Why the Nordic Model? A view from New Zealand

A little while ago a reporter asked me why I campaign for the Nordic Model (now also called the Equality Model). This got me thinking about how I came to this position.

It all started when I shared my story for the first time at the 2016 World’s Oldest Oppression Conference in Melbourne. There was a group of gorgeous women holding up signs outside of the venue. They were protesting against the Nordic Model. It was the first time I ever saw these words.

It wasn’t until a few days later that I asked someone, what is this Nordic Model? To be honest I can’t even remember what they told me. Politics scared me, I’m not sure why. I just didn’t have any interest in getting involved. Sharing my story was one thing, but fighting for a cause was quite another.

It wasn’t until much later that I started to research what the Nordic Model is, and what full decriminalisation is. There was so much anger amongst women that I was completely overwhelmed and felt pulled in a million different directions. I wanted to please people, so for a long time I just went along with whoever was giving me the most attention and praise.

But then I realised something.

Prostitution is violence. All these years I had felt shame, fear, I felt I was unlovable, like I was damaged goods because of the life I’d lived. I’d always thought it was my body, my choice. But finally I realised the choices I’d made all those years ago were not my fault. I was worth more than being raped everyday. I was worth more than being sold and bought.
A rare happy moment in Ally-Marie’s childhood – at Disneyland when she was eight.
Then I wondered how many other women were finding themselves with no other choice but prostitution. How many women were so broken, emotionally, physically and spiritually, that they thought it was the only road? It was then I started to research the different models and to think about where I wanted my voice to be most amplified.

Learning that it was New Zealand that had led the way down the disastrous full decriminalisation route, I made a decision that I would speak up for the women and children in my country. I decided that this is where my heart is and this is where my voice belongs.
Impressing people and other women is no longer my focus.

Now my focus is fighting for what is right.

I am angry. Angry that women think selling themselves and being bought is a human right. Angry that women and children are dying at the hands of men who think it’s OK to buy them for instant sexual gratification. Angry that women and children are being trafficked. Angry that slavery is so rife in New Zealand, especially amongst our indigenous women and children.

What I am most angry about though, is that people are so oblivious to what is happening in their own communities – and if they do know, that they sit back and don’t do anything.

The Nordic Model is far from perfect. But we only have two models in front of us.

One, full decriminalisation, protects the women in prostitution who “choose” to be there.

The other, the Nordic Model, protects the vulnerable women who feel they have no other choice, and are desperately searching for ways to leave. Women who look up to the sky every night and wonder, is this all there is to life, is this all there is for me? Like I used to. These women are the majority, and the majority are women of colour.

Should we not be protecting our most vulnerable, who are the majority of women in prostitution? Who are mostly indigenous women and women of colour?

The Nordic Model is based on four pillars:

  • Criminalising the buyers,
  • Decriminalising prostituted individuals,
  • Offering help and services for them to leave the sex industry,
  • Awareness and education of the general public.

The Nordic Model provides exit services for women to leave the trade if they choose to. The buyers, even though criminalised, are usually not imprisoned. Instead they are warned; fined; and sometimes educated by survivors of the sex trade – with the money they pay for this being put back into the services that are providing support systems for the women to exit.

Support services are already in place for survivors of domestic violence. Women exiting the sex trade require similar services: Trauma counselling, safe houses, education, personal development, basic life skills, housing.

We cannot ignore the devastation that is happening in New Zealand right now.

Recently I read an article where Jacinda Ardern was praising the lowering of rates of childhood poverty and this is a great step forward.

What we have to realise, however, is that the child sex trafficking happening now in New Zealand is often caused by poverty. Families and even parents are pimping their children out on the street, and many women feel that prostitution is the only way they can keep a roof over their kids’ heads, food on the table, clothes on their backs.

Men may think they are helping by giving a hungry mum or child $60 for a blow job. But if they truly want to help, why not just give her the money or take her grocery shopping without requiring anything in return?

Right now in New Zealand, prostitution is considered a job like ‘any other’ so our children, our vulnerable women are going unnoticed. There are no support systems in place to help them, no exit services, no funding for safe houses, no one is being held accountable. This not OK.

Bella Te Pania tried to exit. Just imagine, if New Zealand had support systems in place, she might still be with us and her loved ones. All the women whose lives have been lost in the sex trade might still be with their families and loved ones.

New Zealand let them down, let their families down. Where were their human rights? One life lost is too many.

Before we lose any more, we need to stand up and be a voice. We all need to be a voice.

Let’s remember the lives lost with respect. Let’s give our most disadvantaged women back their voices. Let’s fight for what is right: the Nordic Model, exit services, support that goes further than a pack of condoms, dental dams and a ‘stepping forward’ handbook.

Originally posted Why the Nordic Model? A view from New Zealand | Nordic Model Now!