The Nordic Approach to prostitution law reform powerfully promotes human dignity by preventing the serious harm associated with the commodification of people (especially women and girls) for sex.

The Approach criminalises the purchase (and attempted purchase) of sex, targeting law enforcement measures at pimps, managers and buyers.

Importantly, the Approach does not punish prostituted persons. Instead, there is significant investment in support services to assist women exiting prostitution and for preventing others from entering it in the first instance.


The Approach was first adopted in Sweden in 1999. The move was largely driven by the feminist movement who recognised that the overwhelming majority of women who entered prostitution did so out of desperation – as a means to survival when they saw no other way forward – thus challenging the old notion that women who work in prostitution freely choose to be there.

Since this legislation was introduced in Sweden, the number of women in street prostitution has halved, social attitudes towards purchasing sex have shifted with the number of men buying sex decreasing from 13.6% in 1996 to 7.9% in 2008, and there has been a decrease in human trafficking as Sweden is now seen as a poor ‘market’ for traffickers due to the drop in demand for prostitution.

Following its success in Sweden, the Approach has since been adopted in Norway, Northern Ireland, Iceland, and Canada. Other jurisdictions have also introduced similar legislation in places as varied as Lithuania, the Republic of Ireland, and Israel.

In 2014 the European Parliament passed a resolution stressing that prostitution violates human dignity and human rights, whether it is forced or voluntary, and it called on member states to support the Nordic approach.


Currently in Western Australia brothels are illegal, though this is largely unenforced, while prostitution itself is permissible. In recent years the WA Parliament has considered various models to legalise brothel prostitution, but none of these have been implemented. These proposals fail to recognise the large body of evidence that prostitution harms all parties involved, and that societies around the world are increasingly recognising that legalising prostitution is a failed experiment and are increasingly moving towards the Nordic approach.