Successful Nordic Model implemented in France, why not Australia?

The Nordic Model:

The Nordic Model originated in Sweden. 

In 1999, Sweden passed groundbreaking legislation that criminalized the buyer of sexual services, based on the foundation that the system of prostitution is a violation of gender equality, while seeking to protect the victim.

Sweden’s legislation officially recognizes that it is unacceptable for men to purchase women for sexual exploitation, whether masked as sexual pleasure or ‘sex work’, seeking to protect the voiceless victims of organised crime. 

The law moves away from targeting the person in prostitution, to the users.

The strength of the Nordic Model is multi-pronged, and includes: 

  1. Providing protection for victims 
  2. Working towards achieving gender equality 
  3. Discourages human trafficking and 'pimping' 
  4. Provides community education campaigns on the gender equal legislation 
  5. Provides exit programs and rehabilitation programs for women wanting to get out of the sex industry
  6. Provides a social welfare response for victims of human trafficking and sexual slavery. 

Chapter 6 s8 of the Swedish Penal Code states:
"Anyone who promotes or encourages or improperly exploits for commercial purposes casual sexual relations entered into by another person in exchange for payment is guilty of a criminal offence and shall be sentenced for procuring to imprisonment for at most 4 years"

As Nyamko Sabuni – the Swedish Minister for Integration and Gender Equality put it in 2009:

“It is unacceptable that people – mostly women and children – are being purchased and exploited like merchandise. Victims of human trafficking and prostitution lose power over their lives and their bodies. They are robbed of the chance to enjoy their human rights.”

A police inspector in Västra Götaland County and section head of the human trafficking group within the surveillance division similarly states: 

“We are making an unequivocal statement to the poor, exploited women and girls when we–the citizens of wealthy countries–tell them that it’s not OK to buy human beings for sexual purposes.”

In July 2010, the government of Sweden published an evaluation of the law’s first ten years of operation.

The findings were strikingly positive, with evidence that street prostitution had been cut by 50%; with no evidence that the reduction in street prostitution had led to an increase in prostitution elsewhere.  

Ekberg, a feminist in Sweden and one of the original activists for the gender-equal Nordic Model in Sweden in 1999, states:  “In Sweden it is understood that any society that claims to defend principles of legal, political, economic, and social equality for women and girls must reject the idea that women and children, mostly girls, are commodities that can be bought, sold and sexually exploited by men

Since the introduction of the law, street prostitution has decreased - while increasing dramatically in Sweden’s neighbors-  and Sweden has become an undesirable destination for pimps and traffickers.

The Nordic Model in Sweden has influenced attitudes regarding the purchase of sex: from 1996 (before the law) until 2008, the number of male sex buyers decreased from 13.6% to 7.9%.

This presentation by Simon Haggstrom, Stockholm police, 2013: Swedish Ministry of Justice, European Women's Unit gives a summary of the Evaluation from a policing perspective of the ban on purchase of sexual services in Sweden. 

The success of the Nordic Model Globally: 

An increasing number of activists and organizations across the globe, many of which are survivor-led, including in countries such as South Africa, India, Lebanon, Germany, Denmark, Austria, New Zealand and the U.S., are calling for lawmakers to recognize the harmful realities of prostitution and to enact the Nordic model.

This is in line with countries’ international legal obligation to address demand.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women , and the former head of UN Women have also called for countries to combat the demand for commercial sex in order to prevent sex trafficking and promote gender equality. 

Article 6 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, signed in 1979 by the United Nations states: State Parties shall take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women.

The Preamble to the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Person and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (1949 Trafficking Convention) states: ” prostitution and the accompanying evil of the traffic in person for the purpose of prostitution are incompatible with the dignity and the worth of the human person and endanger the welfare of the individual, the family and the community”.  

It mandates party states to punish any person who: procures, entices, or leads away, for purposes prostitution, another person, or even with the consent of that person; exploits the prostitution of that person, even with the consent of that person; keeps or manages, or knowingly finances or takes part in the financing of a brothel; and knowingly lets or rents a building or other place or any part thereof for the purpose of the prostitution of others.

The 1949 Trafficking Convention also requests party sates to take steps to prevent prostitution and to rehabilitate its victims, and to be vigilant of immigration and emigration channels that might give rise to traffic in persons for the purpose of prostitution. 

Articles 4 and 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights calls for the prohibition of all forms of slavery and servitude, declaring that no one is to be subject to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Law and policy makers worldwide are being influenced by the success of the Swedish model, including: 

The Nordic Model in France - the latest country aiming for gender equality: 

After two years of debating the benefits of the Nordic Model in parliament, France approved a bill to discourage prostitution by penalizing those who pay for sex, following the example of Sweden and Norway. 

France's Prime Minister Manuel Valls posted a message on Twitter saying the vote was “a major advance” for the rights of women.

The French Socialist government, which had backed the bill, hailed the new law as a victory. “The goal is to diminish [prostitution], protect those prostitutes who want to quit, and change mentalities,” Maud Olivier - the Socialist Member of Parliament in France stated on her website.  

Maud Olivier - Socialist Member of Parliament reflects on the passed Bill in France here.  

The minister for women’s rights, Laurence Rossignol, told the National Assembly before the vote that prostitution was “violence done to women” and that the new measure would send a message to those who work as prostitutes that “the state, the Parliament and society finally recognizes fully the violence of the system of prostitution.”

Under the new law in France, first time offenders will pay a fine of 1,500 euros, or about $1,700, (and increases for repeat offenders) if they “solicit, accept or obtain relations of a sexual nature” from a prostitute in exchange for money. Convicted offenders may also have to attend classes to learn about the vulnerability of women in the sex trade. There is also the option for a settlement in which the offender could be ordered to take classes in lieu of the fine.

