Our Bodies, Our Selves.

Pop quiz! You are a sex worker living in a country that has adopted the Nordic model. Which of these forms of evidence-gathering would you prefer? You may pick one.

a. Condom-possession. Prepare to have your safer-sex precautions produced in court as evidence that a commercial sex act was on the cards. 

b. The police non-consensually video your sex life. Y’know, clandestinely. 

c. The police conduct an intimate physical examination. (Does this feel a bit like sexual assault? Shush there, you with your false consciousness. Your consensual sex life is rape; whereas this is for your own good.)

This is of course a trick question, because generally in jurisdictions that have adopted the Nordic model, all of these forms of evidence-gathering are used. (There’s a fun add-on to option (a) which is that, in Sweden, even distributing condoms can be seen as “encouraging prostitution”. Dodillet and Ostergren observe that this “makes it difficult for the authorities to utilise harm reduction strategies” [p4], which, well, yeah.)

If I raise these issues with someone who supports the Nordic model, I mostly get ignored, or accused of ‘scaremongering’. (Let word go forth: the new feminist response to a woman who is telling you about her fears of sexual assault, is to accuse her of ‘scaremongering’. #ibelieveher, unless she’s a sex worker or our politics differ, apparently.) So where’ve I got these preposterous ideas from?

Well, the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland responded to Trish Godman’s 2010 Bill by expressing “concerns” over whether or not “intimate forensic medical examinations” (p1) would be justifiable. (I think it’s safe to say that the official ACPOS response to a parliamentary consultation is going to be the nicer, more moderate face of law enforcement – so much more friendly than the police officer who recently responded to a sex worker trying to report a rape by saying, “what you did was prostitution”, and logging “no crime”. Those are the people who’ll be translating ACPOS’ “concerns” about “justifiableness” into day-to-day conviction-hunting. I’d have concerns.)

Let’s see what happens where these laws are already in place.

Women who sell sex in Sweden are routinely filmed without their consent while engaging in sex acts (p4) – as if that’s somehow not massively fucked up a huge violation; more on this in a bit – while sex workers in Norway report that the new law makes them feel criminalised (subsection 3.3.2). In Chicago, the ‘end demand’ approach that claims to target clients sees the arrest of a disproportionately large number of transgender women of colourwho are then mis-gendered and accused of buying sex. (A particularly vile irony, given how frequently trans* women of colour are harassed in the street by law enforcement. “A report on Latin trans women in Los Angeles … found that two thirds of participants received verbal harassment from police officers. Twenty-one percent reported physical assault and twenty-three percent sexual assault“, and often this harassment is premised on the assumption that they must be selling sex. Racist trans*misogyny: where you really can’t fucking win.)

In this study, women and girls in the sex trade tell researchers that the police are the number one source of violence and abuse, which isn’t that surprising given that this comes from the same state (Illinois) where ‘end demand’ campaigners succeeded in increasing the penalties for the buyers … oh, and sellers – of sex. Victim-centred! Back in Europe, police forces in Sweden and Norway have reported that the laws against clients have made gathering evidence against abusers more difficult – possibly because the Swedish and Norwegian states are so keen to ‘rescue’ (migrant) sex workers, that when these victims of patriarchy are discovered, they’re deported so quickly that their clients haven’t even come to trial (p4). Meagan Morris, a researcher specialising in law enforcement and the sex industry, notes that even supposedly “victim-centred” approaches tend to disproportionately hurt women.

Yes, the police and feminist (ha) campaigners are two different entities, and women’s groups can’t control what the police will do. But since that’s the case, it might behove those who support the Nordic model to pause and think before arguing for legislation that bestows further police power over demographics that experience multiple forms of marginalisation – much of the sharp end of which is already at the hands of the police. Actually, though, I don’t think that arguing for these laws comes from a place of privileged ignorance – I think its worse than that, and here’s two examples of why coming up next.

