Honors Thesis Spotlight: Assessing the Impact of the Nordic Model of Combating Prostitution

Terminating prostitution is an issue at the forefront of international conventions, dating back to 1949. Several studies tie prostitution to human trafficking, prompting new protocols to decrease the practice. The Nordic Model, or the Sex Buyer Act, is one example of a plan to decrease prostitution, and, thus, human trafficking. This thesis analyzes the Nordic Model by assessing the model’s effectiveness, addressing its weaknesses, and proposing changes to the model as a whole.

            This project conducts a literature review to analyze the Nordic Model alongside previous international efforts to end human trafficking and prostitution. The author reviews theoretical discussions about the model and the penal codes from countries that have implemented the model. These discussions highlight the significant role of feminist discourse in the controversy about the model. Two groups—abolitionists and pro-sex work groups—find themselves on opposite sides of the feminist spectrum and the Nordic Model debate.

            The Nordic Model was implemented in Sweden in 1999. It attempts to decrease the demand for commercial sex through three tenets: criminal law reform, social welfare policies, and public education campaigns. These tenets decriminalize prostitution and assist those who wish to leave the sex work industry. The model also criminalizes sex buying and promotes education to try and change social norms surrounding prostitution.

Unfortunately, the effectiveness of the Nordic Model is difficult to determine. Most literature about the model is anecdotal, and empirical evidence about human trafficking and prostitution is severely lacking and inconsistent. Thus, the researcher turns to other factors (such as homicide rates, police capacity, and social norms) to analyze the model’s effectiveness. Interviews with Swedish officials and residents reveal that both sample groups see a shift in social norms with the model in place. Interview participants attribute the shift to the association of shame with the practice of buying sex.

Nonetheless, abolitionists and pro-sex work groups disagree with the model. Abolitionist groups focus on the harmful effects of prostitution and consider it a form of human trafficking. The thesis highlights Melissa Farley and Michelle Madden Dempsey to elucidate this side of the debate. Both women are abolitionists who believe that consenting to prostitution does not legitimize the practice because some factors, such as poverty, might influence a person to participate in sex work.

Still, there is another side to the debate. Those in favor of pro-sex work purport that some people choose the occupation, which differentiates it from human trafficking. The researcher points to Ronald Weitzer’s article about the sex industry. He claims policies cannot be generalized towards all sex workers; they have to protect human trafficking victims and sex workers differently. Furthermore, some argue that the model actually increases the vulnerability and stigmatization of sex workers and does not holistically identify every factor that contributes to human trafficking and sex work. Often, the model relies on the moral beliefs of the politicians that support it rather than evidence.

This project analyzes the Nordic Model and identifies fundamental flaws that hinder its effectiveness. The researcher proposes several adjustments that could remedy lingering issues. Since data collection about the model and prostitution proved challenging, improving this process will help address human trafficking models more accurately. Other improvements to the model include better social welfare programs for sex workers and sex buyers, the decriminalization of prostitution, and more prevention measures that reduce the attractiveness of prostitution as a means to alleviate poverty. Overall, the thesis suggests that the Nordic Model is ultimately ineffective and lacks a holistic approach to ending prostitution.

Olivia McConnell (pictured below) is a graduate from the College of Social Science and Public Policy at Florida State University. This post is a summary of Olivia’s honors thesis, written by COSSPP Blog Intern Jacqueline Rao. You can learn more about Olivia here. You can learn more about this project here

Source for featured image: https://www.pexels.com/photo/abandoned-old-cabin-in-cold-countryside-4558580/

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