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Europe Considers the Effects of Criminalizing Sex Work

Posted on Sep 10, 2013
wili_hybrid (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Prostitution is legal in the Red Light District of Amsterdam.

“We demand sex worker rights. Stop the deaths,” read a banner at a recent protest outside the Swedish Embassy in London. Demonstrators gathered around Sweden’s embassies all over the world in July to object to what’s become known as the Nordic way to deal with prostitution since 1999. Countries such as Sweden and Norway have made the purchase of sex illegal, but not the sale. The criminalization of sex work, these protesters claimed, contributed to the slaying of a Swedish prostitute this year. Petite Jasmine was killed by a former partner who’d been given custody of their children because her profession was deemed to render her “unfit to be a parent.”

The violence still surrounding sex work in Sweden and other European countries serves as evidence that criminalizing the purchase isn’t the best option. According to Salon, questions about whether to make prostitution legal or illegal have come to the forefront of Europe’s policymaking decisions. 

Although street prostitution in Sweden has plummeted dramatically, it has also increased in neighboring countries.

Today, debate over outlawing prostitution, which has been considered in a number of countries — including Britain — is fierce.

Proponents say legislating the demand for paid sex puts an end to prostitution without penalizing women who are already vulnerable.

Earlier this year, Rhoda Grant, a Labour member of the Scottish parliament, introduced a bill inspired by the Nordic model that would have criminalized the purchase of sex in Scotland….Although the legislation failed to win enough support to move forward, its introduction was promising for those who would like to see prostitution stamped out in the UK — and unsettling for those who don’t.

But critics say banning paid sex simply drives the trade underground.

“It leads to all manner of increased danger, increased risk. The transactions are quicker, the punters [clients] are dodgier,” said Alex Bryce, director of the National Ugly Mugs scheme, an organization that works to protect sex workers. “If what you’re doing is illegal, you’re far less likely to go to the police.”

Arguing for those in the middle of the debate, a vocal international sex worker lobby says that their members don’t want to be saved from their profession.

It seems pretty obvious that the “oldest profession in the world” isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Denying prostitution exists or trying to suppress it isn’t a way to effect positive change in sex workers’ lives. And if these women are indeed choosing their paths, policies should be enacted to protect them from abuse, not further expose them to violence in an already vulnerable field.

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi



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