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Don't Repeat Past Failures

According to Google, it was philosopher, George Santayana, who coined the phrase: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Though Santayana wrote the phrase in his 1905 book, The Life of Reason, the concept is an old one.

I am reminded of it every time I hear someone suggest that we should simply decriminalize all aspects of prostitution, which they usually term, “sex work”. My response to that suggestion is invariably the same: “I don’t believe in returning to the failed policies of the past.”

Many of those who wish to decriminalize Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE) believe that doing so will decrease the harm suffered by victims, and that is certainly a laudable goal. But though proponents of this view may be unaware of it, the approach is not new.

In the Sixties, the Swedish government, believing that no one should be arrested for sex, and seeking to reduce harm, decriminalized all forms of CSE. They also made it possible to those who were selling sex to receive worker’s compensation, social security, and all other worker benefits. In effect, in an effort to destigmatize it, they treated “sex work” as any other form of work. That was status quo in Sweden for decades.

In the 90’s, disturbed by rising levels of foreign trafficking, they took a closer look at the issue. What Swedish government found appalled everyone. They discovered that less than 10% of the women ever accessed the social services provided. They looked at “foreign” trafficked women, and right next to them, they found Swedish women trafficked into CSE, and they found children also trafficked into CSE. That’s how the “Nordic” or “Equality” Model was born. The Swedish government stopped arresting the woman and children, and began arresting the buyers and the pimps. In a short period of time, “foreign” as well as domestic and child sex trafficking plummeted, while rates remained high in neighboring Denmark, where no change was made to the existing de-criminalized laws.

The Equality Model recognizes the inherent power differential between the buyers (virtually all men) and the sellers of sex (mostly women and children) and it seeks to level the playing field. Dawn’s Place supports the Equality Model, as well as the survivors of CSE, and seeks to raise awareness of the harms of CSE. Let us not return to the failed policies of the past, however newly packaged. The women of Dawn’s Place deserve no less.


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