Let Meagan Morris’ findings about the disproportionate hurt to women even in supposedly “victim-centred” contexts steep in your mind a little, as we refresh the content of the Skarhead report (Sweden’s assessment of the success of the law). Particularly the bit where sex workers reporting that the law has increased stigma against them is registered as a good thing (“for people who are still being exploited in prostitution, the above negative effects of the ban that they describe must be viewed as positive” [p23]) … because stigma might discourage people from entering the sex industry. (‘Stig-ma, noun. That thing which hurts us, by legitimising and perpetuating the view that we are less than human, degraded, or dirty. Strongly linked to violence’.) ‘Victim-centred’ approaches seem to really love stigma, actually, as this report from a ‘John School’ illustrates: “presenters cautioned participants that ‘drug addicted prostitutes… have stabbed their clients with AIDS infected needles‘”. Thanks, ‘end demand’ campaigners! That’s not problematic at all!

To return briefly to the issue of Scandinavian police forces clandestinely filming sex acts, I think what really fucking grinds my gears about this one is that proponents of the Nordic model often think that all pornography is violence. But apparently filming sex workers – without their consent – is fine. It seems like a microcosm of their whole analysis: in their rush to label everything as abuse, they end up causing real abuse to be perpetrated in the pursuit of prosecuting consenting sex. And also sex workers don’t matter.

I think I’ve shown fairly clearly that there are lots of good reasons why sex workers don’t trust the police, even in jurisdictions that are ostensibly “victim-centred” or allegedly focused on “targeting the client”, and therefore why the onus needs to be on those who want to eradicate to the sex industry through the intervention of the state to show they’ve thought about these issues. Y’know. At all. (I’m not the only sex worker in the UK to not trust the police, either – the numbers from National Ugly Mugs show that while 99% of reportees are happy to have their report shared anonymously with other sex workers, only 27% allow their information to be passed on to the police. Prohibitionist campaigners in Scotland wouldn’t know this, of course, because none of them could be bothered to come to the UK NSWP meeting in Aberdeen for the Ugly Mugs training session. As I said on twitter, giving a fuck so much more is the slogan of the revolution.) And that being concerned that the police will abuse their power isn’t exactly ‘scaremongering’, since it happens everywhere, all. the. time.

In a sense, this is a slightly ancillary issue: most of the terrible things that the Nordic model does to sex workers are achieved by increasing our desperation and thus our vulnerability to those who pose as clients. I’m just very struck by how little meaningful response I get when I bring this stuff up. I almost kind of want someone to tell me to my face that they think this kind of police power, and these methods of evidence-gathering, are okay. Because at least that would entail acknowledging that this stuff happens, and I actually think that pretending it doesn’t – that it isn’t even a possibility – is more horrible to hear than that you sort-of deserve it (in a ‘collateral-damage-in-the-wider-battle against patriarchy’, kind-of way).

Like, be proud of your politics, and their effects, then. Go on. Defend them. I’m listening. I’ve been listening for a while, but apparently no one’s got anything to say on this.

27 thoughts on “Our Bodies, Our Selves.

  1. I am also keen to hear a defence of these effects, or at least for ‘end demand’ campaigners to admit that they’re fine with them. Write a post about any other aspect of sex work, and they’re liable to jump in and derail it with a debate on whether the industry ought to exist at all. Write a post about the harm caused by the Nordic model, sit back and watch the tumbleweed blow past.

    • Because reading the research that enables you to discuss these types of issues constitutes looking at “the science”, which, per my last post, is A TOOL OF THE PATRIARCHY. (That ws what the follow-up tweet to the one that I posted said. ‘Science’ (research?) IS PATRIARCHY.

