Actual evidence shows the Nordic model works

A study commissioned by Norway’s government shows that criminalizing the purchase of sex has decreased trafficking and has not caused violence against women to increase, as some have claimed.

Johns have been criminalized in Norway since 2009, following in Sweden’s footsteps.

Reuters reports:

The nearly 200-page report is based on six months of research, including interviews with male and female prostitutes, police and support organizations.

The Norwegian law applies to all its citizens anywhere, making it illegal for Norwegians to buy sex even in countries where the activity is accepted.

Penalties for breaking the law are set by local municipalities. In Oslo, Norway’s largest city, convicted sex buyers face a 25,000 crown ($4,000) fine.

Since criminalizing the purchase of sex in 1999, the number of men who buy sex in Sweden went from one in eight to one in 13. 

Opponents of the Nordic model tell us that criminalizing the purchase of sex will make it more dangerous and push the trade “underground.” Despite the fact that there is zero evidence to back up these claims and that, in truth, the “underground”/illegal sex trade thrives under legalization, this myth persists, thanks to this oft-repeated misinformation.

The truth is that criminalizing the purchase of sex makes countries that do so less desirable for pimps, johns, and traffickers. It is no real surprise that organized crime has taken over the trade in places that have legalized — it’s simply easier to buy and sell women in places where the practice is normalized and legal. Women and girls are trafficked because there just aren’t enough of them who enter the trade willingly — demand begets exploitation; reduce demand, reduce exploitation.

Meanwhile, claims that legalizing or decriminalizing the purchase of sex and the exploitation of women would make the trade safer, have not proven to be true. As a result, countries like Germany and New Zealand are reconsidering their laws.

In 2012, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said that he didn’t think the Prostitution Law Reform Act 2003 had reduced street prostitution or underage prostitutes, stating:

“The argument was that it would eliminate all the street workers and underage people, particularly girls, and the reports that we see in places like South Auckland is that it hasn’t actually worked… I think it’s been marginally successful, if at all.”

The study is timely as the Canadian government has recently put forward a bill that, if passed (which it most-likely will), will target demand and criminalize pimps and johns.


Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan 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.

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  • “Opponents of the Nordic model tell us that criminalizing the purchase of sex will make it more dangerous and push the trade “underground.” Despite the fact that there is zero evidence to back up these claims and that, in truth, the “underground”/illegal sex trade thrives under legalization, this myth persists, thanks to this oft-repeated misinformation.”

    These are my thoughts exactly. Too many of the pro-prostitution lobbyists are armchair philosophers. I’ve listened to so many claims that the Nordic Model will push prostitution underground, “stigma kills” etc, meanwhile these legalization proponents make no effort to provide scientific or experimental evidence for their claims. We are just supposed to believe them because at first glance, to the uninformed it sounds plausible. This is like Hitler’s propaganda minister Goebbels, if you repeat the false claims enough people will start believing that they are the truth. Meanwhile prostitution is a failed social experiment. It failed in not only Germany and the Netherlands but also in Sweden and Norway, that’s why they came up with the Nordic model.

    • Meghan Murphy

      It’s weird because they accuse abolitionists of basing their arguments in ‘ideology’ or ‘moralism’ — but we’re the only ones referencing actual evidence to back up our position…

      • That’s true. Not to mention the way they talk you would think that ‘morality’ is a dirty word, God forbid that some human beings have a conscience.

        • bella_cose

          People associate morality with religion and conservatism. I’ve been trying to come at it more from an ethics standpoint, hoping to get through to people. The only problem is people just don’t want to listen to anything that takes them out of their comfort zone. Really, the progressives are as rigid in their thinking as conservatives, at least when it comes to porn and prostitution.

          • “Really, the progressives are as rigid in their thinking as conservatives, at least when it comes to porn and prostitution.”

            That’s true. I hadn’t thought of it the way that you are suggesting. It’s like there is no room in the world for people that feel empathy deeply and have conviction and a sense of ethics and compassion.

  • FireWalkWithMe

    I hope it gets passed in Canada. I’m from the US, and I was gonna ask, but I’m guessing from this article you think it’s worse in legalized countries so I would conclude you think the US has a better system in place than Canada with it being illegal here (except in Nevada due to federalism). I’ve noticed it’s legal in most of the former British Empire. Well, USA was former British Empire but we Revolution’d not Commonwealth’d to get out.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Why do you think I think it’s better in the US? Also, my understanding is that it differs from state to state?

      • FireWalkWithMe

        I’m guessing cause it’s illegal, even if everyone is still criminalized and not ideally just the buyers and traffickers. Whereas as you state in this article legalization encourages trafficking because of a demand.

        And it’s only legal in Nevada, I’m pretty positive, in no other states because the federalist system was designed to have specific areas where citizens and their legislatures could custom engineer law to fit the region’s interests as opposed to something like the British (and most other democracies’) unitary system. That’s why recreational marijuana was legalized a few years back in two states, even if it violates US federal law. And as an aside, the federal government is allegedly too over extended in its resources to send government action into these states to stop it. I mean states have had medical marijuana for many years and that’s against federal law too..

