A group of UK politicians have made the headlines by calling for prostitution to be legalised while increasing the already punitive penalties that exist for pimps. At a glance this headline suggests that at last MPs are considering what every liberal and right minded person has been demanding for years, that sex work be decriminalised and regulated and the sex worker recognised and protected by the law. The truth however is that this headline in the Independent is an insidious and disingenuous lie.
What these MPs truly want to impose is what has become known as the “Swedish model.” The Swedish model means criminalising the client, an approach which independent academic evidence illustrates has nothing to to do with either legalising or decriminalising sex work. It is social cleansing, that is removing the sex worker from society
The Swedish model is social engineering based on a radical feminist ideology that sex work perpetuates gender inequality and that women within sex work, even if doing sex work willingly, are victims of male aggression and oppression. Men, this legislation insists, need to be coerced into behaving in a manner that the state believes is correct. The Swedish model effectively employs state violence to punish both the sex worker and the client for doing something that the state believes is wrong even though it is consensual between two consenting adults.
Those in favour of this model however persist with pushing the lie that if the Swedish model is adopted the sex worker can no longer be arrested for soliciting, will no longer receive a criminal record for selling sex and therefore is legalised. This may be true but it is never the less a perverse understanding of what sex workers and I believe the general public expect from true legalisation or decriminalisation.
To put the Swedish model in context let me explain the legal situation as it is in the UK now with how the Swedish model operates in Sweden and those few nations who have adopted it and more importantly what sex workers mean when they talk about decriminalisation.
At present in England and Wales (virtually similar laws exist in Scotland and Northern Ireland) the sex worker is already legal. A sex worker can sell sex and anyone can buy sex. The only time selling sex is illegal is when a sex worker solicits for sex on the street. In respect of clients kerb crawling is also illegal and if it proven that the sex worker has been trafficked or coerced then the client again faces prosecution if caught. Since the vast majority of sex workers work indoors and the vast majority are not trafficked or coerced (despite the propaganda paraded as bogus fact by anti sex work agitators) the vast majority of sex workers are already legal, not criminalised and neither are their clients. It is also illegal for two or more sex workers to work together, ie two sex workers sharing premises to share costs, companionship, and for safety. This is classed as running a brothel which carries severe penalties. Similarly the existing law prohibits a sex worker from employing a third party to represent them or to offer protection etc. This means that agents and those who operate brothels can face prosecution with again already existing very severe penalties.
This in brief is the law as it currently stands in the UK. When sex workers say they want decriminalisation it is these laws which they refer to and which they want removed from the statute books and replaced by legislation that treats sex work as work and sex businesses the same as any other business. Sex workers ask legislators to look at the New Zealand model which allows upto four sex workers to work together without a licence in a private property. Any brothel with more than four sex workers has to apply for a licence and is subject to the usual rules and regulations of any other public service provider. This is real legalisation or decriminalisation and is very different to the so called legalisation offered by the Swedish model.
The truth about the Swedish model is that sex workers continue to be forced to work alone. Two or more sex workers working together face prosecution for brothel keeping. If a lone sex worker rents a flat their landlord faces prosecution and the police regularly inform landlords if they know of a sex worker living or working from premises they own, therefore forcing the landlord to evict the sex worker, effectively putting them out of business or worse making the sex worker homeless. If a sex worker or workers employ a third party to represent them then that third party faces the likely hood of prosecution. The sex worker is not therefore in any way decriminalised or treated as a normal worker. Advocates of course argue that the real focus of the Swedish model is to punish clients. To punish the clients of sex workers however means that the sex worker has to be coerced to give evidence, this means that the sex worker has to be pursued and harassed by the police in order for them to catch the client. The truth is that the Swedish model is abut insuring that the sex worker looses work, and is effectively starved into submission by the state. Since sex work is considered by the Swedish government an act of a victim then the state has either an obligation to rescue that victim or if that victim persists in doing something the state disapproves of then the state feels obliged to act to alienate, stigmatise and to punish that person. One favoured action is to remove the children of a known sex worker. The case of Petite Jasmine illustrates the murderous consequences of this state cruelty. To further increase pressure upon the sex worker, despite their notional legality, sex workers under the Swedish model are not allowed to claim any state benefits unless they give up sex work even though they are obliged to pay tax. Public servants, from dentists to doctors and hotel staff are expected to inform on suspected sex workers which means even the buying of and carrying of large numbers of condoms could lead to suspicion and being reported to the police. The Swedish state encourages the censure, alienation and stigmatisation of the sex worker to coerce the sex worker to stop selling sex.
The result of the Swedish model however, despite the whole apparatus of the state being targeted upon their abolition. has not been a reduction in sex work as claimed by its advocates but rather the silencing of sex workers and the enforced invisibility of sex work. This has had dangerous consequences. Support agencies, offering safe sex advice as well as support for a host of other issues, including exiting sex work and obtaining evidence of coercion, now find it difficult or even impossible to contact sex workers. In their place criminals have moved into what they naturally understand to be an exploitable market, by offering safe places to work, safe advertising, security against dangerous so called clients who now target sex workers to rob and to rape because they know fear of the law means that it is unlikely for sex workers to report acts of violence. In short sex work has moved into the shadow world of criminality and fear.
The Swedish model advocates know all of this and yet persist in the lie that this legislation protects the sex worker and they even claim that it has diminished sex trafficking even though there is no academically accredited evidence to support this and in fact anecdotal evidence suggests the contrary. The truth, which they know, is that the Swedish model has resulted in increased alienation, increased stigma, increased criminal involvement and the abandonment of the sex worker as an equal citizen deserving of protection and rights the same as everyone else.
I do not believe that this increase in persecution of the sex worker is really what we want in the United Kingdom. I do not believe this is truly what the British public wants for their mothers, daughters and sons who sell sex. This is why it is so important that the British people understand that when Swedish model advocates adopt the language of legalisation they are lying and being duplicitous because in reality what they want is the opposite, they want the complete alienation and segregation of the sex worker and to deny them rights and equality in the eyes of the law.
I urge the British public, even if you dislike the idea of prostitution, to never the less insist that your MPs vote for justice and not for laws that strengthen already pernicious laws that deny basic human rights to sex workers. I urge those members of the public who are genuinely concerned about trafficking and about coercion to remind themselves that historically rights have never evolved from further criminalisation and alienation and stigma. Rights evolve only when the marginalised are given the protection of the law and are enabled to defend themselves and to evolve legislation that recognises, consent, autonomy and choice. Sex workers do not want special rights or considerations but the same rights as any other worker in the United Kingdom. They do not want the Swedish model or further state oppression and aggression.