  2. Hi, I am writing this form Norway. I have so much to say about this… In Sweden, Iceland and Norway the “sex purchase” law has been effective for years, and it is ruining the countries! The curse is spreading to other countries and it has to be stopped!Evidently, in Norway, there are more sex workers now than ever before – and of course they face massive stigmatisation from society because of the law (more than ever).Also, the business has been driven more or less underground leaving the workers more exposed to brutality and trafficking… The “good” clients with the best of intentions avoid seeing sex workers because of fear of the police, while the more violent types will take bigger risks, and this affects the workers.
    The warnings that this scenario would pan out were massive and were expressed from different groups / panels and even politicians before the law was passed. The sex workers were literally begging the (feminist-ridden) socialist government NOT to go through with it, but alas…The female MPs had the men by their balls… No one dared to speak up at the crucial moment. The feminist MPs were too busy with “saving the fallen” – trying to force them into other types of jobs. They actually offered sex workers a course in nail design (!)to change their choice occupation. What fu**** insolence! I am so insulted by their “all knowing” behaviour and condescending attitude!
    So, with a slight majority the government passed the law from January 1, 2009. A tragedy!
    Luckily, there are political parties that oppose this law, and if there is a change of Government in 2013, the law will be declared void. May this day come quickly!I don’t want children to be growing up in a country that is filled with narrowminded and moralist laws!:

    While I was “rummaging” the Internet the other day, I found this stage play called “Modern Time Castration” (http://pennygelder.com). It is a philosophical dialougue of some sorts, and it has a very harsh (but I dare say true) take on the reasons / individuals behind the law being passed in Norway. It may seem a dauting task to read as it is extensive – but I promise it’s well worth it as no guilty party is left off the hook:)
    On the page, there are also links to articles and websites clearly advocating the rights of sex workers.It even has a link to a philosophical article (published in Journal of Medical Ethics) called “Is prostitution Harmful?” (http://jme.bmj.com/content/early/2012/08/27/medethics-2011-100367.full.pdf+html) where the philosopher Ole M. Moen brilliantly and logically fends off all presuppositions about sex work.

    I don’t know who the stagewright Penny Gelder is or where she resides, but she is clearly VERY angry at the politicians, the bigotry and the violation such a law brings about. So, if you’re interested here’s the link: http://www.pennygelder.com

    Since it is a royalty free manuscript, I guess it is alright to post the link or print the play where ever you see fit.

    Spread the word and keep up the good fight against evilness!

    All the best,

    • Thank you for this very extensive comment! I’m really pleased to hear that if the govt changes in 2013, the law will change. I saw an encouraging article about an Oslo politician who’d looked at the evidence since the sex purchasing law, seen more violence and more HIV transmission, and was therefore arguing that the law should be repealed. Aha, here’s a link: http://www.thelocal.no/page/view/rip-up-prostitution-law-says-top-oslo-politician – so I’m delighted to hear that that really could be in the cards. The Swedish govt is very explicit about what sees as its mission to export the law, so to have it rejected on the basis of the observed effects right there in Scandinavia would be amazing.

  3. Greetings from Norway!
    I just wanted to post a comment about the very recent decision the Danish Government made: the refusal to implement the Swedish Model.This is extremely good news. Their Minister of Justice, Morten Bødskov, openly critisized the law and it’s effects in the Nordic countries, and I really hope this sends out some serious signals to the rest of Europe.

    Best wishes,

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  6. You’re talking about evidence gathering. It’s thing of the past. Where police responds to the crime – aka reactive policing. Nowadays police are adopting and shifting to new policing strategies like intelligence led policing, problem oriented policing, third party policing, safe community initiatives, proactive policing.
    What is happening to you sex workers are called disruption tactics where measures are implemented to hit criminal like a mac truck from every direction making his everyday life a hell. All agencies participate and get involved. If police has intelligence about crime, but no evidence they can implement disruption tactics. Now comes the reliability of intelligence and who defines the problem. Police is just following orders, but everyone knows that corruption and abuse is possible.

  7. The Indonesian government is now proposing to introduce the Swedish model. OPSI, the Indonesian sex workers group held a protest against it at the official World AIDS Day event in Jakarta. In Asia and the Pacific its being pushed by USAID as part of a ‘model trafficking law’ but in many cases criminalizes the buying and selling of sex, but puts sex workers in compulsory ‘rescue’ centers instead of jail. At least with jail you get a release date though. When you’re ‘rescued’ you’re locked up until you die (no health care in the centers, including for HIV+ sex workers) or someone decides you’ve been rehabilitated….