        Sorry to get rambly, just recalling my American Government course. I guess Nevada of all places legalized prostitution because it’s a pretty seedy, hedonistic state. (I’m judging a place I’ve never been, hehe)

        • Meghan Murphy

          Well no. The Nordic model and what we advocate for here is to decriminalize prostituted women… Criminalizing them doesn’t help anything… Also the U.S. is a nightmare in terms of social safety nets/welfare, etc… So no, I wouldn’t say I think the U.S. system is “better.”

        • bella_cose

          Well, here in the states it may be illegal most places, but the johns never get prosecuted, as far as I can tell. The women in prostitution operate in an environment where they are socially and legally stigmatized. It’s crappy, but legalization is not the answer.

          It’s like, none of the pro-prostitution people think it’s possible to create a world where women are socially and economically equal to men, so we should just work within those constraints. It’s just so wrong.

          • Meghan Murphy

            “It’s like, none of the pro-prostitution people think it’s possible to create a world where women are socially and economically equal to men, so we should just work within those constraints. It’s just so wrong.”

            Totally. And as you say, it doesn’t really seem like the cops care to target johns all that much and the women are still getting arrested so it doesn’t seem all that great…

          • huha

            Some cities are starting to target only johns and pimps without arresting the women. I think Oakland, Ca, Boston, and may be Chicago and Seattle are going to adopt that approach.
            They say they don’t have enough resources or whatever to make as many arrests possible, though. It seems to be occasional. Let’s hope it changes.

          • bella_cose

            I live in Oakland, and we have tons of prostitutes, and “massage” parlors. There are two massage parlors within two blocks of me, that interestingly, are open late, and never seem to have female patrons.

            There’s a website where the OPD is posting the mugshots of pimps and alleged johns. The problem is, the police here are so overwhelmed with violent crime, that I can’t see them putting to much effort into arresting johns, or at least not on a regular basis.

          • C.K. Egbert

            The problem is that we don’t see prostitution as a violent crime. It really irks me that liberals are generally for sexual harassment law (thank you, radical feminists!), so you can’t pay a woman who works in an office for sex…but you can pay a disadvantaged, poor, or minoritized woman for sex and that’s NOT abuse? It’s an elitist inconsistency.

  • bella_cose

    There was recently a completely biased, pro-prostitution legalisation article on Slate. I made the mistake of commenting, and except for a few women who thanked me for my comment, I was attacked by several commenters. I ended up not responding to them, because I could tell it was useless.

    I fear that no matter how much evidence is accrued supporting the Nordic model, that detractors won’t be swayed. They aren’t operating from a rational standpoint. They’re like little kids, afraid someone is going go take their candy away.

    • meh

      Well done to you for at least trying to get our point across.

      Pigs and/or fuckwits don’t want any attention diverted away from their penises. They get very dramatic and think it’s the end of the world when their gherkin rights are questioned. It’s quite fascinating really..

      • I upvoted your comment for the phrase “gherkin rights.”

    • derrington

      As someone who handled the likes of kelloggs public relations for best part of 20 years, I think far from your commenting on Slate’s article being a mistake, its absolutely vital if feminism is going to get back out of the bunker. Commentating on FC is great for formulating arguments, understanding viewpoints and gaining structural and psychological support – but we have to take that out into the wider pro females are whores world. We will not win freedom from this social caste tapping away in our frontrooms in safe spaces. And whilst it is tough verbally battling with gender psychopathic idealogists, the alternative is worse, that we let them reassert themselves unchallenged. And bear in mind that everywhere you comment, you leave a seed of feminism. Some people will not comment, but they will read your arguments and reasoning, and it will resonate and convert some, or at least show that there is an alternative. So keep commentating, its called consciousness raising and is a tried and trusted tactic against the pervasive state propoganda. It worked for Marx, it worked for Emmeline Pankhurst, Gloria Steinham, Dworkins, Ghandi (not a good example in some respects I know!), Nelson Mandela et al. Social change is always hardwon but worth fighting for – what choice do we have but to keep plodding on otherwise we go backwards. Courage mon brave!!! Big hug to us all!!! xx

      • Meghan Murphy

        Totally agree, derrington. You never know who will see your comment at Slate or wherever and feel strengthened to push back elsewhere as a result. The more people see others fighting the dominant narrative, the more they will feel able to speak out as well.

        People are so used to seeing only one position put forth as progressive and acceptable that they are convinced that must be the correct position to take.

      • Derrington, I heartily agree with you, but the people set on normalizing the sex trade as a job like any other aren’t just gender psychopathic idealogists; they represent powerful business interests. Prostitution, pornography and human trafficking (whether for the sex trade or other forms of exploitative labour) are HUGE components of the modern globalized capitalist economy.

        They also go hand in hand with other harmful and unsavoury traffics, such as the illegal arms trade. This is among the reasons why Amsterdam is clamping down on the most egregious mobsters involved in the “sex window” trade and reducing the area reserved for it.

  • Danielle

    I’d like to look at the original source, but it isn’t cited here or in the Reuters article. Do you know what it is?

  • Jess

    Congrats Meghan! I agree with a lot of the comments here that feminist current is doing a great job of consciousness raising! I just saw and shared the article “prostitution is more than a labour rights issue” for Aljazeera!

    As a young radicalized feminist this shit is my life line <3