During the summer of 2018, I pursued research for my Honors in the Major Thesis, focusing on the use of the controversial Sex Buyer Act, or Nordic Model, as a means of combating human trafficking. Over the course of six weeks, I conducted interviews in France and Sweden, where the model was implemented in 2016 and 1999 respectively, with government officials, U.S. consular officials, nongovernmental organizations, law enforcement officers, and lawyers to answer the question: how effective is the Nordic Model in combating human trafficking for sexual purposes?
The Nordic Model is an approach to prostitution that decriminalizes prostitution for sex workers, criminalizes the facilitation and buying of commercial sex, and advocates for countries to provide assistance to sex workers who wish to leave the commercial sex industry. The Nordic Model is meant to attack the demand for commercial sex which results in a reduction in sex trafficking, as there will no longer be a market for commercial sex.
The model is quite controversial, sparking a debate between right-wing feminists, or abolitionists, and left-wing feminists, or pro-choice groups. Abolitionist groups support the Nordic Model and believe a woman cannot consent in any circumstance to selling her body and argue that women enter into prostitution because they feel that they have no other choice, that it is a type of societal coercion. Pro choice groups argue that the Nordic Model actually infantilizes women, taking away their individual agency and negating the validity of sex work for those who choose to enter into the industry of their own volition. Pro choice groups also believe that the model leads to increased discrimination against sex workers and also renders them further beholden to the demands of sex buyers so as to maintain their clientele.
To answer my research question, I interviewed government officials, U.S, consular officials, nongovernmental organizations, law enforcement officers, and lawyers who shared their experiences working with and researching the model and those in the commercial sex industry. In these interviews, we addressed the controversy of the Nordic Model, the impacts of the model, as well as various moral and societal ideologies surrounding prostitution in France and Sweden. The information gleaned from these interviews will be used as I continue to write my Honors Thesis, informing my analysis of the impact of the model as it pertains to social norms, prostitution, and human trafficking. This research also serves as a springboard for my postgraduate studies and career in human rights and development. Following my pursuit of a master’s in development studies, I hope to analyze the economic and social incentives that perpetuate human rights violations, such as human trafficking, in order to implement effective development policies that ensure basic human rights.
Olivia McConnell is pursuing degrees in economics, French, and international affairs with a concentration in political science.
The featured image is from the Skoll foundation.