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A guide to legal models so simple even swerfs can understand it.

Since the long awaited report on the impact of the criminalization of sex work by Amnesty came out the usual suspects have been spreading the usual dishonest disinformation. Amnesty looked at the experiences of sex workers from different jurisdictions, with different legal models. The fact most of the attention has been focused on Norway and asymmetric criminalisation probably has as much to do with Eurocentric attitudes and white privilege as anything else. As Amnesty themselves say, all models which criminalise sex work lead to human rights abuses.

This policy has been developed in recognition of the high rates of human rights abuses experienced globally by individuals who engage in sex work; a term that Amnesty International uses only in regard to consensual exchanges between adults. It identifies the most prominent barriers to the realization of sex workers’ human rights and underlines states’ obligations to address them.

I am aware that even allies can get confused by the different models, especially when swerfs are shouting loudly their distortions, and downright lies. So, with the help of tweets, I hope to explain, in laymans terms, the 4 main models of regulating sex work.


This is the model all sex worker led orgs, Amnesty, the Lancet, The WHO, UNAids, and a number of other human rights groups propose and advocate for.

The philosophical underpinning of decriminalization is the removal of the idea that sex work is a criminal issue which needs to be managed by the criminal justice system, and instead treats sex work as what it is, work. This does not mean it is without issues, just as cleaning work does not erase the existance of trafficing for domestic servicture, or agricultural work trafficking of children across the globe. However decriminalisation treats sex work as work (which is of course why swerfs hate it). And yes, under decrim sex workers pay tax, its sex WORK remember. Of course under every legal model sex workers pay tax, but that might be a topic for another blog.

Wild claims are made that decrim will lead to mega brothels on every corner, or that child sexual exploitation will be legalised, as if removing laws which target sex workers removes all other laws.

So decriminalization of sex work removes the laws around sex work which target sex workers, as well as in countries such as the US the criminalization of sex work itself.

Remember the Swedish model (asymmetric criminalisation) adds new laws, it does not remove any, and is not therefore decriminalization


In the UK abortion has been legalised, not decriminalised. This means that unless you fit the very strict criteria for having an abortion, you are breaking the law, and can be prosecuted. So it is with sex work in countries which have a legalised model of sex work (which is roughly the category the UK fits into) We are forced by the law to work alone, despite the dangers, and street work is illegal. There are more issues, such as the prosecution of our partners, eviction from social housing, the use of asbos, but this post is an overview.

The main problem with legalisation is that it barely impacts those with the most privilege, and harms those with the least. It is always easier for the privileged to jump through state imposed hoops.

When you impose gatekeeping such as mandatory STD testing its the case that those with economic privilege often benefit the most.

Asymmetric Criminalisation AKA the Nordic Model AKA the Swedish Abomination

Asymmetric Criminalisation was first introduced in Sweden, where sex work was legal, but feminists decided incompatible with their idea of what a feminist Sweden should look like. Originally they wanted to criminalise both the seller and buyer, but that didnt fly. The aim was never to reduce trafficking, protect sex workers or support sex workers leaving sex work. The aim was firstly to send an ideological message (that the state decides which sex is acceptable) and secondly to make sex workers lives harder, so they conformed to the norms of Swedish society. It is worth noticing that in both Norway and Iceland asymmetrical criminalization was passed by appealing to racist tropes about “savage” and hypersexualised women of colour selling sex being a public health issue.

As Carter explained, it can only be enforced by violating the human rights of sex workers.

All you need to know about AC is summed up by the sex worker in Norway, who, upon reporting her rape to the police, was not treated as a victim of crime, but instead the police ensured she was evicted. We are turned from humans into scenes of crimes, or at best accomplices in a criminal act.

Full Criminalization

Full criminalization, where both the sale and purchase of sexual services is a crime is rarer than most people realise. Its the situation in China, Afghanistan, Iran and of course the United States. It is the goal of the #Enddemand movement, who oppose the removal of any laws which penalise sex workers.

I am a UK based sex worker, if you want to know more about full criminalization I suggest you follow orgs such as Swop USA or incredible activists such as MistressMatisse and Maggie MacNeil. It does seem obvious to anyone with an ounce of understanding on how the world works, that criminalizing the sellers of sex means women, and particularly the most marginalised of women, trans women, women of colour, and trans women of colour, will suffer the most. We live in a society which turns a blind eye to men who transgress against women, who treat our bodies as their property, their behaviour is excused. Whilst at the same time a woman who deviates in any way from the purity demanded is seen as fair game. When both buyer and seller are criminalised the stigma, punishment, arrest rates, dangers, all are loaded on the women who sell, not the men who buy. (I am aware its not just women (cis and trans) who sell but they make up the majority of sellers).

This post was prompted by the fact that antis are appropriating the word decrim, and making false claims about the swedish model. People need to start listening to what sex workers actually want, what works, what the harms of particular models are. This should not be about the millions the rescue industry has to fund it, but about facts. This should be not about who can shout the loudest, but listening to those who have been silenced.


2 comments on “A guide to legal models so simple even swerfs can understand it.

  1. Pingback: Savage Love Letter of the Day: Getting Off Guilt-Free – VelvetRainne

  2. Julie Biddle
    June 27, 2017

    I have never really understood why sex work was criminalized. It has been a part of human culture for at least 4,000 years or so (it existed in biblical times after all). For all of that time it has been looked down on and criminalized as if that would make it go away. Well, if you’ve been doing something for 4,000 years and it hasn’t worked maybe it’s time to realize it isn’t ever going to work!

    We had some debate in Canada and I thought about what I would like to see. It is work, and work that has some value to society (if it didn’t it wouldn’t exist at all), but work that has some public health implications. The best analogy I could come up with was a restaurant which makes it a municipal issue.

    Zoning would apply – some towns/cities would probably want to restrict sex workers to certain areas, or maybe regulate how close to a school you could operate. By laws could cover things like signage, hours of operation, licencing and inspection – exactly the same way they regulate restaurants and bars. There should also be categories for things less formal than a full restaurant – think of food trucks and food carts – small single or small group enterprises.

    In this model a sex worker could be an employee of a legitimate business, covered by labour laws that provide protection from exploitation as well as workplace health and safety laws. A sex worker, or small group of them, could also be business owners, if they have the financial resources to do so. In either case they would have the same legal standing as their peers in the restaurant business.

    Will this get rid of trafficking, child abuse and other aspects of the current trade? No. But what it will do is free up law enforcement to concentrate on them instead of wasting their efforts trying to get rid of sexual activity between consenting adults!

    The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. Isn’t 4,000 years of insanity enough?


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This entry was posted on May 28, 2016 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , .

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