The Equality Model Protects Victims of Sex Trafficking

Last month we explored why full prostitution decriminalization and legalization harms vulnerable individuals and incentivizes human trafficking. In this post, we propose an alternative model that better protects those in prostitution and decreases the demand for sex trafficking.

The Equality Model, also called the Nordic Model, is an approach to prostitution that began with a 1999 Swedish law shifting criminalization from prostitutes to patrons. That is, the law imposes criminal charges on those purchasing sex, selling other, and driving the market and instead provides robust services (not criminal charges) to prostitutes and trafficking victims seeking lives outside the industry.

Sweden researched prostitution for years prior to implementing their law, with the goal of shrinking the harmful prostitution industry. Since then, Canada, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Iceland, France, Israel, and Norway have implemented similar reforms with success. For instance,

  • Street prostitution dropped 50% and the number of men purchasing sex declined significantly in Sweden within two years of the laws’ implementation.

  • Norway found that five years after it adopted the Equality Model, street prostitution declined between 30-60% and indoor prostitution declined between 10-20%.

Many survivor-informed organizations and movements in American have since prioritized this model, which contrasts current Pennsylvania law that criminalizes the buying and selling of sex. Those selling sex remain disproportionately penalized compared to the sex buyers, who account for only 27% of prostitution related arrests in Pennsylvania, with even lower conviction rates.

Often, prostitutes are charged with solicitation and for attendant crimes like drug possession, including when forced to commit them by a pimp or trafficker. This creates compounding effects in which prostitutes face recidivism penalties and endure a criminal record, poverty, addiction, and expounding trauma that make it increasingly difficult to escape.

Unwanted sex—even when it is compensated—causes harm. Why should pimps and sex buyers be legally sanctioned to inflict prostitution’s inherent trauma on others under full decriminalization and legalization? These proposals provide commercial sex establishment owners with legal protection, expands the prostitution and trafficking market, and breeds worse conditions for prostitutes.

In contrast, the Equality Model provides prostitutes with legal, addiction, and trauma support to stop the cycle of exploitation—and more effectively decrease sex trafficking. State lawmakers should strengthen the recently passed Buyer Beware Act to more closely resemble the Equality Model if they truly want to decrease violence, sex trafficking, and exploitation.