EU Parliament passes resolution in favour of the Nordic model

EU Parliament passed a resolution today in favour of the Nordic model, which criminalizes the purchase of sex, while decriminalizing prostituted people. The resolution passed by 343 votes to 139, with 105 abstentions.

This is thanks, in large part, to the work of Mary Honeyball, London MEP and Labour spokeswoman for women, who drafted the resolution.

“The yes vote formally establishes the EU’s stance on prostitution and puts pressure on member states to re-evaluate their policies on sex work,” writes Maya Oppenheim in The Guardian.

The Nordic model is not simply legislative, but calls on countries who adopt the model to set up exiting programs in order to support women who want to leave prostitution and help them find affordable housing and other employment. “Better education and reducing the poverty that forces women and children into prostitution, are needed to prevent prostitution,” MEPs add.

This model has been extremely successful in Sweden, where the law was enacted in 1999, after 30 years of research into the reality of prostitution. Prostitution has decreased drastically in Sweden and while one in eight men used to buy sex, that number has now been reduced to one in 13. Norway and Iceland have both adopted the legislation (Finland has a lighter version of it), and France recently passed a bill in Parliament in support of the model (which still needs to pass the Senate).

This resolution shows a clear position on prostitution — one that supports human rights and gender equality and acknowledges that prostitution happens because of marginalization and systems of power — not “free choice.”

We’ve learned from other countries that have experimented with legalization, such as Germany and Holland, that the result is increased trafficking, exploitation, and violence. The illegal industry has thrived under legalization, to the point where many brothels and “windows” in the famous red-light district of Amsterdam have been shut down after having been taken over by organized crime. The myth of a “safe, legal industry” as been shown to be nonexistent, as prostitution is exploitative by nature and promotes power imbalances between men and women.

Not only a gender issue, prostitution is something that impacts marginalized women of colour and poor women in particular, both in first world countries like Canada, as well as globally. Prostitution builds on Canada’s legacy of colonialism, as European men were the first to establish brothels in what is now known as Canada, filling them with Indigenous women. The sex industry, in general, profits from and maintains racist and sexualized stereotypes about women of colour and preys on impoverished women and girls, in particular those who come from abusive homes and are groomed for prostitution since they were young.

Canada, as well as other countries, should take note — there are no excuses for ignoring this abhorrent abuse of the human rights of women and girls.


**The Canadian government is seeking the public’s input on prostitution law — you can share your thoughts via an online survey/consultation until March 17.

Meghan Murphy

Meghan Murphy

Meghan Murphy, founder and editor of Feminist Current, is a freelance writer and journalist. She completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog. Follow her @meghanemurphy

  • Miep

    Wow, good news!

    • Meghan Murphy


  • latte

    Hurrah and congratulations to all women who have worked for this, wherever we live.

    Meghan, you are a marvellous example of what one feminist writer can do. In spite of slurs and attacks you keep on doing women’s work and bringing us women’s news and analysis. I thank you and admire your tenacity so much. You define journalism. It’s really a calling as well as a talent and you have both.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Thanks for all your support, latte. Solidarity!

  • Henke

    Yes, this was indeed good news. In a time in which the western civilisation is going utterly mad (I know, its hard to think its even possible heh) on so many levels, this was a light in between all the toxic bullshit going around.

  • sim345

    I cried tears of joy! We were fighting so hard, and I hoped ,but at the last minute I thought “Oh barely a chance.” Now? Well…are there words for this apart from *insert your favourite joyous expression here*! The fight goes on, but I hope everyone is taking a moment to celebrate. THANK YOU! THANK YOU!

  • sporenda

    As I live in Europe, I am particularly happy with this decision.
    The countries that adopted legalization were already having second thoughts about it, based on its many negative results.
    Now that Germany and the Netherlands are in open contradiction with EU policies, this validates this questioning of legalization: the Nordic model becomes the norm, and these countries have to adjust to it, instead of the other way around.
    This is a definite turning of the tide, And a definite defeat for “sex workers unions” aka pimps lobbies.

    • Henke

      I read somewhere (sadly I don’t have a link to prove this but maybe you know what I’m talking about) that a study had been done in Germany which came to the conclusion that the legalization was in fact not such a smart move. Instead it looked like human trafficking and so on had gone up and not many women who sold sex was actually getting paid as in a regular job.