  8. Hello Molly, I made my way here upon your invitation to me over at Kate Gould’s HuffPost article. You raise some good points here, and I can’t imagine any abolitionists being on board with the police tactics you’ve laid out here. There are good reasons not to trust police in general, and new laws (of any kind) don’t magically make the abuse of power — and general ignorance — within policing go away. I’m personally not a fan of The Law anyway, I think it’s a very narrow framework of right and wrong that mostly only responds to problems after the fact of injury/injustice, with very little (if any) work done to address the roots of societal problems.

    I hear a lot of abolitionists say that the Nordic model is just a start to ending sex trade demand, but that other factors have to accompany it, a major one being, as XLondonCallGirl said in the comments section of that HuffPost article, providing sustainable routes out of prostitution, which is a big undertaking that requires work and resources from many different sources.

    So as I understand it, you are a sex worker by complete and satisfied choice and don’t want out, right? As you probably know, abolitionists say 9 out of 10 women want out — and I mean abolitionist voices who aren’t scholars or non-prostituted feminists or others far removed from the sex trade (though they say it too) — I am talking about exited abolitionist women. Do you have any ideas for solution(s) for *both* groups’ needs to be met? Women like you who want to stay in it, and your sisters who are in it, want out, but don’t see or feel there is a way out because they’re too busy dissociating and/or drugging and whatever else it takes for them to just survive their reality?

    Sincerely & Respectfully,

    p.s. If there existed non-sex work that you enjoyed doing, and that paid the same as what you make in the sex trade, would you want/take it?

      • Great, looking forward to it, and no rush of course, I know how busy life gets. I’d also be interested to hear your views about the demand side, which many (exited) abolitionist voices bring our attention to and say that is the real issue — the men who create the demand for prostitution and the violence, sadism and torture that fuels it (just in different degrees), which I understand is more the rule than the exception. I assume since you are pro-sex trade that your experiences are different, so I’m wondering what you think of your sisters whose experiences are different. Here again it seems to me that laws don’t address the root of the problem — the thoughts and feelings creating a hatred for women that these men then go and act out on the women they pay.

        Looking forward to your thoughts and thank you for your openness to this conversation.

        Sincerely & Respectfully,

      • (Hello – thanks for being understanding about my lack of reply. I’m kinda feeling really profoundly exhausted at the moment, because of all the energy required to respond to Rhoda’s consultation and then we’ve had no break but had to go straight into organising logistics of Dec 17th (International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers), which involves lots and lots of Stuff and no fucking time or headspace, and I’m basically in tears half the time from exhaustion & stress – so I will reply, but I’m not going to give you a timescale because I simply can’t. Hopefully you’ll get an email notification or whatever when that happens. Sorry. xx)

    • Natasha, many of us sex workers actually enjoy giving pleasure to others. We are good at it and we enjoy that we can bring something so positive to the men, women and couples who are our clients. There are so many lonely people out there- disabled, widowed, divorced, socially inept- and for them, a sex care provider is the only source of human companionship they have. It is not always about ‘sex’ but rather intimacy with another human being that is most important to our clients.

      Despite the lies you read from those who continually tout this ‘9 out of 10’ BS that we ‘want out of the business,’ most of us don’t. Even if you offered some other work that paid as well as sex work (other than being an actress or lawyer or a wife married to a wealthy man, what other work even comes close to offering $100 or $500 or $1,000 an hour?) many of us would prefer to continue working as independent contractors for ourselves, setting our own hours, deciding with whom we will interact and on what terms.

      If you went to a battered women’s shelter, there is no doubt that 9 out of 10 women who resided therein would have nothing positive to say about marriage or interpersonal relationships. Fortunately, there are many other wives who never experience any sort of violence within their marriage, and would not trade their status for the world. So, do we say that those who live in the battered shelters ought to be the ONLY ones we consider when discussing marital issues? Should the majority of wives who do not experience violence have no voice? Should we attempt to abolish marriage because of the women who have experienced violence, or should we instead make it safer to be in a relationship by ensuring that when victims of intimate partner violence report crimes against them, that something is done to protect them?

      Perhaps you need to look at us and the work we do from a different, more sex positive perspective. Obviously this work is not for underage persons, nor is it for anyone who finds sexual intimacy problematic. For those of us who actually think sex and intimacy are good things, why on earth would we not enjoy being able to provide that for people who otherwise would not experience it?

