By Lisa Olsson
Last month we had the privilege to welcome internationally renowned human rights lawyers Ruth Nordstrom with colleagues to Perth for the first time. Mrs. Nordstrom is the president of Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers, an organization that promotes and protects human rights and freedoms in Scandinavia and throughout Europe, and she is known as an international expert and advocate for the Nordic approach on prostitution – a ban against the purchase but not the sale of sexual services.
During their stay in Australia the lawyers spoke at parliaments as well as met with ministers, law enforcement, professors and people from the public in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Perth. Mrs. Nordstrom pointed out that the Nordic approach – which was first adopted by Sweden in 1999 – has proved very successful and has led to prostitution being reduced by half since the ban was first introduced. The legislation has also led to a “shift in culture” and has had a normative effect among the general public. There is currently a strong support for the ban on purchasing sexual services in Sweden, especially among young people.
Mrs. Nordstrom mentioned that while meeting with law enforcement in Melbourne, where prostitution has been legalized, she learned that even though there are approximately 100 registered brothels in and around the city; there are still approximately four times as many illegal, or unregistered, ones. This can be compared to the Netherland where the situation for persons in prostitution has worsened on all measured aspects since the legalizing of prostitution in year 2000. According to their national police force 50-90 % of the women in licensed prostitution work involuntary. Organized crime has kept the control over the legal sector of the industry and, just like in Melbourne, legalizing the sex industry has not prevented an increase in “hidden” or illegal prostitution, but rather created a higher demand for sexual services. Mrs. Nordstrom also pointed out the crystal clear link between prostitution and trafficking and that she was surprised to find that several people that she met with, including ministers of parliament, expressed the belief that trafficking doesn’t exist in Australia; something that, according to the Melbourne law enforcement, is far from the truth.
Mrs. Nordstrom further mentioned that when the Swedish Sex Purchase Act was introduced, it was a part of a bill against the violence against women, recognizing prostitution as related to such violence. The language used in that bill was very similar to the language used in the recently launched Australian Federal initiative on Violence Against Women. This initiative recognizes that building a society that promotes respect for women is key to end violence against women. Prostitution is a pressing social concern and it is difficult to see how it can be regarded as acceptable in an equal society. Legalizing prostitution hardly promotes respect for women, and the fact that the federal government now has launched this initiative could, according to Mrs. Nordstrom, indicate that this is a very good time to strongly promote the Nordic approach on prostitution in Australia.