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Governing in the Name of Caring—the Nordic Model of Prostitution and its Punitive Consequences for Migrants Who Sell Sex

Abstract

This article examines the so-called “Nordic model” in action. Using feminist argumentation, the model aims to abolish commercial sex by criminalizing the buying of sexual services while not criminalizing the selling, as the aim is to protect, rather than punish, women. Utilizing over 2 years of ethnographic fieldwork and 195 interviews in Sweden, Norway, and Finland, this article argues that in a situation where the majority of people who sell sex in the region are migrants, the regulation of commercial sex has shifted from prostitution to immigration policies, resulting in a double standard in the governance of national and foreign sellers of sexual services. Client criminalization has a minor role in the regulation of commercial sex in the area, and instead, migrants become targets of punitive regulation executed through immigration and third-party laws. Nationals are provided social welfare policies to assist exit from commercial sex such as therapeutic counseling, whereas foreigners are excluded from state services and targeted with punitive measures, like deportations and evictions. My fieldwork reveals a tension between the stated feminist-humanitarian aims of the model, to protect and save women, and the punitivist governance of commercial sex that in practice leads to control, deportations, and women’s conditions becoming more difficult. The article concludes that when examined in action, the Nordic model is a form of humanitarian governance that I call punitivist humanitarianism, or governing in the name of caring.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The proponents of client criminalization, like MEP Honeyball, call the Sex Purchase Act the Nordic model. However, it is important to note that of the Nordic countries, Denmark has not adopted client criminalization and Finland has only criminalized buying from persons who are trafficked or pimped. I use the term Nordic model here to refer to the humanitarian-feminist argumentation behind the Sex Purchase Act in order to highlight the discrepancy between the emphasis on protection within political discourse and the actual punitive governance of commercial sex within the countries that have adopted the so-called Nordic model. Many scholars have criticized the use of the Nordic model as an analytical tool (Skilbrei & Holmström, 2013; Östergren, 2017a) and I want to underline that I use it here as a political not analytical description to refer to the feminist argumentation behind client criminalization.

  2. 2.

    A note on terminology is necessary here. The people I met in the field have diverse backgrounds and relations to commercial sex and consequently also to the terminology used to describe commercial sex and those engaged in it. Therefore, I have decided to use the neutral terms “sell sex,” “people who sell sex,” and “sellers of sexual services” to refer to the activity of exchanging money for sexual services, and “commercial sex” for the overall field. I use the word prostitution only in relation to policies (“prostitution policies”).

  3. 3.

    I use the term third party to refer to people who in some way organize or facilitate commercial sex, people who are the “third parties” (in relation to the seller and the buyer) and traditionally perceived as pimps. In the Nordic countries, the so-called pimping legislation is very broad. It includes all kind of facilitation of selling of sex, also when it is not exploitative, as will be demonstrated later. Therefore, the culturally loaded word “pimping” is not descriptive of all the activities that are criminalized under the third-party laws.

  4. 4.

    The Swedish Institute is the Swedish state’s public agency which promotes Sweden and Swedish issues globally. You can access the full brochure from: https://eng.si.se/areas-of-operation/events-andprojects/targeting-the-sex-buyer/.

  5. 5.

    This applies to third-country nationals who are in the countries on a tourist visa or another EU country residence permit, but not to the ones that are on a permanent residence permit based on family ties or on work, for example. Majority of the third-country nationals selling sex in the countries are Nigerians and Latin Americans with another EU country residence permit, or Russians on a tourist visa. In Finland, this section was introduced to the Aliens Act in 1999. The Swedish Aliens Act dates back to 1954. Sweden has also deported EU citizens on these grounds, although it does not seem to be a regular practice. In the court decision and the Swedish Parliamentary Ombudsman’s Juridical review, where EU citizens’ deportations are discussed, the justification for deportations is that selling of sex is related to criminal activity. Therefore, it is a forbidden activity and not an “honest way to support oneself.” It forms a threat to the public order and safety and hence can be used also against EU citizens despite the EU’s free movement principle. In these documents, justifications for deportations are also tied to the overall goal of the Swedish society to “prevent prostitution” (Parliamentary Ombudsman, 2013, pp. 353–357).

  6. 6.

    A third-country national needs to have an address in Norway, show a legitimate purpose to stay/visit, and have sufficient funds to support themselves (Immigration Act, 2008).

  7. 7.

    All the names used in this article are pseudonyms to protect the identity of the people met in fieldwork.

  8. 8.

    In 2017, police deported 70 women based on assumption on selling sex solely in the Gothenburg region (Ekwind, 2018). A police report mentions of third-country nationals based on the assumption of selling of sex in Stockholm area, but the police does not collect statistics on this systematically (Polismyndigheten/NOA 2017, p. 17; An interview with a national police working with prostitution and trafficking 19th of June 2016).

  9. 9.

    Seasonal work up to 6 months is an exception, but a person cannot apply for a permanent residence through this.

  10. 10.

    In Finland and Norway, receiving a residence permit based on being a victim of human trafficking is not automatic, and residence permit requires a specific “vulnerability” and might need to be applied through the asylum process (see Brunovskis, 2016; Roth, 2010). In all the countries, instances working with VoTs have criticized the fact that the victim protection is tied to the criminal process and police investigation.

  11. 11.

    Pro Sentret, personal e-mail communication 30th of April 2018; Pro-tukipiste, personal e-mail communication 2nd of May 2018; Mika Mottagningen Gothenburg, personal e-mail communication 4th of May 2018.

  12. 12.

    For example, the County Administrative Board in Stockholm has made an education video for hotels and taxi companies about how to “detect prostitution and human trafficking” on their premises (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j419cBNxj1A&t=27s%29). NGO Realstars has also launched a project called “fair sex hotels” that raises awareness on trafficking and commercial sex in hotels (see http://realstars.eu/).

  13. 13.

    “Barn till prostituerad omhändertas,” Kristianstadsbladet, 13th of January 2018, http://www.kristianstadsbladet.se/ostra-goinge/barn-till-prostituerad-omhandertas/ [Accessed 3rd of May 2018]; Levy, 2015.

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Acknowledgements

I am grateful to all the individual participants and organizations that contributed to the research. I would also like to express my warm thanks to Isabel Crowhurst, Ida Kock, Jukka Könönen, and Petra Östergren for their insightful comments on the earlier drafts. Finally, I would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful and comprehensive comments.

Funding

This study was funded by the Finnish Cultural Foundation and the Scandinavian Research Council for Criminology.

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Correspondence to Niina Vuolajärvi.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Conflict of Interest

Author Niina Vuolajärvi has received research grants from the Finnish Cultural Foundation and the Scandinavian Research Council of Criminology. Author Niina Vuolajärvi declares that she has no conflict of interest.

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Vuolajärvi, N. Governing in the Name of Caring—the Nordic Model of Prostitution and its Punitive Consequences for Migrants Who Sell Sex. Sex Res Soc Policy 16, 151–165 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13178-018-0338-9

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Keywords

  • Client criminalization
  • Sex work
  • Prostitution
  • Prostitution policies
  • Humanitarianism
  • Migration
  • Nordic model
  • End demand
  • Sweden