A growing consensus around the world claims the sex trade perpetuates male violence against women, and so customers—but not sex workers themselves—should be held as criminals. This modern debate has roots in Victorian England, which branded prostitutes as wicked, depraved, and a public nuisance. Yet a shift in social thought throughout the era introduced the prostitute as victim, often lured or forced into sexual slavery by immoral men.
Today, we're seeing a global shift in attitudes toward prostitution that looks startlingly like the one in Victorian England, argues Elizabeth Nolan Brown. Many areas have adopted or are considering what's known as the "Nordic Model," which criminalizes the buying, rather than the selling, of sexual services. The Nordic model may seem like a step in the right direction—a progressive step, a feminist step. But it's not, writes Brown. Conceptually, the system strips women of agency and autonomy. And while keeping prostitution illegal is done in the name of women, it only perpetuates violence against them while expanding the reach of the carceral state.