What is the Equality Model of prostitution?
The term “Equality Model” has recently been attached to the legal framework more commonly known as the Nordic Model of prostitution. Nordic Model prostitution laws partially decriminalize sex work while leaving both the purchase and promotion of sex work illegal. Attaching the term “equality” to this approach to prostitution law suggests that it is in the best interest of sex workers. Unequivocal evidence shows that it is not.
The Nordic Model of prostitution renamed: Equality Model or Entrapment Model?
There is irony in using the term “equality” to describe prostitution laws that criminalize only one side of a sex work transaction. The implementation of laws that criminalize clients clearly correlates with an increase in violence perpetrated against sex workers, so perhaps the “equality” they’re referring to is how these laws equally harm everyone they touch.
In both implementation and outcomes, the Equality Model is anything but equal. Since police primarily use these laws to essentially entrap sex work clients in a soliciting prostitution charge, the Nordic Model rebranding we believe fits best is the “Entrapment Model.”
The Equality Model vs the full decriminalization of sex work
We compare two types of sex work legislation: Equality Model prostitution laws and the full decriminalization of sex work.
The Equality Model
1. Criminalizes the buying of sex but not the selling of sex
2. Sex workers are financially dependent on criminalized clients
3. Assumes sex workers need to be "saved" and denies them bodily autonomy
4. Does not decrease exploitation in the commercial sex industry
Decriminalization of Sex Work
1. Reduces violence and exploitation while increasing public health and safety
2. Recommended by Amnesty International and the World Health Organization
3. Improves sex worker health and safety while reducing sex worker homelessness
4. Empowers sex workers to operate independently, reducing human trafficking
Examine the Evidence: Equality Model vs Decriminalization of Prostitution
|Decriminalization of Prostitution||Equality Model|
|Demand for prostitution||No change||No change|
|Reports of incidents of violence against sex workers||Decreased||Increased|
|Public health and safety||Increased||Decreased|
|Social attitudes||Reduced stigma of sex workers and clients||Increased stigma of sex workers and clients|
- 1 Ministry of Justice, “Report of the Prostitution Law Review Committee on the Operation of the Prostitution Reform Act 2003,” New Zealand Government, May 2008, 168.
- 2 “Assessment of Review of Operation of Article 64A of the Sexual Offences Order (Northern Ireland) 2008: Offence of Purchasing Sexual Services,” Northern Ireland Department of Justice, September 17, 2019.
- 3 GAATW, 2011, “Moving Beyond ‘Supply and Demand’ Catchphrases - Assessing the uses and limitations of demand based approaches in anti-trafficking.”
- 4 “Policy Brief: The Impact of ‘End Demand’ Legislation on Women Sex Workers,” Global Network of Sex Work Projects, February 12, 2018.
- 5 “Why Sex Work Should Be Decriminalized: Questions and Answers,” Human Rights Watch, August 7, 2019.
- 6 “Purchasing Sexual Services in Sweden and the Netherlands: Legal Regulation and Experiences,” Norwegian Ministry of Justice and the Police, 2004; Jay Levy, Criminalising the Purchase of Sex: Lessons from Sweden (New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2015), 121.
- 7 Decker M R et al., “Human rights violations against sex workers: burden and effect on HIV,” The Lancet HIV and Sex Workers, (2014): 60-73.
- 8 GAATW, 2011, “Moving Beyond ‘Supply and Demand’ Catchphrases - Assessing the uses and limitations of demand based approaches in anti-trafficking.”
- 9 “Ten Reasons to Decriminalize Sex Work” Open Society Foundation, March 2015.
- 10 “Assessment of Review of Operation of Article 64A of the Sexual Offences Order (Northern Ireland) 2008: Offence of Purchasing Sexual Services,” Northern Ireland Department of Justice, September 17, 2019.
What is the Nordic Model?
The Nordic Model of prostitution is based on the theory that the way to “free” sex workers from lives of prostitution is to criminalize clients and third parties. The theory assumes sex workers are victims, but in practice, the law tends to treat them more like criminals.
Sex work exists on a spectrum of choice, circumstance, and coercion. Sex work is work and no one should assume that sex workers do not have choice or autonomy. This patriarchal view of sex work is a dangerous threat to the bodily autonomy and freedom of choice that women and other marginalized groups have been fighting to achieve for so long.
Laws based on the Nordic Model target sex work clients with entrapment, making them far more likely to pursue anonymous interactions in remote locations. Keeping sex work in the dark jeopardizes the harm reduction strategies sex workers use to keep themselves safe and leaves them vulnerable to predators and criminals.
