Half Way Between Criminalization and Legalization: The Nordic Model

EJ1.pngProstitution laws are currently under review in the Dutch parliament after a petition was signed by about 42,000 young people.[1] These activists want to implement the Nordic model in the Netherlands which would criminalize buying sex. Currently, prostitution is legal in the Netherlands as long as it is between consenting adults. This movement, started by both Christian groups and leading feminists, has sparked debate within the Netherlands about which model best protects women. Some argue that the Nordic model harms those that would buy sex, thereby cutting the demand and decreasing trafficking and prostitution. In contrast some sex workers have stated that this will impede their ability to work and make their work more dangerous.[2] In this article I will look at the Nordic model and its outcomes to demonstrate what it would look like if implemented in places like the Netherlands.

First, violence against women has not increased in Sweden since the implementation of these laws in 1999. Initially, there was a concern that rape and domestic violence would increase if the ability to “take out sexual frustrations on prostitutes” was not available.[3] This thinking is inherently problematic, since men should not take out their frustration on any women, and has been proven false. Rape and domestic violence rates have not increased in Sweden.[4] In addition, violence against prostitutes has not risen, one of the main concerns brought up by sex workers in the Netherlands. In fact, no prostitutes were killed in Sweden in 2015, while 70 were killed in Germany, where prostitution is legal and supposedly monitored.[5]

Second, prostitution and trafficking have both declined since the implementation of the Nordic model in Sweden.[6] By criminalizing the buyers, this law drives demand down. This means that the industry will no longer thrive as it does in places where prostitution is legal, such as in Germany and the Netherlands. The rational behind legalization is to better monitor prostitution to ensure sex workers are safe and are not controlled by pimps. However, with the explosion of demand, commercial sex providers have to provide more workers than they have available, leading to an increase in trafficking. These results were corroborated by a Harvard Law School study conducted in 2014 entitled “Does Legalized Prostitution Increase Human Trafficking?”. As seen by the image below produced by Statista, the country in Europe with the greatest rate of human trafficking is the Netherlands.


Third, what of the women who state that they are voluntarily working as sex workers and this model will impact their ability to earn a living? In this case, the women argue that laws that criminalize any part of prostitution is discriminatory. However, how much of a choice is it? Even women who say they were not trafficked, or that no one was forcing them to sell sex, probably ended up in the industry due to circumstances rather than choice. EJ3When most proponents of sex work are interviewed and say it is their choice, they typically do not discuss whether they would do something else if given the option. No girl grows up wanting to be a sex worker. If women feel this is the only option for them, it is not a personal liberty, but a choice based on circumstances imposed by society.

Statistics lay bare that the Nordic model improves the lives of women in countries where it is implemented. Prostitution rates drop, and most importantly, human trafficking rates fall. This law protects innocent victims rather than creating them, which occurs in both the full legalization or criminalization of prostitution.

—by EJ






[1] Anna Holligan, “Dutch Prostitution Debate in Parliament Forced by Youth Petition”, BBC, 10 April 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-47865363

[2] Staff Writer, “Thousands of Young People Sign Petition Demanding Stricter Laws on Prostitution in the Netherlands,” Christian Today, 10 April 2019, https://www.christiantoday.com/article/thousands-of-young-people-sign-petition-demanding-stricter-laws-on-prostitution-in-the-netherlands/132182.htm

[3] Daphne Bramham, “Outlawing the Purchase of Sex has Been Key to Sweden’s Success in Reducing Prostitution,” Vancouver Sun, 21 September 2016, https://vancouversun.com/opinion/columnists/outlawing-the-purchase-of-sex-has-been-key-to-swedens-success-in-reducing-prostitution

[4] IBID

[5] IBID

[6] IBID

One thought on “Half Way Between Criminalization and Legalization: The Nordic Model

  1. V Hudson says:

    Great blogpost! I was just reading a report from Africa where prostitutes were interviewed, and found this:

    “The authors of the report write: What stays with us after six months is how much they hate it. “They laugh at you and beat you.” “You feel low, like your ego has gone away.” “You sacrifice body and soul.” “I hate myself.” And: “I have seen people die of Aids. It’s horrible.”

    I think anyone who says this is a free choice is purposefully kidding themselves.


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