Nordic model won’t make things safer for sex workers, B.C. researcher says

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For almost 20 years, Chris Atchison has been studying people who purchase sex.

One of his previous works is John’s Voice. Released in 2010, when he was a sociology instructor at SFU, the study showed that “companionship” is the principal thing males seek with someone who sells sex, and that most don’t hurt their escorts.

Now a research associate at the University of Victoria, Atchison is writing a report on a new study, which he expects to be out soon.

The federal government is set to amend the Criminal Code to comply with a 2013 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that struck down prostitution laws against public solicitation, brothels, and living off the avails.

There is a lot of speculation that the Conservative government favours the so-called Nordic approach, which criminalizes purchasers of sex and pimps, but not prostitutes.

Atchison doesn’t agree that women are going to be safer under this model used in Sweden, Norway, and Iceland.

“I don’t really understand how it is that criminalizing one party or the other is going to bring an end to any potential harms and dangers that are experienced by people in the sex industry,” Atchison told the Straight in a phone interview.

Atchison recalled that it was also a Conservative government in the 1980s that ignored the recommendations of a special committee on pornography and prostitution that was appointed by then justice minister Mark MacGuigan.

Led by Vancouver lawyer Paul Fraser, the committee proposed measures to partly decriminalize acts associated with prostitution. The legislation adopted by the government, which didn’t implement the Fraser committee’s proposals, has proven to be disastrous to many sex workers.

“Now the panacea is to change the focus, and make it...people who purchase sexual services, which by the way has always been legal in Canada. I mean, the sale and purchase of sex has never been a crime in Canada,” Atchison said.

Atchison also said: “Asymmetrical criminalization is no different than the symmetrical criminalization that effectively has been happening for the past 30 years.”

Laura Dilley is the executive director of the PACE Society, a Vancouver organization that provides support for sex workers.

According to Dilley, what she’s hearing from sex workers is that they want decriminalization.

She noted that although the Supreme Court of Canada struck down laws on solicitation, bawdy houses, and living off the avails, the ruling doesn’t cover legislation related to human trafficking and youth exploitation.

“All those laws that protect trafficked women and youth, they’re still on the books,” Dilley told the Straight in a phone interview. “Nothing’s changed there.”

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