What’s Wrong With the Nordic Model?

Criminalisation and repressive policing of sex work is linked to increased risk of violence, HIV and sexually transmitted infections.¹

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

The Nordic Model of sex work laws criminalises all clients of sex workers. No state or territory in Australia has ever adopted this legal framework; however, a number of other jurisdictions overseas have. This model of regulation is often referred to as  “end-demand” legislation, as the idea behind it is that the demand for sex work services will slowly decrease in environments where it is illegal to purchase or arrange sexual services (but not illegal to sell them).

‘The ‘Nordic Model’ is used to describe the approach – first promoted and implemented in Sweden – of criminalising the purchase of sexual services under a broader ideological framework that sees all sex work as violence. The Nordic Model aims to eradicate sex work both in the short term, via criminalisation and fines for paying for sexual services, and in the long term, by creating an understanding of sex work as inherently harmful to both the individual and society. Under this framework all sex workers are viewed as victims lacking agency, and sex work is seen as something that is impossible to choose or to consent to.’ ²

The Nordic Model prostitution
the Nordic Model doesn't work (Unsplash: Eddy Lackmann)

The explanation above comes from Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP), an international organisation representing sex workers’ rights organisations around the world, including those in countries which have adopted the Nordic Model.

NSWP relies on feedback from sex workers who have actually worked under Nordic Model laws. They identify a number of problems created by the Nordic Model, as summarised here:²

  • Increased barriers to accessing healthcare.
  • Undermining of sex workers’ ability to implement safety measures (feedback from UK and Canada).
  • Sex workers reported needing to take more risks in order to meet client demands (feedback from France).
  • Sex workers reported that clients had greater bargaining power (feedback from France).
  • Street based sex workers had less time to negotiate with clients.
  • Eviction of sex workers from housing (feedback from Norway).
  • Disproportionate negative impact on migrant sex workers.
  • Increased policing of consenting adults who choose to work in the sex industry.
  • Incorrect conflation of sex work with violence against women.
  • Treatment of sex workers as victims, not workers.
  • Increased levels of social stigma against sex workers.

Amongst sex workers, there remains a low level of support for the Nordic Model. New Zealand mostly decriminalised sex work in 2003. In 2015 an academic interviewed 41 sex workers in New Zealand, and found that only two of them supported the Nordic Model

  1. London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine,  Criminalisation and repressive policing of sex work linked to increased risk of violence, HIV and sexually transmitted infections (11 December 2018) London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine


  2. Global Network of Sex Work Projects, Challenging the Introduction of the Nordic Model (2018), NSWP
  3. Rottier, J., Decriminalization of Sex Work: The New Zealand ModelAn Analysis of the Integrative Sex Industry Policy in New Zealand, (2018) University of Ultrecht 98


© Sex Work Law Reform Victoria 2020

Last updated: 12 August 2020