aspect of the sex trade, including pimping and brothel ownership, adversely affects those selling sex, because it deters them from reporting attacks to the police. But there is no robust, credible evidence to support these claims. In fact, there has not been one murder of a woman in prostitution by a pimp or punter since the law was implemented in Sweden, whereas in countries that have legalised or decriminalised the sex trade, such as Germany, the Netherlands and New Zealand, there have been numerous such incidents.

The reason pimps and brothel owners campaign for the normalisation and expansion of the sex trade is profit, but the British sex worker and activistLaura Lee has put forward arguments that prostitution is labour, and that the only harm to those involved comes from feminists and police officers.

Many who support blanket decriminalisation believe that this approach will benefit the women. But the media representatives of the sex workers’ rights movement are mainly atypical of those in prostitution. Decriminalisation makes sense for the minority of privileged folk involved.

When New Zealand introduced decriminalisation, there existed a mountain of evidence from the Netherlands that legalisation had failed. The sex workers’ rights lobbyists stopped promoting the “Dutch model” and turned to New Zealand. There is a fine line between legalisation and decriminalisation.

Legalisation of prostitution means that the state requires registration of women in brothels, compulsory health monitoring, and taxation. Decriminalisation is the removal of penalties for soliciting, pimping and brothel keeping. Pimps still exist, but become business managers, and brothels are rebranded as regular business.

Sabrinna Valisce, a keynote speaker at Shifting the Burden, was in prostitution in New Zealand before and after it was decriminalised. Valisce was an on-off volunteer for the New Zealand Prostitute Collective (NZPC) for 25 years and supported decriminalisation because she believed it would offer protection against abusive and exploitative brothel owners. But the opposite happened, according to Valisce, who is now a supporter of the Nordic model.

A New Zealand government-funded report from 2007 found that post-decriminalisation, brothel managers often pressure workers to provide “extra services” without condoms, but “penetrative vaginal and anal sex safe practices are strongly adhered to”.

Since the change in the law, brothel owners, not the women, set prices for services, and customers demand kissing and unsafe practices, because they had become emboldened, according to Valisce. Decriminalisation also led to an increase in people working in the sex trade, due to increased demand, and also to the emergence of the image of prostitution as empowering and glamorous through TV shows like Secret Diary of a Call Girl. When criminal sanctions are removed from sex establishments, it becomes the responsibility of health officials to carry out inspections. I have access to data on New Zealand obtained via the Official Information Act which shows that, aside from 12 that were conducted in 2003 in the first few weeks of the new legislation, only 11 inspections occurred across the whole of New Zealand until January 2015.

Police powers have been reduced under decriminalisation. Police are now forbidden to enter brothels if they receive intelligence that underage girls or trafficked women are being held, as they could be accused of harassment by brothel owners.

On the streets of Auckland during a recent research trip, I met a women sitting next to her Zimmer frame. It turned out she was in her early 50s, and said she was disabled because of a life in prostitution. I asked if her situation had improved since decriminalisation, and she told me “no”, because in her experience, the men who buy her feel entitled to do exactly what they want, in the same way they would if purchasing a hamburger. “The only thing that would help me is a way out”, she said.

Legitimising the sex trade by removing all criminal penalties for pimps, brothel owners and sex buyers helps no one but the exploiters.

Source: The Guardian: Decriminalising the sex trade will not protect its workers from abuse