The key and simple question at the heart of debate around sex work is: what best empowers sex workers to fight for themselves? The answer is unequivocally recognising their work as work and giving them the rights and means to organise: against the bosses in brothels and clubs, for better pay and safer conditions.
The answer is not, no matter which way you look at it, to make their work more dangerous and make it more difficult for workers to seek help or exit the industry, which is precisely what the Nordic Model does. In her article “No to the Swedish Model”, Apsi Witana makes this point well: the Nordic model drives sex workers away from brothels, where they are safer, onto to the streets by laws against brothel-keeping. It makes clients less willing to hand over information that can be used to identify them. It has led to increased surveillance and harassment by police. It offers no protection to sex workers from eviction or any support for those seeking to exit the industry.
The list goes on… Meanwhile, plenty of evidence suggests that the Nordic Model has not led to a decline in sex work, its primary aim.
In any case, measuring the success or failure of a policy only in terms of a decline in sex work misses the point. There is, after all, nothing inherently wrong with money exchanging hands when people have consensual sex. Why not, instead, ask: how many sex workers are members of trade unions? Have conditions in workplaces improved? Are sex workers able to conduct their work under conditions of their own choosing e.g. to set up their own brothels in their homes without fear of reprisal from their landlord or the police? Has pay improved across the industry? These are much more useful measures of whether we are truly helping sex workers stay safe and, ultimately, leave the industry — if they choose.
Socialists and feminists must concern themselves with redistributing power, and therefore wealth and the freedom to live well, to the working class. We must, then, listen to sex worker-led organisations when they say no to the Nordic Model, fight instead for sex work to be decriminalised and support those sex workers who are already organising in their workplaces, in spite of the risks.