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Equality/Abolitionist Model: A Conversation About Progressive Prostitution Policy

Posted: January 26, 2021

As with many events of this past year, the CSE Institute cancelled its 4th Annual Survivor-Led Symposium that was scheduled to be held on April 1, 2020, due to COVID-19.  On November 17, 2020, The CSE Institute partnered with World Without Exploitation to host a panel presentation entitled Equality/Abolitionist Model: A Conversation About Progressive Prostitution Policy. Speakers included survivor leaders from across the US and Canada: Cristian Eduardo, Cherie Jimenez, Alisa Bernard, and Suzanne Jay; and the panel was moderated by Ane Mathieson. The panelists engaged in a thorough discussion on the Equality Model, and why it is so critical for the model to be implemented throughout the United States. They also dove into the dangers present to victims of prostitution and commercial sexual exploitation.

The CSE Institute stands with survivors and advocates for the adoption of the Equality Model in the United States, as commercial sexual exploitation is most effectively stopped by putting an end to demand. The Equality Model consists of four key elements: (1) decriminalization of the prostituted person, (2) criminalization of sex buyers and facilitators with a commitment to treating buying sex as a serious crime, (3) a public education campaign about the inherent harms of prostitution, and (4) funded, robust, holistic exit services for victims of commercial sexual exploitation. The Equality Model directly targets the demand for buying sex by criminalizing sex buyers and traffickers, while decriminalizing the people who are being bought and sold for commercial sex. The decriminalization of prostituted persons recognizes those who are bought and sold for sex exploited, not perpetrators of a crime.

Criminalization of persons in prostitution only enhances the traumatization and stigmatization of victims and eliminates the opportunity for prostituted person to have positive relationships with law enforcement.  A single criminal conviction can serve as a massive barrier to stable employment, housing opportunities, immigration opportunities, federal student loans, and more. A series of prostitution convictions over a course of years does irreparable damage to a survivor’s security and opportunity to escape the life. As it is common for traffickers to target the most vulnerable in society, traffickers are known to take advantage of incarcerated individuals for prostitution recruitment.

In countries where legalization or a full decriminalization model is implemented, there has been a rise in demand for buying sex. When demand rises, supply must also rise to meet such demand causing an economic need for more prostituted people to enter the life and more victims to be trafficked. In Germany where legalization of the sex trade has been implemented, investigation into the country’s “mega-brothels” revealed that brothel inspections were ineffective in preventing violence against prostituted individuals and a high number of those selling sex were foreign nationals controlled by a family member or boyfriend. Three years after implementation of legalization in the Netherlands, an investigation by Europol revealed that underground trafficking networks were collaborating with pimps and brothel owners, subjecting prostituted persons to violence and murder.

New Zealand fully decriminalized sex work with the passage of the New Zealand Prostitution Reform Act in 2003.  Studies show that rates of violence did not decrease, nor did prostituted persons report feeling safer or being more likely to report to authorities the violence they experienced in the sex trade. In Australia, where multiple states have either legalized or decriminalized commercial sex with the intention to regulate harm, researchers have found that sex buyers in these states continue to perpetuate and normalize sexual violence against prostituted persons.

The Equality Model has been effective in ending commercial sexual exploitation in other countries such as Sweden and Norway. Sweden experienced a 50% decrease in street prostitution and a significant decline in the number of men purchasing sex within two years after the Equality Model was implemented. Norway, another Equality Model country, found that within five years after adopting the Equality Model, street prostitution declined between 30-60%, and indoor prostitution declined between 10-20%. By targeting the demand for paid sex, and refusing to criminalize those who sell it, the Equality Model is an effective method to ending commercial sexual exploitation.

The CSE Institute thanks all speakers and attendees who participated in the Equality/Abolitionist Model Panel. To learn more about trauma informed lawyering and vacatur and collateral consequences, register for our virtual CLE series here.

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