Gender Gender

Criminalising buyers of sex

Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA
AS A follow up to my article of January 4, 2018, on commercial sex work, a Swedish national based in Lusaka wants me to look at the Nordic Model of curbing commercial sex. The model focuses on criminalising (arresting and prosecuting) buyers of sex, mostly men, while decriminalising sex workers and providing them with support services that could also help them abandon sex work. The model is said to have dissuaded some men in Sweden, the first country to pass such a law, from buying sex on the streets.
Dear Emelda,

I read your article today (January 4, 2018) about sex workers. Like you rightly point out, prostitution wouldn’t thrive if men did not press demand on the services of sex workers.

Sweden was the first country in the world to criminalise buyers of sex. In Sweden, it is not illegal to sell sex but to buy sex. In that way, the responsibility is put on the buyer and not the seller (who are usually very vulnerable and in many cases suffer from drug abuse).
The legislation is based on the principle that buying another human being for sex is not compatible with the strive towards gender equality.
Prostitution is an extremely infected topic among feminists in Europe.
I think what we know as a fact is (after criminalising demand):
1) Street prostitution has dramatically been reduced (the critics claims that prostitution has just moved to other places).
2) Sweden is not an attractive place for pimps and traffickers
3) The attitudes about buying sex have changed among men in Sweden after the introduction of the law (there are less men who would consider buying sex).
I thought it could be interesting to write about.
Kind regards
Criminalising demand for transactional sex, as suggested by Lovisa is one model that some Nordic countries are using to stop commercial sex work. The Nordic Model considers that although some women go into commercial sex work willingly, prostitution is fraught with abuses of sex workers and violation of human rights.
And also that these poor and vulnerable women are prone to several abuses by their clients, law enforcers and pimps who may be inn managers or human traffickers.
European countries that favour the criminalisation of buyers of sex, argue that prostitutes are normally poor and vulnerable women, subject to many forms of abuse by clients and pimps.
For example, there are reports all over the world of sex workers being beaten, raped, gang raped or killed. So, the abuse of sex workers may be physical, emotional and sexual in nature.
The sex business is said to be morally wrong because of the inherent practice of a person buying another person for sex.
In a way, it denotes a form of gender power imbalance, because the buyers of sex use their purchasing power to call the shots and this may involve intimidation of sex workers, forced sex, verbal and physical abuse as well as humiliation.
Human rights activists argue that buyers of sex tend to violate the human rights of poor and vulnerable women such as freedom from torture and degrading treatment, freedom from slavery, the right to equality and in some cases, the right to education.
In the Nordic Model, men or people who demand the services of sex workers are seen as drivers of the characteristic evils and violation of human rights.
Mind you, the commercial sex industry allows for a number of other gender-based abuses of women such as trafficking for prostitution and the holding of trafficked sex workers in servitude conditions by pimps and other criminal syndicates.
The Nordic Model emphasises criminalisation of buyers of sex because they believe that there would be no prostitution, if men did not make demand on such services
If Zambia was to apply the Nordic Model, men who buy sex, especially on the streets, would be arrested and taken to court.
And if found guilty by the courts of law, they would either be fined or sent to jail.
The naming and shaming of such men, through the litigation process, would definitely send shock waves in the nation because no one knows who the clients of sex workers really are.
In Sweden where buying of sex was outlawed in 1999, street prostitution has gone down and so have the sex transactions on the streets.
According to Rachel Marshall, Sex Workers and Human Rights: A Critical Analysis of Laws Regarding Sex Work (2016), 23, the number of male sex buyers has decreased by nearly six percent.
Sweden passed such as a law as one way of ending violence against women.
However, the law does not impose sanction on prostitutes, but rather provides them with services that could help them quit prostitution.
The idea is to end the sex business by punishing buyers, while providing support services to individuals who sell sex.
Critics may argue that this model is only effective in shifting the sex business from the streets to other places. But it’s a good law because of its potential to change people’s attitude towards transactional sex.
The fact that other countries such as Norway, Iceland, Northern Ireland and Canada, have adopted similar models, shows that curbing the demand for commodified sex is the way to go.
Like I observed in the article that Lovisa is referring to, the sex business thrives on the law of supply and demand.
The Nordic Model is good because it aims at ending the sexual exploitation of girls and women by curbing the demand for commercial sex.
The other advantage of the model is that it comes with support services to sex workers, including helping them to quit sex work.
One sex worker I interview in the said article, frankly said sex workers cannot exit the business without economic empowerment.
So, should Zambia consider criminalising buyers of sex, these are some of the things we can consider in such a policy.
Thank you Lovisa for your suggestion and contribution.


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