A recent study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has discovered that criminalisation and repressive policing of sex work, in places including countries with the Nordic Model increases the risk of violence, HIV and sexually transmitted infections for sex workers.
The research is described by LSHTM as “first systematic review to examine the impacts of criminalisation on sex workers’ safety, health, and access to services”.
Oppressive Measures Counterproductive
The research found that oppressive police measures such as arrest or imprisonment led to sex workers being three times more likely to experience sexual or physical violence from anyone, including clients, partners, or someone posing as a client.
The study found that sex workers who didn’t have to deal with repressive policing were 30% less likely to engage in sex with clients without a condom. This is vital anyway, but in poorer nations, sex workers are 13 times more likely to have HIV so it is even more vital.
The researchers, led by Lucy Platt, associate professor in public health epidemiology, and Pippa Grenfell, assistant professor of public health sociology, gathered data from journals published between 1990 and 2018 on sex work, legislation, policing and health. They ranged from 33 different countries, and only used studies that used data provided by sex workers themselves.
The research showed that criminalisation of clients in Sweden and Canada, known as the ‘Nordic Model’, did not improve sex workers’ safety or access to services. However, in places such as New Zealand, following the decision to decriminalise the industry, sex workers claimed that they felt more able to refuse clients, and insist they use condoms. This was because they had a better relationship with the police and the authorities in general.
Pippa Grenfell, co-author and Assistant Professor of Public Health Sociology at LSHTM, said: “It is clear from our review that criminalisation of sex work normalises violence and reinforces gender, racial, economic and other inequalities. It does so by restricting sex workers’ access to justice, and by increasing the vulnerability, stigmatisation and marginalisation of already-marginalised women and minorities.
To be fair, this is something that we have been saying for years, but it is great to see that academics have proved it. The problem we have as a company is that although we can quote studies, as well as offer anecdotal evidence, the powers that push for the Nordic Model will quite disingenuously go ‘oh, they would say that wouldn’t they?’. This leaves sex workers in a vulnerable position as governments will make decisions that, either through ignorance or wilful disregard, create laws that put these men and women in danger.
A Range of Voices
This is why we need people with no vested interest in the industry making the same argument. True, when Northern Ireland was having the discussion, I remember the committee disregarding the evidence of Amnesty International, a group that can hardly be regarded as having a financial interest in sex work. However, the more voices such we have like theirs, and the people who did this report, the less the powers that be will be able to ignore them.
For me, that is my wish for 2019. I am sick to death of reading stories of sex workers getting injured or killed because of the situation this law has created. There will always be men who abuse prostitutes. Create a culture where sex workers feel they have no recourse, and more scumbags will take advantage of this vulnerability.
As a society, if the most marginalised in society are made even more unsafe by the actions of government, then we are doing something very, very wrong.
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