Top 10 reasons why the Nordic Model is bad for sex workers

A proposal that only has disadvantages for the girls

The Nordic model, also known as the Swedish model, criminalizes the purchase of sex while decriminalizing the selling of sex. This approach is intended to target demand, with the goal of reducing human trafficking and exploitation.

However, the model has faced significant criticism, particularly from sex workers and advocates who argue that it creates more problems than it solves. Here are the top 10 reasons why the Nordic model is bad for sex workers:

  1. Illegality doesn’t help anything
  2. Sex workers value legal income stability
  3. Illegal human trafficking will continue regardless
  4. Nordic countries have high rates of sexual violence
  5. Stigmatization and social exclusion
  6. Health risks and lack of access to services
  7. Erosion of trust with law enforcement
  8. Economic inequality and exploitation
  9. Threat to other countries’ progressive legal reforms
  10. Negative impact on mental health and well-being

1. Illegality doesn’t help anything

Criminalizing the purchase of sex does not eliminate the sex industry; it simply drives it underground. When sex work operates in the shadows, sex workers are more vulnerable to abuse, violence, and exploitation.

They cannot turn to law enforcement for help without fear of implicating their clients, which leaves them without help in dangerous situations. The lack of legal protection and oversight is one of the biggest problems of the Nordic model.

A research by the London School of Economics highlights the disconnect between the ideological intentions of the Nordic model and its practical impacts on sex workers.

It emphasizes that while the model aims to protect sex workers by criminalizing clients, it often leaves them more vulnerable to violence, exploitation, and precarious living conditions. You can reach the research here.

The Global Network of Sex Work Projects also provides critical insights into the challenges posed by the Nordic model, especially regarding health, safety, and access to services. The organization argues that the model does not effectively address the needs of sex workers and instead perpetuates stigma and marginalization. You can read the insight here.

In countries where sex work is legal and regulated, many sex workers appreciate the stability and security of a legitimate income. This is especially true in Austria. The legal frameworks allow them to work openly, access health services, and enjoy the same protections as workers in other industries.

By criminalizing their clients, the Nordic model undermines this stability, pushing sex workers into dangerous situations where they may be unable to secure consistent, safe employment. However, the nightlife scene nowadays has become more dangerous than one or two decades before; high-class sex clubs in Austria remain safe working places with good income.


Sex Work in Vienna has an article about earning possibilities of sex workers in the city, click on the button to read it:

3. Illegal human trafficking will continue regardless

The Nordic model assumes that by reducing demand for paid sex, human trafficking will also decline. However, illegal human trafficking is driven by complex global factors and will not simply disappear because of demand reduction strategies.

Traffickers are continuously finding new ways to exploit vulnerable individuals, often shifting to more hidden or professional methods that are harder to detect and prevent.

Without addressing the root causes of trafficking, such as poverty, lack of education, and economic instability, the problem will persist.

The problem of illegal human trafficking is serious, as we reported such cases here, here, here and here. Such illegal activities won’t be solved just by making the purchasing of sexual services illegal.

4. Nordic countries have high rates of sexual violence

One troubling consequence of the Nordic model is its potential link to high rates of sexual violence. In Nordic countries, men may become more frustrated and aggressive when they cannot legally access sex services. This can lead to an increase in sexual violence and harassment.

For example, Sweden, a pioneer of the Nordic model, has some of the highest reported rates of rape in Europe. GreenNet reports that Sweden has the highest incidence of reported rapes in Europe, coupled with one of the lowest conviction rates. Data Pandas also indicates that Sweden’s reported rape rate stands at 63.54 per 100,000 people. To put this in context, this is the 5th worst rate in the world; only Botswana (92.93), Lesotho (82.68), South Africa (72.10), and Bermuda (67.29) have worse numbers. As a comparison, Austria’s reported rape rate stands at 10.42 per 100,000 people.

5. Stigmatization and social exclusion

The Nordic model perpetuates the stigma against sex workers by showing them as victims and their clients as criminals. This wrong perspective ignores the autonomy of many sex workers who choose this profession.

The stigma can lead to social exclusion, discrimination, and isolation, making it harder for sex workers to access social services, housing, and alternative employment opportunities.

The worst aspect here is that the model is said to help sex workers, while in reality, it creates big obstacles in their private lives after finishing this profession.

Saving money for the post-sex work life of the girls is essential, as are other skills in a high-class sex worker’s career. Read more about these skills here: 5 essential traits of sex workers in a VIP erotic nightclub


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6. Health risks and lack of access to services

Criminalizing the purchase of sex deters clients from seeking out regulated, safe environments. This pushes sex work into riskier, unregulated spaces where health and safety standards are not enforced.

Sex workers in these environments have less access to health services, such as regular STD testing. Additionally, the fear of legal actions can prevent sex workers from seeking medical help when needed.

Currently, Austria and especially Vienna have a very good legal environment for sex workers. They should have legal permits from the police to work as sex workers and should visit doctors regularly for health checks. Meanwhile, providing sexual services from apartments is strictly illegal.


Read our detailed article about the legal background of paid sex industry in Vienna and Austria here:

7. Erosion of trust with law enforcement

Under the Nordic model, sex workers fear reporting serious crimes such as assault, robbery, or other types of violence to the police because doing so could expose their clients to legal actions. This makes it more difficult to address serious crimes within the sex work community.

When sex workers cannot rely on the police for protection, they are left vulnerable to exploitation and violence. Also, they have less protection against pimps, who could easily take advantage and rule the currently regulated and safe market.

8. Economic inequality and exploitation

The criminalization of clients can increase economic inequality and exploitation within the sex industry. Sex workers who lose their stable income due to the decline in clients may be forced into more desperate circumstances, accepting lower pay and worse conditions.

This practically means working in shady brothels, providing sexual services without protection, or spending less on hygiene and safety. As a tragic attack on sex workers a few months ago showed, girls can be in huge danger in poor and shady places, which do not have security guards, surveillance cameras, and in-room alarm systems to protect their workers.

sex worker

Countries with more progressive prostitution laws, such as Austria, have shown that it is possible to create a legal framework that protects sex workers’ rights and improves their working conditions.

The Austrian Prostitution Law, for instance, is evolving and improving, providing a model for other countries to follow. Adopting the Nordic model would halt this progress and move backwards, undermining efforts to create a safe and regulated environment for sex workers.

10. Negative impact on mental health and well-being

One significant but often overlooked consequence of the Nordic model is its very bad effect on the mental health and well-being of sex workers. The constant fear of police raids, client arrests, and societal stigma creates an environment of chronic stress and anxiety for the illegally working women. This environment can lead to serious mental health issues such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other anxiety disorders.

Currently, legal sex workers don’t have such problems, as the best high-class sex clubs are often looking for new talents, while good and hard-working girls can build up their loyal regulars base and earn very good money.

Conclusion

The Nordic model fails to address the complex realities of sex work. By criminalizing clients and driving the industry underground, it increases the risks and vulnerabilities faced by sex workers. Furthermore, it ignores the autonomy of the ladies who just want to earn money for their everyday life, in a legal environment, in the safest brothels in the city.