The Bill commits close to five million Euros per year into prevention as well as exiting and support services.

Since 80- 90% of France’s prostitutes come from outside the country and are victims of human trafficking, the law would also help foreign prostitutes acquire temporary residence permits and find other work, Ms. Laurence Rossignol, Minister for women’s rights in France said in a Report by Alissa Rubin in the New York Times on the 6 April 2016.

The law also repeals an existing measure that penalizes solicitation by prostitutes, which many viewed as having forced prostitutes to work in more desolate neighborhoods or outside of city centers where they were less likely to be arrested by the police, but also where they were less safe.

This law ensures France is in compliance with international and national human rights commitments, including the United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (1949) and France’s national rape law, which defines rape as “any act of penetration imposed on someone by violence, surprise, threat, or coercion.”

Germany - challenges with the legalized model of prostitution:

Even in Germany - a nation that has seen the legalization of prostitution for a long time, but has also seen the increase in human trafficking, violence against women and the exploitation of women, in an attempt to curb the business of sex and human trafficking, Germany's cabinet is currently a new draft law  which calls for stricter punishments for those who visit forced prostitutes.

Sabine Constabel, a social worker from Stuttgart, told "Morgenmagazin" that the draft law would keep Germany's status as "Europe's brothel" intact. Constabel said setting an age limit of 21 for prostitutes would be helpful, since it could cut down on the number of young, Eastern European women who are forced into the sex trade. However, the measure has already been dismissed by Germany's ruling coalition-partner, the Social Democrats (SPD), according to Constabel.

Angela Merkel's cabinet has already approved a new law with increased regulations for legal prostitution in March, making condom usage obligatory, among other changes.

This article provides a video titled: "Florence: The fate of human trafficking victims" here.  

Australia's Context: 

In 2013, the Australian Parliament passed two Acts intended to enhance Australia's legislative frameworks around human trafficking and slavery. The Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking) Act 2013 (Slavery Act) and the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Law Enforcement Integrity, Vulnerable Witness Protection and Other Measures) Act 2013 (Vulnerable Witness Act) amended the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Criminal Code) and the Crimes Act 1914 (Crimes Act).

Divisions 270 and 271 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 contain offences for human trafficking, slavery, and slavery-like practices including servitude, forced labour, deceptive recruiting for labour or services, debt bondage, and forced marriage.

The National Action Plan to combat human trafficking and slavery 2015-19 provides the strategic framework for Australia’s response to human trafficking and slavery over the five years from 2015 to 2019, recognising that Human trafficking and slavery are serious crimes that fundamentally curtail freedom, making them amongst the most grave of human rights violations. 

The National Action Plan recognizes the dignity and worth of each person, and the obligation we have as a nation to work against those who seek to benefit by restricting another’s freedom. It affirms the importance of preventing these practices before they occur; detecting and investigating possible circumstances of human trafficking and slavery; ensuring perpetrators are brought to justice; and protecting and supporting those who have experienced human trafficking and slavery, including by providing access to an effective remedy.

Part of the problem in Australia with the enforcement and implementation of the above legislation and the National Action Plan is that most of the human trafficking in sexual servitude happens in brothels, which is governed by the prostitution laws in each state and territory. 

Aside from Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory, every other state and territory in Australia has legalized prostitution, which legitimizes the business of human trafficking through brothels. 

What Australia needs to do, is look at our prostitution laws, ensuring that it is: 

  1. Human rights compliant and encourages gender equality;
  2. Provides protections for victims of human trafficking;
  3. Provides exit programs for any person working in the industry wanting to get out;
  4. Discourages human trafficking and 'pimping';
  5. Provides social welfare options for victims;  and 
  6. Underpinned by a Nation-wide education campaign on the new standards. 

An example of the advocacy on the above includes the work of Dr Caroline Norma, Global, Urban and Social Studies lecturer at RMIT Melbourne

Interview with the ABC on the success of the implementation of the Nordic Model in France, and why it works. 

We need to move towards a more gender equal, human rights and victim centered approach to protecting women working in prostitution. 

Australia as a developed nation in a developing region, also has this responsibility to vulnerable women and girls in our region who may fall victim to either human trafficking into Australia or to sex tourism by Australian Men. 

Due Diligence obligations of Australia:

The United Nations Report of the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, called for meaningful and substantive human rights due diligence provides a necessary framework to ensure policy coherence between anti-trafficking policy and related policy areas such as immigration and labourmarket policies and is core to ensuring a human rights-based approach to trafficking in persons, and expressed that due diligence principle are a well-established component of a State’s obligations to address acts by private actors by preventing and protecting victims against abuses, punishing the perpetrators, and ensuring remedies for victims.  

The failure to exercise due diligence is consequential, meaning that States that have failed to exercise due diligence towards private actors incur international responsibility that then requires them to provide an effective remedy for victims.

Due diligence obligations have also been identified in a number of areas that are of direct relevance — and in some cases directly apply — to trafficking, including violence against women, migrant workers, and sex-based discrimination.

The United Nations Report of the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children identified six core components of due diligence:

  1. The prevention of trafficking in persons;
  2. The obligations to identify, assist and support victims;
  3. Criminalization, investigation, prosecution and punishment;
  4. Remedies;
  5. Inter-State cooperation and institutions; and
  6. Due diligence of non-State actors such as business enterprises.


Australia must lead the way in our region - an adopt the Nordic-like legislation, which is human right compliant, is gender equal, focuses on protecting victims, providing social services, exit programs and education campaigns. 

It has to start with legislative reform of our prostitution Acts in the respective states and territories. 

It is therefore important to respond to National or State-based inquiries into prostitution laws with the above approach. 

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