Letter in Response to Sonia Sodha's Observer Article

In order to protect women from violence we need to provide for their material needs, not make them more vulnerable by criminalising their source of income.

3 min read

Decrim Now submitted this letter to the Observer on November 25th, in response to Sonia Sodha’s recent article promoting the criminalisation of clients. The Observer have declined to publish our letter, so we’re grateful to our friends at New Socialist for publishing it here. Full decriminalisation is the only option for protecting sex workers’ safety and wellbeing — we won’t stop fighting until this is achieved.

The Observer recently published an opinion piece by Sonia Sodha on the challenge of preventing violence against women who sell sex. The author argued for the criminalisation of the purchase of sex, often known as the Nordic model.

This article contained a number of unsubstantiated claims regarding the decriminalisation of sex work, in particular that decriminalisation increases the overall extent of prostitution in a country without decreasing its harms. In reality, evidence from New Zealand, where prostitution was decriminalised in 2003, shows that sex workers are now more able to address violence and are better able to protect their health; the New Zealand government concluded that decriminalisation had not increased the size of the industry. These are some of the reasons why international organisations like the World Health Organisation and UNAIDS advocate for the full decriminalisation of sex work, not the Nordic model.

We are deeply passionate about the safety, health and wellbeing of people who sell sex. For this reason, in April this year we signed an open letter to MPs advocating against the Nordic model based on a wealth of evidence of the increased harm it causes to sex workers.

It’s not necessary to speculate about how the criminalisation of buyers might affect women selling sex: we know from countries where this has been implemented, such as Northern Ireland and France, that it has increased the violence they face as well as pushing them further into poverty. Research shows that criminalisation of buyers leads to increased rates of HIV and other negative health outcomes for sex workers. Other NGOs are beginning to speak out more about the fact that the criminalisation of buyers does not help to tackle trafficking into the industry.

Women go into sex work for a variety of reasons, but the primary reason is because they need money. In order to protect women from violence we need to provide for their material needs, not make them more vulnerable by criminalising their source of income.


Decrim Now

All African Women’s Group
Alliance for Choice
Amnesty International UK
Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF)
Bakers, Food, and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU)
Basis Yorkshire
Bent Bars Project
Co-operation Town
English Collective of Prostitutes
Freedom United
Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW)
Gendered Intelligence
HIV Scotland
Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants
Josephine Butler Society
Labour Campaign for Free Movement
LGBT Traveller Pride
Love Tank CIC
Mutual Aid Trans Edinburgh (MATE)
National Ugly Mugs
New Socialist
Northern Police Monitoring Project
POW Nottingham
Sex and Rage
Sex Work Research Hub
Support Network for Adult Professionals (SNAP)
Sex Worker Advocacy and Resistance Movement (SWARM)
The Domino Foundation
The Gemini Project
Ugly Mugs Ireland
Umbrella Lane
Women Against Rape
Women of Colour Global Women’s Strike
United Voices of the World (UVW)

Amelia Horgan, author
Baroness Natalie Bennett, Green Party
Bryony Beynon, Good Night Out Campaign
Doris Murphy, PhD Candidate, University College Cork, Ireland
Dr Chloe Gott
Dr Elizabeth Faulkner, Keele University
Dr Ella Cockbain, UCL
Dr Gemma Ahearne, University of Liverpool
Dr Julia Laite, Birkbeck UoL
Dr Kate Hardy, University of Leeds
Dr Kate Lister, Leeds Trinity
Dr Mary Laing, Northumbria University
Dr Nathan Dawthorne, University of Western Ontario
Dr PG Macioti, La Trobe University, Melbourne
Dr Raven Bowen
Emily Kenway, author
Emma Garland, VICE
Florence Schechter, Director and Founder of the Vagina Museum
Gaynor Trueman, North East Sex Work Forum
Gerry Carroll, People Before Profit MLA
Hatti Rex, VICE
Jason Domino, health campaigner
Joana Hofstetter, PhD researcher at Scuola Normale Superiore Florence, Italy, member of the German Association for Sex Work and Prostitution Research
Lauren O’Neill, VICE
Marc Thompson, co-director, The Love Tank CIC
Professor Alison Phipps, Newcastle University
Professor Jane Scoular, University of Strathclyde
Professor Joel Quirk, University of Witwatersrand
Professor Mark McCormack, University of Roehampton
Rev’d Helen Burnett, Vicar of St Peter and St Paul’s Chaldon, Diocese of Southwark
Rhian E. Jones, Co-Editor of Red Pepper
Will Nutland, co-director, The Love Tank CIC’


Decrim Now (@ukdecrimnow)

We are a grassroots campaign group led by sex workers, trade unionists & feminists. We fight for the decriminalisation of sex work.