Recognise that the criminalisation of the purchase of sex is of considerable harm to sex workers

Recognise that the criminalisation of the purchase of sex is of considerable harm to sex workers

We, the undersigned, would like to criticise in the strongest possible terms the evaluation of the Norwegian criminalisation of the purchase of sex, which was published in August 2014. The report is inconsistent and misleading in its assertions, and plays down the very real damaging outcomes of the legislation.


The report claims that the law has been successful in decreasing levels of sex work. However, the only thing that can be demonstrated is that levels of street-based sex work have decreased. Most sex work is off-street in Norway, and levels of indoor sex work cannot be accurately estimated (and the report concedes this). It therefore cannot be claimed that overall levels of sex work have reduced. We note a concerning similarity to Sweden’s 2010 evaluation of the Swedish criminalisation of the purchase of sex, which suggests that the law has successfully decreased levels of sex work whilst only providing evidence of a decline in street sex work.


The report also notes that economic conditions of sex work have declined following the legislation. This serves only to exacerbate harm and danger for sex workers, and arguing that it reduces levels of sex work is erroneous given that overall levels cannot be shown to have declined. The report indeed notes that dangers for sex workers have increased, with shorter negotiation times with agitated and stressed clients, and an unwillingness to report violence and difficulties to the police. Though the report asserts that there are no indications that violence has increased, this is again misleading, since the report also notes that sex workers do not report such violence to the police due to the law.


Since the law has made sex work more dangerous and made sex workers more vulnerable, the report would do well to emphasise how concerning these side-effects of the legislation are. It is noted that both sex workers and service providers reports increased harassment by the police, including condoms being used as evidence of prostitution and sex workers being accused of encouraging a crime. The focus on condoms, and the avoidance to carry them it has resulted in, is noted as potentially affecting sex workers health negatively, yet there is no concern expressed in regards to harmful and abusive police practices. Again, there is similarity to the Swedish evaluation of the Swedish model, which notes that sex workers experience more harm, danger, and stigma due to the law, and then suggests that this should be regarded as positive in efforts to reduce levels of sex work.


In short, the law cannot be accurately asserted to have decreased overall levels of sex work, as it sets out to do. As with the Swedish model, the law has made sex work more dangerous. The report plays down the harm the legislation has done, whilst it presents its findings in such a way as to suggest the legislation has been successful, when it has been anything but.


We demand that Swedish and Norwegian governments focus on the welfare, health, and safety of sex workers. We demand they recognise that the criminalisation of the purchase of sex – the so-called Swedish model – is of considerable harm to sex workers, especially those who are already heavily marginalised and stigmatised.


Sing the petition here.