  • Lo

    Great news! I’ve the feeling that the sex industry is going to be more agressive than ever …

  • jo

    GOOD NEWS! Finally!

  • sporenda

    IHenke:indeed, prostitution in Germany has more than doubled: the estimated number of prostitutes is now 400 000 (as a comparison, in France this number is 40 000, total population for Germany 80 millions, France 65)

    An interesting article about the bad consequences of the legalization in Germany “the bordello of Europe”:

    • Henke

      Thank you for that link. Ugh, its horrible numbers you mention here.

  • Morgan

    Good news indeed. I wonder if this will influence Canada’s lawmakers as they come up with new legislation on how to deal with prostitution.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Let them know what you think via the online consultation!

      • lagatta à montréal

        The problem is, I don’t see how the Cons could actually implement such a model, as it calls for MORE support and help for people in prostitution, and the Cons have cut funding for everything; with respect to this, they have made deep cuts in funding for social housing, and as we all know, to support for Aboriginal women’s groups, including the Sisters in Spirit initiative.

        I fear that they will try to dress up an old fashioned repressive approach that targets and criminalises people in prostitution, as a “Nordic model”, when it is anything but.

  • Donkey Skin

    That SMH article concludes with an attack on abolitionist feminists though.

    I’m not sure where the 400,000 estimate comes from. It’s impossible to get an accurate number because women and girls are being brought into the country by criminal networks and no one is able to keep tabs on what happens to them.

    I think the piece Henke is referring to is an in-depth investigation by five reporters from Der Spiegel magazine in May last year, which was the piece of journalism that really blew the lid off what is happening in Germany. It gives an estimate of 200,000 people in prostitution since legalisation, most of them women and girls from Eastern Europe, with about one million German men buying sex every day.

    It’s a long and horrifying but necessary read:

    • river

      I’ll take your der Speigel porn rag and raise you a police officer speaking on the reality of prostitution:

      ~less condom use
      ~more child-like or very young woman demand
      ~numbers trippled and trafficked more


      • river

        “Those making the law wanted to integrate prostitution into normal, regular forms of work. Prostitution was to become a job like any other, with an offical boss, a working contract and even a trade union. Of course this couldn´t work out. Criminal pimps and demimonde types as brothel operators or members of rocker gangs do not turn into honest business men or employers at the push of a button.”

        Above link…

        • Henke

          I see there are more than one article on this.
          I think it might have been the der spiegel article I read, it was some time ago now so I’m not 100% but anyway, the important thing is that it shows that legalization just is not that good.

  • sporenda

    “That SMH article concludes with an attack on abolitionist feminists though.”

    Not exactly, it quotes different opinions, including the opinions of “sex workers” who attack the abolitionist position. With the usual arguments: prostitution is not that bad, it’s a free choice, prohibition never worked etc.

    As far as I know, the prohibition of prostitution per se has been very rarely implemented, prostitutes were harassed and prosecuted but never the client.
    The Nordic model is not about prohibition and harassing prostitutes, it’s about something that’s never been done before: criminalizing the john.

  • Laur

    Are they planning to provide social services to women who want them? Or is this just about criminalizing johns and decrimalizing women?

    • Meghan Murphy

      Well the vote just means they’ve taken a formal position and are recommending member states to re-evaluate their policies/legislation. So yes, that would mean it is recommended that member states adopt the model (including exiting services, etc.).

    • red

      By definition, the Nordic Model is two pronged. Criminalize johns and the industry, help women get out with housing, healthcare, education, work initiatives. Read the primary sources, not the gossip. Google Nordic Model, Gunilla Eckberg.

      Start here:

      • lagatta à montréal

        Yes, if not, it is not truly the Nordic model. But that is what I fear, in terms of the Con government in Canada, and some of the European governments as well. It is essential that such an approach means that people in prostitution be helped to exit and IMPROVE their lives, and above all that they must not be endangered.

        After extended stays in the Netherlands, it was becoming clear that legalisation was not creating some kind of “lesser evil” situation for people in prostitutes, as more and more were migrants with little or no autonomy. The Amsterdam Red Light has already become far more circumscribed; it remains to see what will happen.

        Female friends in a neighbourhood of a German city report increased aggressive behaviour by punters in search of a cut-rate “trick”. Moreover, there is a lot of underaged and even child (pre-pubescent) prostitution.

