Shifting the Burden – Legislation to help women in prostitution
A full day took place in a room in the House of Commons discussing how best to proceed with legislation around prostitution. The day was attended by representatives of various organisations who work with those caught up in prostitution or human trafficking. It was also attended by several women who had exited prostitution and had themselves become involved in helping prostituted people, speaking out against prostitution or offering support to those still involved and those who want to exit. Some of these women represented countries with different forms of legislation where, for example, prostitution was legalised and no one was prosecuted or completely illegal and everyone involved could be prosecuted. With both of those models the women faired very badly. Where it was completely legalised we heard that violence was a frequent occurrence. Where it was prohibited there was the danger of prosecution and violence was still a frequent occurrence. Although everyone involved was liable to prosecution it was usually the women who are targeted.
In the course of the day several of the women spoke of their experiences while working on the streets, in clubs or in brothels. Almost all of them had started life at a disadvantage having been abused or neglected as children. They told how they had drifted or had been drawn into prostitution or were forced through financial necessity or by boyfriends to adopt this way of life. It was always meant to be in the short term but once they were in it was impossible to get out. They spoke of the brutality they had endured at the hands of clients and the complete lack of support or empathy from pimps or brothel owners when an incident happened, on the contrary they were expected to see the next client regardless of injuries or trauma suffered. Prostitution is 50 times more dangerous than the most dangerous job, we were told by a police officer. The women present nodded when one of the speakers mentioned something that they resonated with. One such occasion was when the speaker told of the feelings she carried while in prostitution and realised “The harm, and what was happening in my heart, my soul, my body.” They spoke of how difficult it was to exit prostitution. The level of support needed by a woman when exiting was very high and included a safe place to be. Being in prostitution renders a woman unemployable and women return to prostitution as the only way they can earn money.
There was a consensus in the room that the type of legislation we need is one that tackles Demand. This model of legislation is called the Nordic Model because it originated in Sweden in1998. If demand is tackled there will be no prostitution or trafficking for that purpose. It is generally acknowledged by those working with prostituted people that the best way of tackling demand is by making the purchasing of sex a criminal act. On the other hand prostituted people would not be criminalised. This would make things safer for them because they could tell the police when violence is used against them without fear of being prosecuted. In some countries having a criminal record can make a woman unemployable thus forcing her back to the only ‘job’ she can do. The abolition of prostitution is the goal of this model and abolitionists believe that no woman, or man, freely chooses prostitution as a way of life. There is a small minority in prostitution that has chosen it as a career but they are very highly paid and can choose their clients. The vast majority of prostituted people have no choice about who to go with or what to do or not do when with a client.
A Swedish police officer spoke with us about his experience of being an arresting officer of those who tried to purchase sex. He told of hundreds of arrests and a decrease in prostitution. There is now a much lower rate of prostitution and trafficking in Sweden than in Denmark where the Nordic Model is not law. The police are accompanied to a scene by a social worker who is available for the woman. The officer said that a woman had told the social worker that the police are bad for business but good for the women.
The Nordic Model has been adopted in Norway, France, Canada and Northern Ireland in recent years. Other countries: Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania and Israel are considering introducing it. Both the European Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe passed resolutions by large majorities recommending the Nordic Model “as an effective way to tackle trafficking and prostitution in Europe”. The Swedish government has argued that prostitution is strongly related to violence against women and promotes inequality.
Efforts have been made here in the UK to have this legislation introduced when the Modern Slavery Bill was going through parliament two years ago but the Modern Slavery Bill was not considered an appropriate place for it. It was felt that it needed to be a separate piece of legislation. Now, however, it is in danger of being lost as the government is dragging its feet while looking at all models including the New Zealand model. This model, places all power in the hands of the brothel owners or ‘employers,’ who, in the women’s experience, are unscrupulous and can make whatever demands they like thus placing the women in situations which are compromising and damaging.
Please pray and work for the introduction of the Nordic Model into our society. Give prostituted women a chance to retrieve their lives from the brutality and inhumanity of prostitution.
Patricia Byrne rsc