We asked sex worker and feminist Kate Iselin to give us the skinny on what exactly the Nordic Model is and what it could mean for Australia.

The Australian Christian Lobby, known mostly for their opposition to same-sex marriage, recently put out a media release advocating for Australia to introduce the ‘Nordic Model‘, a controversial set of laws that criminalises the purchasing of sexual services, rather than the selling. 

But it’s not just Christian conservatives who want the laws. On a trip coinciding with International Womens’ Day, feminist writer and activist Gloria Steinem has recently visited Australia, giving talks in BrisbaneMelbourne, and Sydney about her recently-released memoir, ‘My Life On The Road’

While Steinem has given comment on almost every popular issue over the course of her career, her continued support of the Nordic Model is still considered controversial in many circles.

The Nordic Model was first adopted in Sweden in 1999 and was introduced in France at the beginning of April. Although its supporters believe that the Nordic Model ends exploitation of women and helps fight human trafficking, sex worker rights organisations and even Amnesty International have universally condemned the laws, stating that for sex workers of all genders, the consequences of living under the Nordic Model can be dire – even deadly.

So what exactly is the Nordic Model and what could it mean for Australia?

Okay – the Nordic Model. In layman’s terms, what the hell is it?

Right. So, the Nordic Model was first introduced in Sweden, hence the name, and it’s essentially a law that makes purchasing sexual services a criminal offence but removes penalties for selling sex. 

Imagine that you’re a chap looking to go and spend a paid hour with your local sex worker. Using France’s example of the Nordic Model, if you got sprung by the po-po you’d end up facing a few thousand dollars worth of fines and a mandatory class on the ‘plight of sex workers’ – that’s way more expensive than any girlfriend experience. Meanwhile, the working lady you had arranged to meet would be offered therapy and a cash grant from the government if she promises to quit sex work for good.

So selling sex would be totally fine, but paying for it would be illegal? What’s the logic behind that?

Well, many of the folks who support the Nordic Model reckon that women who work in the sex industry are victims who don’t have control over their actions. 

They believe that the vast majority of us ply our trade out of sheer, choiceless desperation, and that we shouldn’t be treated as criminals for participating in acts that we seemingly have not consented to. Nordic Model supporters put forward that the fault lies with men who purchase sexual services and thereby force women to remain in a vicious cycle of suffering and victimhood and, you know, being paid wads of cash to do sex stuff.

Hold up though, what about, like, male sex workers? And trans sex workers? And even women who pay for sex with women? And –

Yeah nah – that’s not really something anyone seems to have considered. The Nordic Model is pretty black and white on this issue: dudes turn women in to victims vis-à-vis the sex industry.

That seems like a pretty full-on thought process. How do people in the sex industry feel about it?

You could say the Nordic Model doesn’t have many fans within the industry. For starters, the whole concept behind it relies on this weird dichotomy of ‘criminal or victim’ that sex workers and their clients get boxed in to, when really, neither of us should be considered either so long as we’re both consenting adults. 

If you ask me, the law shouldn’t be brought down on a person for having consensual sex or purchasing a service from a willing person who’s of legal age; and you can’t just decide that someone’s a victim of something unless they say so themselves. 

Plus, while we can all agree that trafficking and exploitation are horrific and should never be tolerated, preventing every willing sex worker from doing their job in the hope that you can pluck out those who are being exploited would not only be a huge drain on the authorities and direct services away from those who need them most, but it simply doesn’t make sense.

I mean, it would be like forcing every bar and club in a city to shut their doors at 1:30am because there have been a handful of alcohol-related violence issues. Totally absurd.

Ahem. Yeah. Point taken.

Plus, it’s important to note as well that while the Nordic Model proposes to help sex workers leave the industry for good, women living in countries that have enacted it aren’t exactly telling stories of being helped with job applications or getting a lift down to open day at the local TAFE.

There have been a tonne of grave consequences for those found to be doing sex work: women tell stories of losing their apartments and places of work to being charged as pimps or traffickers simply because they worked alongside a friend. There’s also the frankly horrific 2013 case of sex worker and activist Petite Jasmine, who lost custody of her children to an abusive partner – and was later murdered by him – after it was decided her job as a sex worker made her a mentally unfit parent. 

Holy shit.


Okay, so people who choose to do sex work haven’t benefited here. What about actual victims of trafficking, though? Surely this has helped someone?

The jury’s still out on that. In Sweden, where the model was first introduced, there has been a decrease in the number of women involved in visible sex work, but the word ‘visible’ is key here. As we know, attaching criminal penalties to something doesn’t make it disappear, it just pushes it further underground: so sex workers who may have once been in touch regularly with social workers and police no longer check in, and those who might have worked alongside friends or in populated areas now work alone or in isolation. 

Countries that employ the Nordic Model rarely differentiate between consensual sex work and forced exploitation in their reporting, so it’s difficult to find a conclusive statement on whether or not anyone who needed help actually got it.

Right. And remind me again whose idea it is to bring the Nordic Model to Australia?

That would primarily be the Australian Christian Lobby, the people who brought you such hits as ‘Stop the gays from marrying!’, and ‘Safe Schools radically sexualises infants!’.

Ugh. And say I want to help make sure the Nordic Model doesn’t become an actual thing here? Anything I can do?

Sure. Send a tweet or an email to your local pollie, letting them know you’re opposed to the Nordic Model, or even better, asking them to support full decriminalisation of sex work. As the old chant goes: there’s no bad whores, just bad laws.

Photo: Secret Diary Of A Call Girl.