    • stephen m

      For those interested in understanding more about exiting strategy for prostitution there is summary report “Breaking Down the Barriers: A study of how women exit prostitution, Eaves/London Southbank University, 2012”

      Julie Bindel, Laura Brown, Helen Easton, Roger Matthews and Lisa Reynolds Eaves and London South Bank University (LSBU)

      On Julie Bindle’s page here:

      There are likely others but this is one I am aware of.

  • Ola Nordmann

    Interestingly enough, the debate here in Norway is wether or not to uphold this law due to it’s failure to show the same positive effects Sweden reportedly had with their version.
    While it has had an effect on the total number of customers, it has had little or no positive effects on the situation of the prostitutes. The authorities have been largely unsuccessful in transitioning former prostitutes to productive and meaningful lives, and policies enacted by the Oslo police in accordance with the laws have had a detrimental effect on living conditions.
    Some stats also suggest that while the number of customers has gone down, those that have ceased using prostitutes are mainly otherwise law-abiding citizens, leaving the violent and/or dangerous customers still in the pool. That, combined with prostitutes having to do business away from the public eye, has drastically worsened their security situation.

    These unintentional consequences are seen as so serious that they might outweigh and cancel out any positive results the legislation might have had. While reduction of prostitution is still an important objective for most political parties and organizations, the health and safety of the prostitutes themselves has to take priority.

    Personally, I find myself pulled in various directions in this debate. For me, the leading principle is a womans right to do with her body as she chooses. If that happens to be prostitution, who am I to argue with that? On the other hand, a large number, most likely the majority, of prostitutes are not completely voluntary participants. Some are forced into it to cover debts or feed a drug habit, while others are forced by threats to themselves and their families. Others again are being kept as slaves, not able to escape. Until all involuntary involvement can be prevented, I cannot support the full legalization of prostitution.
    Perhaps a more stringent version of the german model could work, with official oversight, Health and Safety regulations, licencing and thorough enforcement of the rules might work, but until someone tries it we’ll never know.

    Side note: Interestingly enough, the Norwegian law also covers norwegian citizens abroad. That means if you frequent prostitutes abroad, there might be a hefty fine waiting for you when you get home, as experienced by Progress Party politician and member of the parliamentary justice comittee Bård Hokksrud. He was fined NOK 25.000 (rougly CAD$4600) after a television crew busted him with a prostitute in Riga, Latvia.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Well the ‘positive effect’ in Sweden is the reduction in buyers/demand/prostitution. The goal isn’t necessarily to transition prostitutes into other work if they don’t want to leave the industry… Why are prostitutes choosing not to transition?

      “Some stats also suggest that while the number of customers has gone down, those that have ceased using prostitutes are mainly otherwise law-abiding citizens, leaving the violent and/or dangerous customers still in the pool. That, combined with prostitutes having to do business away from the public eye, has drastically worsened their security situation.”

      This has been a long-standing rumour put forth by the sex work lobby which there has yet to be any proof of. Regardless, 1) the violent and dangerous customers have always been there — it’s not as though violent men seeking out prostitutes is new, which is why we are opposed to the industry, and 2) I find it weird that so many use the argument that now (under the Nordic model) prostitution supposedly has to happen behind closed doors, despite the fact that MOST prostitution happens behind closed doors regardless of the law, and that those who argue against the Nordic model also are the ones who argue that indoor prostitution (i.e. prostitution that happens behind closed doors) is safer… Besides that, under legalization, street prostitution is still criminalized in many areas (i.e. the areas that aren’t designated for prostitution), whereas under the Nordic model, so again, the ‘it has to move indoors under the Nordic model and that is…worse?’ argument doesn’t work there either.

      Do you have any stats that back up your claims/arguments?

      “Perhaps a more stringent version of the german model could work, with official oversight, Health and Safety regulations, licencing and thorough enforcement of the rules might work, but until someone tries it we’ll never know.”

      But we already do know that legalization doesn’t work… When prostitution is legal the underground industry continues to thrive, murders still happen regularly, and trafficking increases. It’s next to impossible to figure out which women are trafficked and which are not (as if johns cared anyway), because certainly their bosses/pimps would punish them if they admitted to being trafficked to a client. When the industry is regulated, the vast majority of women still don’t register, nor do they join the imaginary unions people imagine they do — they continue to work illegally and there is no way of ensuring they stay safe from violent johns because those violent johns are decriminalized. By the time the john would become violent, it would be too late for the victim/woman anyway. Best to stop the violence before it happens, no?

