The Nordic Criminal model (NCM) is a framework developed to outlaw sex work by shifting the focus of criminalisation onto sex worker’s clients, third parties like reception staff, and by targeting workplace safety strategies like working together to avoid isolation (known as brothel keeping under the model).

The model is based on the assumptions that –

1) there is no distinction between consensual sex work and non-consensual human trafficking & sexual exploitation and;

2) sex work is always violence against women and;

3) all “prostituted women” are victims without personal agency and;

4) sex work is inherently seriously harmful to society and the individual

NCM campaigners claim that by making the purchase of consensual commercial sexual services a crime, sex workers are not criminalised in any way but in reality it is not possible to criminalise one part of a commercial transaction without negatively impacting all involved especially as NCM laws are designed to disempower sex workers & prevent them from taking steps to ensure their safety at work.

The NCM came from a series of Swedish Parliamentary Committees between 1995-1997, beginning with the presumption that “no prostitution can be said to be of a voluntary nature” and that “all sex workers are victims without personal agency.”

A radical feminists view that sex work (and all penetrative sex in fact) “is a form of male violence” heavily influenced the creation of the model and during its development sex workers were intentionally excluded from consultation because they are viewed only as ‘victims’, effectively silencing them.

From the Parliamentary Committees that focused heavily on since debunked research by radfem academic Melissa Farley and that intentionally declined to consult with Swedish sex workers came the ‘Swedish model’ in 1999 (Weitzer 2010). This was the first iteration of the Nordic Criminal model, which sought to abolish sex work through targeting those who purchase consensual commercial sexual services.

Previous
Next

Advocates for the NCM claim it protects sex workers, targets only clients and third parties, makes sex work safer, reduces (with the goal of abolishing) demand for commercial sexual services and therefore reduces human trafficking. Since 1999 Sweden, France, Canada, Norway, Ireland, and Northern Ireland have adopted variations of the NCM after heavy campaigning by radical feminists and Christian groups.

While advocates for the NCM today claim it does not harm sex workers, law enforcement in Sweden who were involved in the development and early evaluation of the first ‘Swedish model’ stated:

“I think of course the law has negative consequences for women in prostitution but that’s also some of the effect that we want to achieve with the law.” – Sweden’s Anti-Trafficking Unit Head (Skarhed 2010).

The reality for sex workers working under the NCM is vastly different from claims made by neo-abolitionists campaigning for these laws. Sex workers report they are forced to work in isolation to avoid police surveillance, entrapment, and continued arrest. Reports of violence and/or threatening behaviour experienced by sex workers increase & workers continue to be unable to report crimes committed against them. Much of sex worker’s work remains criminalised and sex workers are regularly arrested for working together. Further, sex workers remain vulnerable to deportation, surveillance, and police harassment and their families are often criminalised as well.

Part of NCM laws criminalises sex workers working together. This is a key strategy used by sex workers for workplace safety but  it is seen as “benefiting from the proceeds of prostitution”. Sex workers continue to be monitored, entrapped, & charged by police using these parts of the law. In Norway and Sweden this particular law can also criminalise sex workers’ partners and any adult children living with them (Hon Chu and Glass 2013).

In Norway sex workers were targeted by police through “Operation Homeless”. Police would entrap workers or use information provided when workers reported a crime to locate a sex worker’s address. Police then threatened landlords with charges if they did not evict  sex workers immediately or if the sex worker owned the property, police arrested and charged the sex worker. Once a worker was listed as an evicted sex worker, they were unable to find new housing (Bjørndahl 2012). Similarly it is illegal to rent to a sex worker in Sweden and if a worker owns their own property, it can be seized if used for work. 

Sex workers continue to experience high levels of stigma and discrimination under the NCM. This legislation was specifically designed to increase stigma as this was seen as a positive result that would deter people from entering the sex industry. (Skarhed 2010).

Laws within the Nordic Criminal Models employed in Norway, France, Canada and Sweden are used to unjustifiable remove sex worker’s children and to deport migrant workers (Amnesty International 2016).

The Swedish Government’s own 2010 evaluation report (Skarhed Report 2010) led researchers in Sweden to raise concern over the Government’s claimed success with the original Nordic Criminal model. The report was heavily criticised for a lack of scientific rigor, methodology, and sources as well as flawed comparisons, missing definitions, and lack of evidence to back-up numerous speculations made within the report.

A considerable time after its initial release only brief section of the report was made available in English. Evaluation of the English section of the 2010 report was undertaken by numerous international researchers including Ann Jordan from the Center of Human Rights & Humanitarian Law at the Washington College of Law in 2012. Jordan found that the laws focused on increasing stigma against clients and sex workers as an attempted form of social control, and that the report demonstrated no evidence for a decrease in the purchasing of sexual services, no evidence for reducing the number of sex workers in Sweden, and no evidence for reductions in trafficking.

The report itself also states: “For people who are still being exploited in prostitution, the above negative effects of the ban that they describe must be viewed as positive from the perspective that the purpose of the law is indeed to combat prostitution.” (Skarhed 2010)

Amnesty International 2016, The Human Cost of Crushing the Market: Criminalisation of Sex Work in Norway, available at https://www.amnestyusa.org/reports/the-human-cost-of-crushing-the-market-criminalization-of-sex-work-in-norway/

Bjørndahl Oslo, U 2012, Dangerous Liaison: A Report on the Violence Women in Prostitution in Oslo are Exposed To, Municipality of Oslo & Ministry of Justice & Public Safety, available at https://slidelegend.com/dangerous-liaisons_59f00bf21723ddac57d5e1fa.html

Skarhed, J 2010, ‘Evaluation of the Prohibition of the Purchase of Sexual Services’, Government Office of Sweden Ministry of Justice, available at https://www.government.se/articles/2011/03/evaluation-of-the-prohibition-of-the-purchase-of-sexual-services/

Hon Chu, S and Glass, R 2013, ‘Sex Work Law Reform in Canada: Considering Problems with the Nordic Model’, Alberta Law Review, vol. 51, no. 1, doi: https://doi.org/10.29173/alr59.

Jordan, A 2012, ‘The Swedish Law to Criminalise Clients: A Failed Experiment in Social Engineering’, Washington College of Law Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law, Issue Paper 4.

Weitzer, R 2010, ‘The Mythology of Prostitution: Advocacy, Research & Public Policy’, Sexuality Research and Social Policy, vol. 7, no.1, pp. 15-29, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s13178-010-0002-5.