Prostitution laws across the globe
From added violence to malicious evictions, evidence of Nordic model failure has shown that partial decriminalization prostitution laws are simultaneously ineffective at ending exploitation in the sex trade and harmful to the people they are meant to protect.
Prostitution Laws in Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland created their Entrapment-based, Nordic Model prostitution laws in a naive attempt to end demand for sex work. Rather than decrease demand, they’ve experienced an increase in online ads since implementation in 2015. A study conducted by the Department of Justice also found an increase in harassment and anti-social behaviors directed at sex workers since the policy change.
Prostitution Laws in Norway
Norway enacted prostitution laws based on the Nordic Model that intentionally evicted over 400 sex workers, mostly migrant women, from their homes. The project was aptly named “Operation Homeless” by Norwegian police.
Prostitution Laws in Sweden
Swedish prostitution laws enacted in 1999 use landlords as weapons against sex workers. These laws hold landlords liable for promoting prostitution if they don’t evict sex workers simply for having used their homes to provide sexual services.
Only 7% of Americans support entrapment model sex work legislation
A national survey completed October 1st, 2021 of likely voters in the United States asked voters whether they would support decriminalizing the sale of sex, while keeping the purchase of sex illegal. When asked about this entrapment model sex work legislation, only 7% support this model of prohibiting prostitution, while 60% oppose it, and 33% are unsure.
The vast majority of individuals involved in selling and buying sex are consenting adults. “Proponents of the entrapment model conflate human trafficking with consensual adult sex work, intentionally confusing the issue to advance their agenda of restricting sex between consenting adults. Where trafficking and prostitution are conflated, human trafficking victims are treated like criminals, and consenting adults are needlessly arrested,” said Ariela Moscowitz, director of communications at Decriminalize Sex Work (DSW), which commissioned the national poll. “There is less support for the entrapment model than there is for white supremacist views, yet legislators continue to propose the former,” Moscowitz continued.
Sex worker jobs are not inherently dangerous. Criminalization makes the work dangerous.
Criminalizing clients keeps the entire sex work industry underground and makes sex worker jobs more dependent on third parties who might mean them harm, leaving them more vulnerable to exploitation.
Sex workers in countries where prostitution laws like the Entrapment Model have been implemented are frequently threatened and harassed by law enforcement. Criminalizing clients results in police raids on sex workers which are psychologically and physically harmful. These encounters also often result in sex workers experiencing isolation and stigma due to being outed to their community.
Equality Model New York
The promoters of the newly rebranded Equality Model of prostitution have launched their U.S. campaign in New York. Despite evidence demonstrating that this model contributes to exploitation and makes sex work more dangerous, the Equality Model New York project has decided to push forward with their entrapment-focused legislation.
Keep the Equality Model out of New York State!
It’s not too late to stop New York from enacting this harmful partial decriminalization legislation! You can help by contacting the State Senators who are sponsoring bill S6040, Sex Trade Survivors Justice and Equality Act. Tell them you support protecting the safety of New York’s sex workers and demand that they keep the Equality Model out of New York State.
Senator Liz Krueger
Contact New York State Senator Liz Krueger. Senator Krueger represents the 28th Senate District and is the Chair of the Finance Committee. Liz Krueger is the primary sponsor of New York S6040.
Senator Diane Savino
Contact New York State Senator Diane Savino. Senator Savino represents the 23rd Senate District and is the Chair of the Committee on Internet and Technology. Diane Savino is a sponsor of New York S6040.
Senator Neil Breslin
Contact New York State Senator Neil Breslin. Senator Breslin represents the 44th Senate District and is the Chair of the Committee on Insurance. Neil Breslin is a sponsor of New York S6040.
Equality Model Massachusetts
A legislative campaign has also launched with the goal of implementing the Equality Model in Massachusetts. The bill they have proposed is ironically called “An Act To Strengthen Justice and Support for Sex Trade Survivors.” Unfortunately the implementation of legislation that criminalizes consensual sex work clients correlates with an increase in violence perpetrated against sex workers rather than a decrease in human trafficking.
This effort to implement the Nordic Model of prostitution in the Massachusetts uses fines charged to convicted sex work clients to fund programs meant to remove sex workers from the profession. Unfortunately the proponents of Equality Model Massachusetts seem to conflate human trafficking and consensual adult sex work in their legislative proposal which is detrimental to both victims of human trafficking and sex workers who choose the profession.
