Governing in the Name of Caring—the Nordic Model of Prostitution and its Punitive Consequences for Migrants Who Sell Sex

Vuolajärvi, N. “Governing in the Name of Caring—the Nordic Model of Prostitution and its Punitive Consequences for Migrants Who Sell Sex” Sex Res Soc Policy (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13178-018-0338-9

This article examines the so-called “Nordic model” in action. Using feminist argumentation, the model aims to abolish commercial sex by criminalizing the buying of sexual services while not criminalizing the selling, as the aim is to protect, rather than punish, women. Utilizing over 2 years of ethnographic fieldwork and 195 interviews in Sweden, Norway, and Finland, this article argues that in a situation where the majority of people who sell sex in the region are migrants, the regulation of commercial sex has shifted from prostitution to immigration policies, resulting in a double standard in the governance of national and foreign sellers of sexual services. Client criminalization has a minor role in the regulation of commercial sex in the area, and instead, migrants become targets of punitive regulation executed through immigration and third-party laws. Nationals are provided social welfare policies to assist exit from commercial sex such as therapeutic counseling, whereas foreigners are excluded from state services and targeted with punitive measures, like deportations and evictions. My fieldwork reveals a tension between the stated feminist-humanitarian aims of the model, to protect and save women, and the punitivist governance of commercial sex that in practice leads to control, deportations, and women’s conditions becoming more difficult. The article concludes that when examined in action, the Nordic model is a form of humanitarian governance that I call punitivist humanitarianism, or governing in the name of caring.

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