      Particularly for those of us who had so called normal or socially acceptable employment prior to becoming sex workers, the work is especially rewarding. It is just too bad that so few ‘feminists’ and religious conservatives take time to ask us what we think of our work and ourselves- and instead rely on the stereotypical garbage dispensed by those who think that being paid for providing pleasure is ‘degrading’ or ‘exploitative’ or whatever other nonsense they peddle.

      The internet is full of sex worker blogs- and videos and other information about us if you took the time to find us. We are out here yelling as loud as we can- but we are ignored unless we falsely ‘admit to being victims’ and accept our punishment for daring to be whores. Society has a very difficult time dealing with intelligent, articulate, sexual women- and has tried for centuries to ‘abolish’ prostitution and stigmatize those who dared to challenge the status quo.

      At age 61, I am unable to work in my chosen profession. I would return to it in a New York minute if I could. However, I suffered a number of traffic accidents when I was employed in that ‘socially acceptable’ job when I worked for the Los Angeles Police Department for 10 years in my youth. As we age, those injuries we incur in our youth tend to limit what we can do later in life. Sex work was the best job I ever had… and for anyone to attempt to tell me or any other adult man, woman or transgendered sex worker what our experience is, is offensive and condescending.

  9. “Rescue fantasies are as much to do with praise and reward for the rescuer as they are to do with altruistic concern for the one rescued.” – Sebastian Horsley.

    I find it to be a really weird psychology, those who ‘rescue’ and refer to themselves as feminists, whilst attacking a group of unrepresented women. (I know this law will effect male escorts too but that is never mentioned.) They seem to exist in a space that is informed by a very antiquated point of view. The underlying driving force of this seems to be social cleansing and protecting the ‘purity’ of women, not actually helping anyone. If they did they would be looking at the New Zealand model not the Swedish one! It is a thread of cultural conditioning that comes from way back in our history and is of course rooted in religion. These prohibitionists may not even be aware of what drives them. The protection of the family and the feminine mystique are some of the subtle forces at play. Is there a nagging fear that their relationship and family structure will be threatened due to the existence of ‘loose women’ in society? If so then they subconsciously undervalue themselves. If their only barter as a woman is the withholding of sex to secure a marriage then that’s hardly feminist. I feel that these ‘feminists’ are actually reinforcing patriarchy. An irony they seem to unaware of.

    There is also a strong argument for the ego/power trip part of it. Some people are desperate to be seen as heroes and the ones who ‘save’ poor unfortunates from their plight. In order to fulfil this self-glorification quest they end up ignoring those who they are trying to help. All very patronising as they ignore and do not even consult those they claim to be saving. It is arrogance of the highest order, and it totally ignores safety and health issues, which should be at the top of the agenda.

    It creates more stigma which in turn makes it harder for people to exit the industry if they want to. Again, why do they do so many things that are counter productive?

    I think a psychologist could have a field day on these personality types! (And we can turn the ‘you don’t know what you are doing, you are too simple’ argument around on them!)

  10. First of all, the tactics mentioned do not at all seem to be in compliance with the Nordic model. Under such a model the selling of sex (that is, by the women society calls “prostitutes” is unassailable. That is, the woman cannot be charged.) The *purchasing* of sex is. So one wonders, how can a physical exam be forced on a woman in such circumstances? Is she a complaining witness? Witnesses have rights. Is she what society calls a prostitute? Under the Nordic model, she is in the clear. The only way she might not be in the clear is if she is involved in prostituting another person against their will or if that person is underage — rendering them unable to consent in the eyes of the law. So I tend to think your whole argument is biased against abolitionists and is instead supporting the pimps, not the prostituted women/girls.

    • Your comment is a classic of mansplaining. Thank you, I will now proceed to laugh forever while you further clarify the meaning of the Nordic model in simple words of one syllable for easy comprehension by my poor wee stupid head. Do continue.

