The EU Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality wants EU member states to adopt the so-called Nordic, or gender equality, model of regulating prostitution.
The committee published a draft report on the regulation of prostitution in the EU in January this year.
“The debate on the issue of prostitution and its regulation is currently underway in many Member States and worldwide,” the report reads.
It calls for a “European approach” to tackle an issue that affects all of Europe and can easily cross national borders.
In recent years, the question of prostitution has divided even feminists. Their long-held position called for the criminalization of selling sex and the prosecution of those who provided sex in exchange for money or who marketed sexual services.
Now, radical feminists advocate for the decriminalization of selling sex, viewing it as a way of empowering women. Their rationale is that laws criminalizing prostitution stigmatize women and are a form of patriarchal oppression that mandates what a woman can or can’t do with her own body. They claim a woman should have the right to sell sex if she wants.
Traditional feminists, though, understand prostitution is actually a form of human trafficking and enslavement. In reality, women are often prostituted by a third party, with little power to escape. Or they resort to selling themselves out of desperation. The report calls for the “destigmatization” of these women in favor of providing social and legal services to help them leave prostitution.
The so-called equality model of regulating prostitution, often referred to as the Nordic model because it was adopted in the Nordic countries in the early 2000s, attempts to regulate prostitution by prosecuting those buying sex, rather than those supplying it.
This is what the committee has called for in its draft report.
regrets the fact that even the legalisation of prostitution, pimping, and the purchase of sex does not mean an end to the stigma for women in prostitution; implementing the Nordic/Equality model supports the feminist background of this model and its goal of achieving gender equality, and highlights the model’s positive effects on the rights of people in prostitution and the fight against human trafficking.
It also notes that
prostitution and trafficking for sexual exploitation only exist because there is a demand for them and that the decriminalisation of pimping and of the purchase of sex increases demand, empowers the demand side and normalises sex buying.
Some question the success of the Nordic model.
In 2013 two Norwegian researchers, writing in The Conversation, concluded that “contrary to many common feminist appraisals, these laws do not send a clear message as to what and who is the problem with prostitution; on the contrary, they are often implemented in ways that produce negative outcomes for people in prostitution.”
The researchers found that prosecuting purchasers of sex did not diminish prostitution in the country and that prostitutes were still subject to negative scrutiny by law enforcement.
taken together, the Nordic countries’ ways of approaching prostitution have been presented nationally and understood internationally as expressions of a shared understanding of prostitution as a gender equality problem, an example of how women’s rights can be enshrined in anti-prostitution law. But after looking closely at how the laws have been proposed and implemented, we beg to differ.