Keep the Equality Model out of Massachusetts!
It’s not too late to stop Massachusetts from enacting this harmful partial decriminalization legislation! You can help by contacting the State Representatives and Senators who are sponsoring bill H1761, An Act to strengthen justice and support for sex trade survivors. Tell them you support protecting the safety of sex workers in Massachusetts and demand that they keep the Equality Model out of the State of Massachusetts.
Representative Elizabeth Malia
Contact Massachusetts State Representative Elizabeth Malia. Representative Malia represents the 11th Suffolk District and is the primary sponsor of Massachusetts H1761.
Representative Adam Scanlon
Contact Massachusetts State Representative Adam Scanlon. Representative Scanlon represents the 14th Bristol District and is a sponsor of Massachusetts H1761.
Representative Adrian Madaro
Contact Massachusetts State Representative Adrian Madaro. Representative Madaro represents the 1st Suffolk District and is a sponsor of Massachusetts H1761.
Representative Andres Vargas
Contact Massachusetts State Representative Andres Vargas. Representative Vargas represents the 3rd Essex District and is a sponsor of Massachusetts H1761.
Representative Carlos González
Contact Massachusetts State Representative Carlos González. Representative González represents the 10th Hampden District and is a sponsor of Massachusetts H1761.
Representative Christina Minicucci
Contact Massachusetts State Representative Christina Minicucci. Representative Minicucci represents the 14th Essex District and is a sponsor of Massachusetts H1761.
Representative Christine Barber
Contact Massachusetts State Representative Christine Barber. Representative Barber represents the 34th Middlesex District and is a sponsor of Massachusetts H1761.
Representative Daniel Donahue
Contact Massachusetts State Representative Daniel Donahue. Representative Donahue represents the 16th Worcester District and is a sponsor of Massachusetts H1761.
Representative David LeBoeuf
Contact Massachusetts State Representative David LeBoeuf. Representative LeBoeuf represents the 17th Worcester District and is a sponsor of Massachusetts H1761.
Representative David Rogers
Contact Massachusetts State Representative David Rogers. Representative Rogers represents the 24th Middlesex District and is a sponsor of Massachusetts H1761.
Representative Jack Lewis
Contact Massachusetts State Representative Jack Lewis. Representative Lewis represents the 7th Middlesex District and is a sponsor of Massachusetts H1761.
Representative James Hawkins
Contact Massachusetts State Representative James Hawkins. Representative Hawkins represents the 2nd Bristol District and is a sponsor of Massachusetts H1761.
Representative James O'Day
Contact Massachusetts State Representative James O'Day. Representative O'Day represents the 14th Worcester District and is a sponsor of Massachusetts H1761.
Speaking out: The 2020 Democratic Presidential candidates on prostitution policy and the Equality Model.
Many of the Democratic Party candidates for President of the United States in the 2020 election went on the record regarding their views on prostitution policy. The following quotes have been attributed to each candidate.
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii)
“IF A CONSENTING ADULT WANTS TO ENGAGE IN SEX WORK, THAT IS THEIR RIGHT, AND IT SHOULD NOT BE A CRIME,” GABBARD SAID. “ALL PEOPLE SHOULD HAVE AUTONOMY OVER THEIR BODIES AND THEIR LABOR.”
—Buzzfeed News, March 2019
U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts)
“I’M OPEN TO DECRIMINALIZATION. SEX WORKERS, LIKE ALL WORKERS, DESERVE AUTONOMY BUT THEY ARE PARTICULARLY VULNERABLE TO PHYSICAL AND FINANCIAL ABUSE AND HARDSHIP. WE NEED TO MAKE SURE WE DON’T UNDERMINE LEGAL PROTECTIONS FOR THE MOST VULNERABLE, INCLUDING THE MILLIONS OF INDIVIDUALS WHO ARE VICTIMS OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING EACH YEAR.”
—Senator Warren via Twitter, June 19, 2019
“AS LAWMAKERS, WE ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR EXAMINING UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES OF ALL LEGISLATION, AND THAT INCLUDES ANY IMPACT SESTA-FOSTA MAY HAVE HAD ON THE ABILITY OF SEX WORKERS TO PROTECT THEMSELVES FROM PHYSICAL OR FINANCIAL ABUSE.”
