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Soliciting for Change: Understanding the impacts of the Swedish Model and full decriminalisation

Updated: Sep 18, 2020

The session explored the impact of different legal frameworks on sex workers’ vulnerabilities to violence, human rights violation, and HIV.

The first part of the sessions included 5 short presentations on the consequences of the Swedish Model of client criminalisation in Sweden, Norway, France, and Ireland as well as specifically on trans sex workers. The presentations followed by a Q&A and quiz game for participants.

After a short entertainment break, the second part of the session focused on decriminalisation and sex worker-led advocacy to successfully achieve the decriminalisation of sex work in Northern Territory, Australia.

The presentations were followed by a Q&A.

Presentation 1

The first speaker is Simone, a sex workers rights activist in Sweden. She has experience in the sex work industry and substance use, even before the Swedish law. She focuses on harm reduction clinics and how beneficial they are to what society sees as ‘heathens’. The harm reduction program drastically lowered the transmission of HIV and Hepatitis amongst drug users and street-based sex workers. She explains how sex workers need information on how to work safer, practice safer sex, and have sex worker specific healthcare, such as anonymous testing without uncomfortable questions or threats. Moving on to Covid-19 and how it has drastically decreased income for sex workers and how sex workers are robbed and assaulted, the police never intervene. Ending off that sex workers are people too and that “We are worthy safety and care, no matter what lifestyle we live”.

Presentation 2

The second speaker is Andres from Norway, who works in the Norwegian sex workers rights organisation. Andres points out that the stigma against sex workers has become much worse throughout the years, especially after the sex purchase law was implemented in 2009. He explains that if one sold sex, was beaten up and therefore was unable to work and had to recover, the sex worker would be able to take the perpetrator to court and would have the right for compensation of lost earnings. In 2017 the Norwegian high court stated that selling sex was immoral and those sex workers do not have the right for compensation for lost earnings. In the 11th year of the sex purchase law, a lot of debates have arisen. Sex workers are not protected by the hate crime laws in Norway and can be legally discriminated against in the formal labour market. If sex workers health is spoken about publicly, it is often reduced to a question of prevention of STIs. He states that the debate about language, should it be called ‘sex work’ or ‘prostitution’ along with the debate about criminalisation is often an intellectual debate far away from the day to day life and needs of many sex workers. Talking about gender, sexuality, and diversity amongst sex workers, has been a new approach to the subject and creates interest in the listeners. He discusses the pimping paragraph in the Norwegian law which is much more of a concern than the sex purchase law but is not given enough attention. In short, too much focus on the sex purchase law is a way to dumb the debate about the complexity of sex work.

Presentation 3

Next is Mimi from France, she talks about the catastrophic consequences of the penalisation of clients and how sex workers face a tremendous amount of violence and end up feeling very isolated. She also mentions how clients are afraid of seeking sex work and most sex workers end up going to other cities and even countries to find work. Adding that this law has isolated sex workers from proper health care as well. To improve the situation and the condition of life and health of Trans immigrant sex workers and all the general sex workers in France, Mimi stated that they need to abolish the penalisation of clients and the criminalisation law. Concluding that this law has made their lives much worse and even degraded their conditions of living. "Decriminalisation needs to happen immediately."

Presentation 4

The fourth speaker is Kate from Ireland, she is a sex worker, co-convenor and Director of sex workers alliance Ireland. She explains the situation in Ireland and how the Swedish model has been in place for 3 years. The Swedish model is thought to be a decriminalisation model but in reality, it is only a form of added criminalisation. Kate explains how it was already legal to sell sex alone but they made it illegal for clients to purchase sex. The law also increased penalties for sex workers working in pairs or groups and have even added a jail sentence. A racist law, that’s intention is to disrupt and disperse sex work and make it difficult and dangerous to engage in sex work, in the hopes that sex work will be minimalized.

She states that the last 3 years have been a disaster, with zero support and a violence increase of 92%. Also mentioning the current situation for sex workers due to Covid-19. Concluding that a review is underway in order for the government to listen to sex workers.

Presentation 5

The final speaker is Dinah, working for multiple organisations, she is also an organiser in the trans community and a coach for Trans United Europe (currently working in the Netherlands). She talks about Trans sex workers and people of colour who do sex work. Explaining how transphobia is extremely evident in the Netherlands, even in the sex working industry and how most trans sex workers are not allowed to work in windows, clubs or even hotel rooms in some cases. She mentions how people of colour have a higher conflict rate with police, which ends up in violence and lack of assistance.

She explains how implemented laws abolish sex work and how the issue is deeply rooted in misogynistic structures. How not only trans sex workers and sex workers of colour have difficulty in access to justice systems but also health care. The situation of being a sex worker is not legally protected. Concluding that despite such negative aspects, resilience within the community is very strong, and they help each other out, through such a challenging time.

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