Cabinet to proceed with legislation criminalizing johns in Republic of Ireland

The Irish Times reports that Cabinet has decided to proceed with legislation that will criminalize johns in the Republic of Ireland. Members of the Stormont assembly voted in favour of a bill that would outlaw the purchase of sex last month in Northern Ireland. The decision to adopt this legislation in the Republic of Ireland is part of a growing trend, in terms of prostitution law.

The Nordic model, also sometimes referred to as the Swedish model or the “women’s liberation approach” is being adopted and considered by more and more countries. Witnessing the failures of legalization and full decriminalizaton — which merely resulted in an increase in prostitution and sex trafficking and failed to reduce violence against women — and the successes of the Nordic model since it was adopted in Sweden in 1999, makes the choice to criminalize johns a natural one if we do, indeed, care about gender equality and the rights and humanity of women.

As noted by author and activist, Rachel Moran,

It is not strange or surprising that prostitution rates in Denmark are many times higher than in Sweden. The figures tell an irrefutable story: the population of Sweden is 9.4 million and prostituted persons there are estimated to number 650. At 5.6 million, Denmark’s population is close to half that, but the estimated figure for Denmark is 5,567; almost nine times that of neighbouring Sweden.

She also points out that legislation that legalizes buying sex from women is deeply misogynist and upholds a view of women as second-class citizens.

Like many campaigners who have personal experience of prostitution, I support the “Nordic model,” which criminalizes the demand for paid sexual access to people, decriminalizes those who are so exploited, and offers exit routes including education and training. It can only be objected to from a standpoint that refuses to view women as fully viable humans on a par with men. The reason for this is simple: the overwhelming majority of those exploited in prostitution are female. Added to that, many are adolescent girls below the age of consent. I know from first-hand experience that very often females are prostituted before they’ve even reached the age of sexual consent. That was the case for me also; I was 15 years old when I was coerced into prostitution by an adult male.

The Nordic model is unique in that, like recent efforts to shift blame away from sexual assault victims and onto perpetrators, for example, it places onus on those responsible for the violence against and exploitation of women in prostitution: men. Seeing as men are the ones who truly “choose” prostitution in that they are the ones who are responsible for the existence of the industry, whereas the vast majority of women and girls only enter into the industry under duress or because they are forced, this model is the most logical solution.

Moran says the legislation “will make Northern Ireland a hostile environment for pimping and trafficking gangs” and that “organized pimping and trafficking gangs that have plagued us for years will soon be looking for somewhere else to go.”

Despite efforts to sanitize and normalize the industry by lobby groups and sex industry advocates, the fact remains that prostitution exists because of — not as a solution to — inequality and systemic oppression. If we did not, as a society, view sexual access to women as something men had a right to, we would not view prostitution as acceptable.

Moran writes:

It is high time we women stood up and asked ourselves why we are accepting an enormous global human rights violation whereby almost all of those exploited are female and almost all of those exploiting them are male. Here’s my answer: we are accepting it because females have been so long at the bottom of the gender caste system that we have come to accept the inferior position imposed upon us. We need to get out of that mode of thinking, and fast, because there is a legislative battle raging right now in the world; it is the battle for female sexual liberation and it is opposed tooth and nail by those invested in female sexual subjection.

Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist from Vancouver, BC. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and is now exiled in Mexico with her very photogenic dog.