Decriminalising prostitution has been a hot topic for debate in Malta, as the government is currently studying the best way to proceed on the taboo issue. And with Malta’s sex industry being a ‘wild west’, regulation is crucial.
Reforms Minister Owen Bonnici said that the government is currently looking into the applicability of the Nordic Model.
At the same time, he insists that legislation should make a clear distinction between those who willingly enter prostitution and those who are forced or coerced into selling sex to make a living.
The PN and several women’s organisations have voiced support for this model.
But what exactly is the Nordic Model?
The Nordic Model decriminalises prostitutes and criminalises their traffickers and clients instead. Services like pimping and the keeping of brothels would also remain illegal.
That means that the work won’t be illegal, but the use of the services will be. This shifts the responsibility from sex workers to sex buyers with the aim to make the industry safer to work in.
The Nordic approach targets pimps and buyers rather than those being exploited in the sex trade. It decriminalises women that are driven into prostitution and are suffering sexual exploitation, offering them a way out.
How was the Nordic Model developed?
The Nordic Model was developed by listening to sex trade survivors and sex workers. The model is based on the belief that people who were trafficked or forced into prostitution are victims of crime, rather than criminals.
Besides criminalising the buying of sex, the model also emphasises the importance of social services and policies that help those who seek to exit the industry to stay out of the sex trade.
The Nordic Model was first adopted in Sweden, after which Norway and Iceland followed – hence the name. In the years after, the model was also adopted by Canada, Ireland, France and Israel.
What’s bad about it?
Critics of the Nordic Model argue that the system doesn’t actually reduce demand, but simply further pushes prostitution underground through the black market.
Former parliamentary secretary Rosianne Cutajar said that adopting the Nordic Model would only force the industry to go underground and make the working conditions for sex workers and clients more dangerous.
On top of that, making something illegal doesn’t necessarily end demand for it. Drugs are illegal, but people still buy and use them. In countries that have chosen to use the Nordic model, demand still exists.
That way, the Nordic model might worsen conditions for sex workers by scaring away law-abiding clients, while clients who are already more likely to break the law remain, increasing the risk of violence against workers.
What’s good about it?
The countries that have been studied show that implementing the Nordic Model mends positive results. Sweden, the first country to adopt the model, saw a 50% decrease in street prostitution and a significant decline in the number of men purchasing sex.
Norway found that street prostitution declined between 30 to 60%, and indoor prostitution decline between 10 and 20%.
Canada, Israel, Ireland and Norway have seen a decrease in violence and deaths among people in prostitution, a decrease in trafficking, and a decrease in the number of men buying sex.
And as the demand for sexual services was disrupted, the trade in women and girls for sexual exploitation was reduced.
In short: prostitution reduced and became safer. However, concerns remain as to whether the trade has just gone underground.
Are there alternatives?
Yes. Some argue that the Finnish model works better, as it differentiates between those who are willingly doing sex work and those who are working under a pimp, minors, or victims of trafficking.
It is legal to both buy and provide sex work, as long as the person is working individually.
This policy allows for voluntary sex work to keep existing, rather than pushing it underground making it unsafe.
The Finnish model allows for Owen Bonnici’s proposal of considering those who are willingly working in the industry, rather than criminalising the purchase of services altogether.
Why not fully decriminalise prostitution?
Fully decriminalising prostitution drives demand of sex work and growth of the market.
Research shows that legalising prostitution leads to the expansion of the prostitution market, increasing human trafficking. Countries where prostitution is completely legal, like the Netherlands, experience larger reported human trafficking inflows.
An example of legalising prostitution gone wrong is Germany, which had decriminalised sex trade in 2002. Anja Wells from German trafficking support agency SOLWODI said that the message to men seems to be they have the ‘right’ to buy sexual acts, and don’t need to feel guilty anymore.
“We have seen evidence that the behaviour of the sex buyers has worsened with our laws effectively normalising prostitution,” she said. “We have also seen an increase in the exploitation of more vulnerable women and girls, especially those from a migrant background. It has become a prostitution of poverty.”
Even in the Netherlands, prostitution became a law-obliging criminal world, as the law turned pimps into recognised businessmen – and the police are powerless. Rather than preventing trafficking and exploitation, the full decriminalisation of prostitution simply legalises it.
Regardless of which model and legislation the government decides to implement, having the discussion and researching different possibilities is crucial for a safe successful sex industry.
Hopefully, listening to the voices of sex workers, experts on the topic and others who are involved in the sex industry while using the examples in other countries, will eventually lead to an inclusive and all-encompassing model.
What do you think of the decriminalisation of prostitution?