On 10 July 2020, Israel finally introduced legislation that prohibits the purchase of sex, while ensuring the women within prostitution remain decriminalised (women within prostitution were not criminalised before the introduction of the new law). The Prohibition of Consumption of Prostitution Services Act will introduce fines for first-time and repeat offenders, up to NIS 75,300 (£17,000) when circumstances require it. Further, the Act allows for the criminal prosecution of offenders in certain cases.
The introduction of the Act is an enormous achievement and is the result of literally decades of work. As survivor and abolitionist Dana Levy recounts to Nordic Model Now:
‘The battle for the Nordic Model in Israel was long and hard. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Israel became a destination country for sex trafficking of women from the ex-communist countries. The authorities were mostly indifferent to what was going on and generally people incorrectly saw the trafficking victims as women who were voluntarily in the sex trade because they were seeking to improve their standard of living.’
Here at CEASE, we wholeheartedly applaud the efforts of activists and law-makers in Israel, and advocating for the Nordic Model is a central pillar of our work. We do not believe that prostitution is inevitable, or can be “made better” by tolerating the sexual purchase of predominantly women and children with laws that decriminalise pimps and punters. Israel may be the 8th country to adopt the Nordic Model, along with Sweden, Canada, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Norway, France, and Iceland, but we must ensure that it is not the last. Now is the time for the UK to follow suit.
The laws governing prostitution in the UK have come under intense scrutiny in recent years, with much of the public also in favour of reform. Further, the law as it stands here is complicated and ambiguous, which is extremely detrimental to the already-vulnerable women involved.
For example, prostitution – which can be defined as the ‘exchange of sexual services for money’ when read with the statutory definition of ‘prostitute’ – is legal in and of itself. However, aspects such as soliciting, brothel keeping and street prostitution are illegal. Arguably, it doesn’t make sense to permit prostitution generally, yet prohibit various possibly inherent aspects such as solicitation. The law as it stands only creates confusion and reinforces the inherently dangerous nature of prostitution, while pushing it into the shadows.
The UK must follow the lead of these eight ground-breaking countries, and look to introduce the Nordic Model. In Sweden, it has seen attitudes shift as well as an enormous reduction in street prostitution. Considering the fact that street prostitution is the most dangerous form of prostitution – even by the admission of pro-prostitution advocates – this is certainly a positive step. In 2013, Swedish street prostitution was found to have halved since the introduction of the Model, while attitudes have also shifted, with police officer Simon Haggstrom stating:
“What we’ve seen in 17 years is a huge change in the mindset of the Swedish population,” he said. “I would definitely say it’s working.”
This attitudinal shift is absolutely key. Prostitution is made up overwhelmingly of women, with punters overwhelmingly male. If you have laws in place that deter the exploitation and purchase of women, Sweden has proved this can filter down and shift the narrative around what prostitution actually is. Indeed, this was one of the driving factors for the introduction of new legislation in Israel, with the bill’s explanatory note stating:
“Over the past few years, there is a growing recognition in Israel that the prostitution industry embodies very hurtful characteristics and that it must be diminished through rehabilitation, [informing the public], education and enforcement.”
It is time the UK recognises prostitution for what it is. A human rights abuse affecting tens of thousands of women right here on our doorstep. Legislation that doesn’t seek to abolish the industry is a misstep, and one that is likely to be fatal to many women. It is time to abolish the sex trade once and for all, and the Nordic Model is precisely the way to do it.