Criminalisation implies pushing sex work into the hidden economy, increasing the risks that sex workers face.
Amnesty International and the Economist are very different organisations, but they have reached similar conclusions on policies regarding sex markets. Last August, the International Council of Amnesty International decided to back the complete decriminalisation of prostitution. Decriminalising prostitution, they reasoned, would better protect the human rights of sex workers and be better for the health and safety of all involved. The Amnesty’s International Council took care to declare opposition to criminalising sex work for both clients and for sex workers. Criminalisation both on the demand side (clients) and the supply side (sex workers) implies pushing this ‘market’ into the hidden economy, increasing the risks that sex workers face.
Perhaps less predictably, the Economist, in a report on paid sex in 2014, also argued for a complete liberalisation of the market and against criminalisation policies. Robert Skidelsky, a prominent Keynesian economist and member of the House of Lords, recently joined the cause. In the interest of protecting the health and safety of sex workers, he advocated against criminalisation and in favour of regulation of the market.
At the same time, a number of prominent actors and organisations continue to advocate the so-called ‘Swedish approach’. Since its adoption in Norway and Iceland, this is more accurately called the ‘Nordic approach’ and is enshrined in the Kvinnofrid (violence against women) act of 1999, which condemns the industry as a locus of female oppression and aims to combat the oppression of sex workers by criminalising sex workers’ clients. The Swedish government has promoted the approach domestically and abroad, through public education and conferences, fact sheets and intense lobbying at the EU and the UN.
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This article was originally published in Aeon Magazine.