By Rachel Moran
I got involved in prostitution as a homeless, socially-disowned, fifteen-year-old girl. I had no ‘agency’ or ‘choice’, just like many of the girls I’d known in residential care who came out on the streets right behind me. Notions of ‘agency’ and ‘choice’ here depict fantasy, not reality, and certainly not any reality that relates to the sex-trade. The sex-trade exists because of the male demand for paid sex, and that demand is accommodated precisely because of the lack of agency and choice in the lives of women and girls.
The daily experience of being prostituted is not something words can adequately express. How can you form together words and sentences to convey the understanding of what it is for your body to no longer be your own? To express in words what it is for the orifices of your body to be as public as any train station? How can words describe this? They cannot. Language is not so ugly.
I did not get out of prostitution on the basis of an ordinary decision any more than I got in to it that way. I got in to prostitution out of desperation and I got out of it in the same way; it was just a different kind of panic. By the time I was twenty-two I had spent most of my adolescence and all my young adulthood in brothels, escort agencies and red-light zones. Substance abuse is rampant in prostitution and I personally was heavily addicted to cocaine and had reached a point where I was almost incapable of mothering. Prostitution was either going to kill me or cost me my child. I had to get out.
Prostitution affects me still and always will. You see a side of men in prostitution that they are very careful to conceal from other people. Most prostitutors have wives, girlfriends, children and families, and many of the men who used me had children older than I was. About six months after I got in to prostitution I met a man who became a regular punter for a period of around eighteen months. I was fifteen or sixteen at the time, he was eighty-three years old. It is difficult to trust men when you know so many of them are prepared to pay to use the bodies of women and girls who are younger than their own daughters. There is a greater deal of sleaze in the behaviour of many men than a lot of women know, but women who’ve been in prostitution do know, and this can make relationships hard. I personally have had some great post-prostitution relationships, but I do know women whose relationship histories have been filled with nothing but dysfunction, and that is no surprise to me.
The Nordic Model was implemented in Sweden in 1999 and has been brought into law in Norway and Iceland since then. I have personally visited Norway and Sweden numerous times in recent years and I have seen first-hand how the law is operating there. I have spoken with the prostitution units of police departments, with women’s groups and with service providers in these countries and have visited facilities where women access education and training as part of exit strategy programs. I understand why these facilities work because I know from the experiences of my own life that what a woman or girl needs to exit prostitution is access to childcare, addiction services, housing, counselling, and crucially, access to education and training. She also needs her forward path in life to be unobstructed by a history of prostitution-related charges. The Nordic Model decriminalises the sale of sex while criminalising the purchase of it. In this way, it targets the male demand for paid sex; the single reason the sex-trade exists in the first place, as anyone with the most basic understanding of economics will know.
The Nordic Model is currently being considered at a political level in Ireland, both north and south, and in Israel and France. It is time that Britain got on board in this fight, as the Nordic Model is the only legal framework in existence in the world today that delivers all the above requirements: targeting the demand for paid sex; decriminalising those exploited in the sex-trade, and offering those ensnared within it a real and viable way out. Also sex-trafficking has been shown to be massively reduced under the Nordic Model, unlike the situation in countries where prostitution is legalised and regulated, where sex-trafficking has been proven to simply explode. For all these reasons I endorse and support the Nordic Model, in my own country, and in all the countries of the world.
- Read Rachel’s article on the Sex Buyer Law at the New Statesman.