The Nordic Model is Officially Failing Miserably

When buying sex became criminalised in February of last year, no-one knew exactly what would happen. Many of us saw a scenario where numerous clients were dragged through the courts, and consequently the industry would be forced underground, making it more unsafe for sex workers.

Wooden gavel on table. Attorney working in courtroom.

Almost two years later, we are starting to see the results of the law’s introduction, and although the real-world scenario doesn’t match the one I envisaged, it is no less damaging and dangerous for sex workers.

First Client Prosecutions

It has been reported that two men are going to be the first charged under the new law.

The Justice Minister, Charlie Flanagan, said that the two charges had resulted from one of eleven investigations.

“In the remaining ten files, no prosecution was directed in respect of three cases while directions are still awaited with regard to a further seven files,” he added, in response to a parliamentary question from Catherine Murphy, the Social Democrats TD.

Pippa Woolnough, The Immigrant Council of Ireland communications and advocacy manager welcomed the prosecutions, but said difficulty in bringing prosecution may well mean that ‘changing behaviour’ may not be that easy.

“What we’re looking for is normative change, we want to disrupt demand for sexual exploitation and visible implementation will help with that,” Ms Woolnough said.

Where the law falls down (for those want to see clients prosecuted) is the fact that you have to catch people in the act of seeing sex workers to get the result. The Irish government was warned by Northern Ireland’s former justice minister and the PSNI that to enforce the law you would need to use surveillance. When the police are already stretched to the max, do you think they have time to wait outside brothels, or the homes of independent escorts?

What is worse though, is that the police appear to be attacking the low hanging fruit. The Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI), who always opposed the law, argued that the law would punish sex workers who chose to live together by classing them as a brothel. It seems they were right.

Kate McGrew, a spokeswoman for SWAI, also argues that the law caused an “increased risk of violence towards sex workers”.

“This law, which was brought in with great fanfare, has resulted in two people facing prosecution since its introduction over 18 months ago, yet there have been numerous instances of workers arrested for brothel-keeping. Since that time violent crimes against sex workers have risen, sex workers have been deported, arrested or have been forced to leave the country to avoid prosecution,” Ms McGrew said.

“From these reports we can see that the gardaí have put more effort into arresting two sex workers working together ‘brothel-keeping’ than they have clients. We have seen an increase in attacks against sex workers including a spate of violent knife attacks a few months after the law was introduced in the Republic of Ireland.

“With closures of gardaí stations around the country, we know that the gardaí’s resources would be better served investigating other crimes.”

Not Working

This really is a mess. These issues were all mentioned at the time of the consultation. Where were the police going to find time to wait outside brothels? I actually thought they may do it, irrespective of the effects on other crime statistics. I may have been wrong there, but the end result of a more unsafe industry I did see coming.

In the end, what we need is decriminalisation. Police don’t want to be running around arresting clients whilst ‘real’ crimes are taking place. They also don’t want to be lambasted for failing to impose a law which is unworkable.

My main concern is for sex workers who are now at greater risk of attack. We need to remember, the Nordic model was never brought in in Sweden to make sex workers safer. It was done to let the public know that sex work was vile. Proponents of the law are often ambivalent to the dangers the men and women in the industry face, and are sometimes uncaring, finding it a ‘disincentive’ to continue working.

The sooner those in power realise that the Nordic model hasn’t worked, the sooner we can get policy in that helps sex workers instead of pandering to the ‘morally virtuous’.

Martin Ward
Follow me

Please log in here to leave a comment.