      … Was there any moment as you wrote this comment, when you thought, “ooh, as a male person and non-sex worker, maybe I should slightly moderate my patronising tone when explaining Some Basic Facts to an actual female sex worker, if I want to retain the hastily thrown-on mantle of ‘feminism’? Coz like, patronising women and taking down to prostituted victims doesn’t look *great* even by the poor standards of my argument” … ? No? You didn’t think that, ever, at any point? That’s really interesting.

      I guess in your enthusiasm to call a “prostituted woman” a supporter of pimps (apparently your version of feminism involves literally insulting the women you claim to want to help), you neglected to read anything that I actually wrote. I’ve offered numerous citations for the kind of tactics that I talk about. See all those blue words? Those are a thing we call “links”. If you click through on a “link”, you will find words written that quote sex working people of all genders discussing (among other things) the invasive physical examinations that are forced onto them under the Nordic Model. Do you generally not believe people when they disclose their experiences of sexual assault to you, or do you reserve that disbelief for just sex working survivors of assault? Hint: neither of these options make you look like a great person. Take your mansplaining elsewhere.

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  13. My one small issue is you using the phrase Nordic model to describe this. I’ve called it the Swedish Sex Purchase law in conversations online in the past and everyone has known what I meant(If not a link would set them right).

    As a big fan of the actual Nordic model: the broad approach to governing. Referring to this abomination as such irks me a bit. I know smart readers will know what you mean, but as I’m sure you’re aware often people with specialised knowledge on something(say sex laws) might not be as familiar with other areas say what the ‘Nordic model’ in any other context.

    Otherwise I’m entirely in a agreement and you have a great blog.

  14. LOL! we call it the Swedish Model here in Germany (Always give credit where credit is due, we say!! ;-)) ..and I’d like to quote the lerned Hendrik Wagenaar on this: “Prostitution policy is too morally charged”, Hendrik Wagenaar, associate professor at the Department of Public Administration at Leiden University states. According to him, prostitution policy is very much driven by emotional images. In his own research, he therefore attempts to rationalize the debate and base his conclusions on a factual analysis of policy effects in the prostitution sector. “Every country claims its effects, but they have never been studied. Each country has its own policy and does not want to let go of it, because the issue is so morally charged.” It is because of this fact that Wagenaar would like to see more objective research on policy effects, so people can actually see what happens when you decide on a certain policy course.

    you can read more here: (it’s worth it!)

    He goes on to tell you how bogus all the guessstatistics are and how you shouldn’t believe the numbers that either side throws out. Governments should seek the truth, before they legislate and should leave the morality outside the door, where politics and law is concerned.

    Anyone that actually believes in the sucess of the Swedish Model, is either a Jihad Feminist (like Sweden) or just hates us sex workers. (..or might be hoping for big bucks, like the under-developed, strangely simple scottish Rhoda Grant, who is dreamimg of the promised land, that we call the rescue industry…but has no real clue about what is going on.) Either way it comes down to the same old song…society can’t do without us, but it’ll sure as hell make it as difficult as possible for us to survive.

    I don’t see Germany or Holland turning to the Swedish Model…they both have never followed Scandanavia on anything, and secretly think they are all freaks up there…they might not be so wrong about that…

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  16. seems to me that the problem lies more in implementation rather than the law itself.
    the law, in theory, is well-meaning. but in the same sense that legalisation of prostitution will not guarantee an end to stigmatisation and trafficking (there are also articles and researches that support the platform of abolitionists), there is also no guarantee that a country adopting the nordic model for their own is effective.
    my personal stance is: governments should closely inspect numerous case studies of the prostitution laws of other countries and their effects on the sex workers and overall attitude towards sex work and sexuality (specifically, countries that are closer to them in terms of culture and geo-politics) because one size does not fit all — the after-effects of the law is also strongly tied to the social and cultural context you are applying it to; we can only approximate the effects, at best.
    in any case, thank you for this article. i’m an abolitionist myself, and this article was like a splash of cold water for me. 🙂 not that i’m quickly shifting to the pro-legalisation of prostitution soon, but i will consider reading about prostitution laws in south-east asia and see how that has worked for women involved or found themselves involved in the sex trade (since i’m from south-east asia myself).

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