The #NordicModel and the CPC approach to #BedfordSCC

Awww isn’t this sweet, the cons want to help the hookers… no wait, they want to help women because hookers are a different class of people altogether in their eyes. But for real, this is how the Othering of sex workers that their bed buddy, Sun News, contributes to the violence and whorephobia that they experience. Is it really all that hard to refer to sex workers as sex workers and not prostitutes, prostituted women, or hookers? I get the right to self determination as some sex workers refer to themselves as hookers or prostitutes but only to reclaim the word and sometimes to refer to the history and legality of the word (Source). For real though, sex workers, is it all that hard?

Also, the cons attempts to address the SCC decision is a step in the wrong direction. If you weren’t angered after reading this article, entitled “Conservatives set to replace prostitution laws to help sex workers,” then you probably missed the gaps in their argument to criminalize the buyers or adopt the Nordic Model.

Let’s be honest, the cons aren’t helping sex workers by implementing the Nordic Model. In fact, much of the successes associated with this model have been refuted as myths. A talk that was given Mary Len-Skillbrei (Associate Professor at University of Olso) and Charlotta Holmstrom (Assistant professor at Malmo University) outlines the myths of the Nordic Model. Refuting this model as a myth is based on their research since the nineties and a large comparative study in 2007-2008 in which they “examined how Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden approach prostitution through criminal justice and welfare policies, and reviewed the evidence for how these policies impact Nordic prostitution markets and the people who work in them” (Source).  They found that there were too many differences for there to be a “Shared Nordic Model” which suggests that referring to multiple countries to apply a model to one country is bound to be rife with difficulties. They also found that the success that is similarly praised by the Conservatives and the abolitionists (the antis) “is far more fraught than popular support would suggest” (Source). Even when the antis assume that this will help victims or prevent trafficking, this model actually “produce negative outcomes for people in prostitution” (Source). In fact, it has been cited that policies such as these produce an offshoot of bylaws, regulations, and other policies that negatively affect those involved in the trade. This article actually makes it very clear that when the antis say they only want to help and save women and young girls in the trade, the opposite happens. The authors state, that the other policies that arise because of this model “assume that the women who sell sex are to be punished and blamed for prostitution” (Source). As outlined by the authors, what is even more revealing of the model is how it treats migrant workers.

What is not commonly known when people cite the Nordic Model is the way it treats migrant women. Sweden even has an act that is entitled “Aliens Act” (oh how nice!) that prevents migrant women from selling sex. The authors state the problem with this concisely:

This reveals the limits of the rhetoric of female victimisation, with clients framed as perpetrators: if the seller is foreign, she is to blame, and can be punished with deportation. (Source)

Just exactly how is this model and its subsequent policies supposed to protect those that are “trafficked” if they are being deported? Helloooooo violence!

Then in Norway, the individuals *ahem* the victims that the model is meant to protect actually produce more negative and harmful effects on their lives. The whole basis of decriminalization is to highlight the contradictions with criminalization. The antis attempt to argue that the decriminalization will lead to more victimization and exploitation of those in trade, when in fact, the victimization and exploitation happens due to the Canada’s ambiguous nature of their quasi-criminal state of the trade. As such, the antis then support the criminalization of the buyers (which is essentially the Nordic Model in its simplest terms). However, what the antis fail to acknowledge is that the Nordic Model contributes to increased policing, neighbor and border controls which “stigmatize them and make them more vulnerable” (Source). This the same outcome of Canada’s ambiguous, quasi-criminal laws that police the trade which is supported by numerous reports/documents that are very recently published. For example, in this document entitled “10 reasons to fight decriminalization” outlines how criminalization “fosters violence” of not only women in the trade but also men and trans sex workers. What does that say about us as a society when we ignore a whole class of people and their lived experiences in the trade all in the sake of a moral crusade to police sex and sexual identities? Exactly. Exchanging one criminal law for another criminal law is exactly the same thing as what it was before: CRIMINALIZATION!

Finally, the authors of the article cited throughout this post actually highlight that the most often cited report by the antis describing its success only looks at women who are in contact with social workers and police. So this is not an accurate representation of the effects of the model and clearly suggests that the only way the effects are measured are due to contact with the police. Do you see the contradictions with that argument? No. Then let me spell it out for you: the only way one can receive help and the way in it is measured is the contact that one has with increased policing. Yeahno. Not ideal for migrant, racialized, or indigenized sex workers. In reality, the antis argument for the Nordic Model to protect victims and trafficking victims does the exact opposite.

So when Public Safety Minister Blaney says “the government will find another way to help women because prostitution turns people ‘into real modern slaves.’” What he really means is that the conservatives just wish to further subjugate women to people who are incapable of making the choices for themselves or having agency, similar to the abolitionists approach to the decriminalization/criminalization debate. Also, if all prostitution is slavery, then what does that mean? Conflating prostitution with slavery actually ignores the lived experiences of those who are in experience slavery and ignores the history of the slave trade. While yes some women were sexualized and raped during their lives as slaves, this does not mean that they were prostitutes, and saying that they were/are does an injustice to the key issues: the safety and security of individuals.

And no, Minister Blaney, this is not what many cases of prostitution is all about. What is harmful for women is subjugating them to beings that are incapable of making choices about their lives and their livelihood, and preventing them the safety and security affording to other citizens in Canada. Prostitution doesn’t turn women into human trafficking victims because prostitution isn’t trafficking. Even though prostitution isn’t actually defined in the Criminal Code, it has been defined by case law. This definition includes three main elements: the provision of sexual services, the essentially indiscriminate nature of the act, and the necessity for some form of payment (Source). Yup, the definition of prostitution does not include anything in relation to the definition of human trafficking. While the human trafficking definition refers to prostitution or sexual services, it fails to differentiate itself (human trafficking vs. prostitution) which is problematic in and of itself. These problems are demonstrated when one is actually charged with trafficking in Canada. As it goes, the fact is that human trafficking charges in Canada tend to be reduced to other charges because it doesn’t meet the threshold for trafficking elements. What does this exactly mean? Do we need more strict laws? No. What it means is that by conflating trafficking with prostitution just means that it does nothing for the safety and security of individuals that occupy either side of the argument. Also, by ignoring the voices of sex workers in the trade contributes to the problem that you, Mr. Blaney, are trying to prevent: removing their own identity. It says that sex workers don’t exist and don’t matter in this discussion. When, in reality, they matter because they are the real experts on the trade. Further using sensationalistic words and phrases, or the most extreme cases (like those who are addicted to drugs and also engage in sex work) is problematic, and also despicable.

Ugh. Despicable, Mr. Blaney.

So when the conservatives and the abolitionists argue that they are fighting for gender equality by criminalizing the trade or getting rid of prostitution, what they really mean is they are fighting for gender equality for a particular type of women, and that they are anti-human rights and anti-immigration.

One comment

  1. Even if it is distinct from prostitution, if we want to avoid the implementation of these kind of laws, sex-workers, sex-workers organizations will have to come-up with answers on how to prevent/eliminate human trafficking. It’s a sad position to be in.
    The debate on what to do next will, not only, have to include sex-workers but also all stakeholders including victims of trafficking and clients. Sex-workers and their clients will have to be loud in the coming months.

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