      • Ola Nordmann

        I don’t have any stats to back it up with, but before the introduction of the current laws, prostitution did happen out in the open, in fact it happened right on the main parade street of Oslo between the parliament and the royal castle. I think this, more than anything, fuelled the introduction of the law. Reducing the embarassment of not being able to distinguish politicians on a smoking break from the prostitutes was a major factor in the debates.

        As I said, I find it difficult to reach a position on this issue, since for me none of it is a moral call. It’s purely ethical. As long as a secure and safe working environment for willing participants cannot be guaranteed, and you can’t weed out the criminal elements to ensure all workers are in fact volunteers, it’s a clear no-go.
        If those conditions were met? I probably would support it.

        • Meghan Murphy

          The only way to ensure everyone in prostitution is there voluntarily is to reduce demand to such an extent that no woman would be coerced/forced…. Like, there would have to be so few men buying sex that the number of prostitutes were very small and so that trafficking would no longer exist. This is a roundabout way of pointing out that prostitution only exists because of demand and women are coerced in order to meet demand and because there aren’t enough women to enter into prostitution willingly to meet that demand.

          (Also just wondering what you think the difference between ethics and morals are?)

          • Ola Nordmann

            Just to answer the last one, far as I see it, both ethics and morals cover right and wrong, but I’ve always seen ethics as a more objective set of guidelines, where as morals are more subjective and ideologically (religiously?) charged.
            I don’t kill because it’s wrong – Ethics
            I don’t kill because I’m told it’s wrong – Morals
            Of course, this is a skewed version of it, most definitions would place them much closer to eachother than that.

          • Meghan Murphy

            Well, no. They’re actually pretty near the same thing. People seem (myself included, but I’m trying to change that) to have this fear of talking about “morals” let they be accused of “moralizing” — it seems the word is often attached to prudishness, religion, or “judgement” — but really, morals are simply a person’s standards of behavior or beliefs concerning what is right and wrong. So it’s about a person’s character and standards for behaviour. Ethics are the same thing — they describe a set of morals, rules of conduct, and a definition of right and wrong/good and bad.

            I only point that out because I think we need to get away from this notion that having morals is a bad thing…

    • lizor

      I have copied and am pasting a response from sporenda that was posted in the “No, ‘female-appreciation’ is not the same thing as feminism” thread. I believe it was meant to be here and I am re-posting as I think it adds a lot to this particular discussion. Hope this is OK.

      “sporenda – March 4th, 2014 at 3:11 am

      ” That, combined with prostitutes having to do business away from the public eye, has drastically worsened their security situation.”

      Street prostitutes pick up johns outdoor, but they go indoor for the sex acts.
      So this doesn’t hold water.
      The last exited prostitute that I interviewed was working indoor, in her own massage parlor. She has been attacked several times, including by a masochist who tried to take her money after she chained and whipped him.
      I asked her if working indoor was safer (she has worked both ways ); she said no: the prostitutes working in Eros centers have to deal with customers’ violence plus the violence and constant control of pimps, plus sometimes the violence of other prostitutes.

      “Perhaps a more stringent version of the german model could work, with official oversight, Health and Safety regulations, licencing and thorough enforcement of the rules might work, but until someone tries it we’ll never know.”

      The German legalization + regulations and inspections doesn’t work. When something doesn’t work, usually more of the same is not going to get better results.

      Brothels have NEVER been in the best interest of prostitutes. They were created to keep them off the streets, so respectable citizens would not be “offended” by their sight.
      And to check the prostitutes regularly to make sure they are not going to contaminate johns with STDs.
      The principle is still the same: keep prostitution hidden from sight, limited to particular spots. And also tax the income generated by the tricks, and sell expensive licenses to pimps,

      Each time a new Eros center is created, it’s more money for the mafias and trafickers. Don’t tell me that the people running these places can be screened, so as to eliminate this possibility: they use fronts systematically.”

      • sporenda

        Thanks lizor. Oddly, when I post someting on a thread, it appears on another, also, my posts are split in 2 pieces, I mentioned that to MegHAN;
        There must be a bug in my system, sorry about that.

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  • Meghan Murphy

    Well, it worked in Sweden. Your opinion is slowly but surely being left behind as we all move forward towards an egalitarian society.