Nordic prostitution model harms sex workers


Northern Europe


Photo EPA, Sedat Suna

Women in the sex industry experience more violence and stigmatising when a country adheres to the so-called Nordic model that criminalises buying sex.

The Nordic model is meant to combat human trafficking and exploitation by criminalising customers of prostitutes while letting the sellers of sex go free. That is reported by Kristeligt Dagblad. However, according to new research from the London School of Economics, this legislation feeds distrust between law enforcement officers and prostitutes. For the study, 210 sex sellers, police officers, social workers and policymakers were interviewed. Also, field studies were conducted in Norway, Sweden and Finland, where the Nordic model is in force.


The Finnish researcher Niina Vuolajärvi from the European Institute at the London School of Economics says that the ban has “led to increasing violence against marginalised women.” She points out that sex sellers do not dare to contact the police if they have become victims of a crime. The consequence is that prostitutes have a greater risk of ending up in a dangerous situation without getting help.

Researcher Theresa Dryvig Henriksen from Vive, the National Research and Analysis Centre for Welfare, agrees that the Nordic model can harm sex sellers. “The sex seller has to rush the initial, important contact with the customer, which makes the situation more uncertain”, she explains.

Desert places

Sex worker Anna says that the law has made her work more dangerous as customers only want to meet in desert places where no one will discover that they are buying sex, which is illegal. She says to Kristeligt Dagblad that customers are afraid of being exposed and that she often does not know their name or background. “I wish I could share rooms with other women because that would provide greater security”.

Anna is one of the founders of the Red Umbrella Sweden organisation that fights for the rights of sex workers in Sweden. The organisation has around 100 members.


Her main argument against the Nordic prostitution model is that it forces prostitutes to work in secret and that it has not even proven effective. According to the study, only six per cent of the interviewed sex workers experience human trafficking. Most others indicate that they have financial motives for their work.

Instead, the law increases the risk for women, Anna says. According to her, many prostitutes are subject to violent assaults and rape because sex sales must take place in secret. She acknowledges that some foreign women are forced to work as prostitutes but also argues that it would be easier for them to get help if they did not have to work in secret. “Many foreigners are deported abroad if they sell sex in Sweden, and they get no help.”

She points out that sex workers are thrown out of their apartments and that their money is seen as illegal and can be confiscated by the police. Thus, she thinks that there are many reasons for prostitutes not to report to the police if they fall victim to violence and exploitation.


The Swedish human trafficking rapporteur rejects the outcomes of the report. Janna Davidson denies that the law makes the situation unsafe for sex workers. She says that she does not have proof of sex workers working in secret. “They openly advertise on websites that are managed from abroad. The women can always turn to the police if they feel exposed, and they do”, she says to Kristeligt Dagblad. Furthermore, Davidson does not believe that there are so many women who work in the sex industry voluntarily. “Sex sales are often the last resort.”

Instead, she argues that the law is effective because nowadays, 70 per cent of Swedes distance themselves from sex sales. Buying sex can lead to prison sentences of up to a year since the summer of 2022 when legislation was tightened. Before, customers were only fined.



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