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Police car in the centre of Stockholm, Sweden. The sex industry is notoriously uncertain and dangerous. Traffickers and violent pimps, abusive johns and police persecution are all factors that make prostitution unsafe.
No matter what you think of exchanging sex for money, it happens all the time around the world. Therefore, sex workers, trafficking survivors, human rights advocates, feminists, researchers, politicians and many others are all campaigning for safer prostitution — though with different approaches. Some argue that criminalizing the sex trade, as in Sweden, will halt demand and lessen human trafficking for prostitution.
Others instead call for decriminalization, which has been introduced in New Zealand. Behind these two positions lie very different ideas about what makes selling sex unsafe for the people involved. Most proponents of the Swedish prostitution law, also known as the Nordic Model, say that prostitution itself is unsafe. We consider prostitution to be both a cause and a consequence of gender-based violence and discrimination.
Max Waltman from Stockholm University is an expert on the Swedish prostitution law. He explains that Swedish legislators view prostitution not as a moral offence, but rather as a form of male violence against women. He refers to a survey of people in prostitution which showed that almost 9 out of 10 wanted to escape, but were unable to. The same study showed that two-thirds of its subjects were suffering post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD symptoms on the same level as Vietnam veterans seeking treatment in the United States.
Waltman stresses that people in prostitution have a much higher risk of PTSD than the general population, regardless of whether or not they have had other traumatic experiences such as being abused as a child, being raped, or being addicted to drugs. If you muddle the two issues, if you say that prostitution is a form of violence, then you are not letting sex workers express how they feel about their work.