—The Hill, December 17, 2019
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont)
“WHEN YOU TALK ABOUT, UH, PEOPLE GETTING ARRESTED, UH, FOR PROSTITUTION, I THINK ONE SHOULD KEEP INTO CONSIDERATION THAT THE, THE PEOPLE WHO USE PROSTITUTES, MEN WHO VISIT, UH, PLACES OF PROSTITUTION, OR ENGAGE PROSTITUTIONS (SIC), THEY ARE EQUALLY GUILTY. BUT I THINK THE ISSUE OF, UH, LEGALIZING IT* IS SOMETHING THAT CERTAINLY NEEDS TO BE DISCUSSED.”
—Senator Sanders in an interview with NPR, May 2019
“BERNIE BELIEVES THAT DECRIMINALIZATION IS CERTAINLY SOMETHING THAT SHOULD BE CONSIDERED. OTHER COUNTRIES HAVE DONE THIS AND IT HAS SHOWN TO MAKE THE LIVES OF SEX WORKERS SAFER.”
—Sarah Ford, Deputy Communications Director of the Sanders Campaign, The Hill, June 2019
Pete Buttigieg (D-Indiana)
“I'M NOT READY TO MAKE POLICY NEWS ON THIS YET. … THE REASON FOSTA-SESTA MOVED SO QUICKLY IS BECAUSE [LAWMAKERS THOUGHT] THAT BY SUPPORTING THE BILL THEY WERE OPPOSING THE HARMS THAT COME FROM SEX TRAFFICKING. WE NOW UNDERSTAND THAT THIS LEGISLATION HARMED VULNERABLE PEOPLE, BUT THIS NEEDS TO BE PART OF A LARGER CONVERSATION ABOUT HOW WE TREAT SEX WORKERS AND ALL OF THE REASONS WHY THIS SOCIETY HESITATES TO EMBRACE THE IDEA OF SEX WORK. I DON’T THINK ALL OF THOSE IDEAS ARE WRONG, BUT WE NEED TO OPEN UP DEBATE ABOUT THESE POLICIES, WHICH WERE WELL-INTENTIONED BUT HARMFUL IN PRACTICE.”
—Out magazine, May 21, 2019
U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota)
“SO I AM NOT IN FAVOR OF DECRIMINALIZING ALL OF SEX WORK. I’M CONCERNED ABOUT THE EFFECT THAT’S GONNA HAVE ON YOUNG WOMEN AND VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN, BUT I’D LOVE TO TALK WITH YOU AFTERWARDS IF YOU HAVE A FEW MINUTES SO WE CAN TALK IT THROUGH, AND LET’S SEE HOW WE CAN FIND COMMON GROUND GOING FORWARD.”
—Senator Klobuchar in CNSNews.com, October 11, 2019
“ON AVERAGE, GIRLS FIRST BECOME VICTIMS OF SEX TRAFFICKING AT 13 YEARS OLD.”
—Senator Klobuchar in The Washington Post, June 11, 2015
Andrew Yang (D)
“[W]E SHOULD CONSIDER DECRIMINALIZING SEX WORK ON THE PART OF THE SELLER,” AS THIS WOULD BE “HELPFUL IN COMBATING HUMAN TRAFFICKING.”
—Andrew Yang in Reason, December 23, 2019
Michael Bloomberg (D-New York)
“WE’RE JUST NOT GOING TO HAVE THIS WOMAN IN FRONT OF A CLASS.”
—Mayor Bloomberg, on firing a school teacher who admitted to working as a sex worker in the past, The Guardian, October 2010
Former Vice President Joe Biden (D-Delaware)
“IN YOUR STATE, YOU’VE MADE THAT JUDGMENT AND YOU HAVE A MECHANISM BY WHICH TO OVERSEE WHAT’S HAPPENING, AND SO I’M NOT SUGGESTING I’M GOING TO COME AND CHANGE THE LAW IN YOUR STATE,” BIDEN SAID. “BUT THERE’S A WHOLE RANGE OF THINGS THAT MATTER: IT MATTERS WHETHER OR NOT HOW YOU GOT INTO THE TRADE, WHETHER YOU GOT PULLED INTO THE TRADE OR WHETHER YOU’RE UNDERAGE, ET CETERA, AND WHETHER OR NOT YOU’RE OWNED BY A JOHN WHO IS TAKING YOUR MONEY, ET CETERA. THERE’S A WHOLE RANGE OF THINGS.”
—Joe Biden in The Nevada Independent, July 20, 2019
Take action! Reject Entrapment Model legislation!
Please send this letter to your state representative and help reject the Entrapment Model before it gets a foothold in the United States. With your support, we can fully decriminalize consensual adult sex work across the country and improve the health and safety of our communities.