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In the Booth with Ruth – Nicole Rowe, Feminist, Anti Sex-Trade Activist and Co-Founder of Nordic Model Advocates (NorMAs)

Nicole Rowe

How did you become involved in supporting the abolition of prostitution?

As a feminist activist, you have to be wilfully blind to ignore the sex trade. I was planning a one-off activist stunt around sex trafficking at a UK activist training event, and was fortunate that those I met were passionate and dedicated enough to want to form an organisation with me to tackle the foundation that holds trafficking up – prostitution. If we lived in a world where women’s bodies were not for sale, then sex traffickers would not be able to operate. So, the best place to start alleviating the problem of trafficking is with prostitution.

What draws you to support and advocate for people in prostitution?

Largely, the lack of people doing so, and my outrage at that. Put simply, we live under a capitalist, patriarchal system, which means profit comes before people. For those at the receiving end of the profit, this is, of course, brilliant. For those who aren’t, they can become the capital. These are likely to be the most disenfranchised members of society – and under gender inequality, which manifests itself in all sorts of sexual exploitation, those are likely to be women, or actually, girls. The average age of entry in prostitution varies ever so slightly from country to country or from study to study, but from what I have read, it is consistently between eleven and thirteen. Worldwide figures about the human rights abuse of violence against women should be shocking us into action. Instead, it is under-funded. Prostitution is doubly neglected because it is ‘too controversial’. I went to a recent human rights conference about the Istanbul Convention (an international convention to commit member states of the Council of Europe to act against violence against women) where they flatly admitted this. They immediately discounted prostitution, although it fits legal definitions of violence against women – purely because they knew it was divisive and they needed to be productive within a limited time. So, women in prostitution, who are eighteen times more likely to be murdered than the average population and who face all kinds of verbal, physical and sexual violence are swept under the carpet. We are bowing to the profit-makers, to the pimps and the capitalists who see women as commodities. This needs to be discussed, or those interested in profit will win, as they are winning now, because neo-liberal capitalism lets them.

What legal improvements or changes would help to abolish prostitution?

I advocate the Nordic model. This puts the attention on those driving the demand for sex (mostly men known as johns/tricks/buyers) and aims to deter them from perpetuating prostitution’s existence. Prostitution exists because johns buy sex – largely from those that are coerced or flat-out forced into selling it, and mostly from girls or women who started as girls and know no other way (although less commonly they do also buy trans* people and other men). It exists because of gender inequality and a power imbalance between the sexes. The Nordic model criminalises the men who buy sex. It does not criminalise those who sell sex – too often they are arrested and stigmatised when they are the ones being exploited.

Exit strategies are an important component of the Nordic Model – offering those in prostitution another life of alternative employment, housing, counselling, drug services. There are many obstacles which prevent those in prostitution from doing this without support, including a lack of housing, childhood experiences of violence, managing debt, a lack of qualifications, a downtrodden sense of self worth and coercion by pimps/others. (See new report: Breaking down the Barriers for more.) Supported exit strategies are therefore a vital part of the Nordic model.

Briefly, for those who don’t know – the alternatives are legalisation, such as in Amsterdam (be careful here – buying and selling sex is already legal in the UK, so what this means is legalising the activities of pimps) or decriminalisation such as in New Zealand. I consider these both failed experiments, as trafficking has increased in these countries, and conditions for women in prostitution have not improved, while focus on helping women to exit if they wish to has gone. No one system is perfect, but as far as legal frameworks go, the Nordic model is the best of any that currently operates in the world. Recent research (www.thesolutionsjournal.com/node/895 and www.feministcurrent.com/7038/new-research-shows-violence-decreases-under-nordic-model-why-the-radio-silence) shows that since the Nordic model was introduced in Norway (in 2008) and Sweden (in 1999), both the extent of prostitution – and violence against women in prostitution – have decreased.

What does your work in this area involve?

I co-founded an organisation called Nordic Model Advocates (NorMAs). Organisationally, we’re still very new – we’ve only been active for a few months, but we have big plans. Initially, our main focus will be on awareness-raising on social media (Twitter, Facebook) and through activist stunts. However, we are building a network of supporters from politics, journalism, women’s groups, NGOs and most importantly, women who have exited prostitution. With these supporters behind us, and by building public support, we can collectively put pressure on the government to adopt the Nordic model. Both Scotland and Ireland are currently talking about this, so we’re hoping our government won’t be far behind. We also think it is important to address the misinformation that circulates in the press and add another voice to the often one-sided, under-researched picture presented. We will be officially responding to any newspaper or magazine articles we see that do not offer a balanced perspective and obscure the harms of prostitution – this only escalates the dangers faced by women and girls in prostitution.

For anyone else who wants to be involved, what can other people do to help?

In the future, we will need more volunteers to help us educate the general public about prostitution (in one-off ways or in the long term). For now, I would urge people to read far and wide about prostitution, always with a questioning mind. Do not accept arguments without finding out the counter argument. Do not only read from one source. Then you can make up your own mind.

But remember that pimps and sex business owners have a lot of money – this is a global industry thriving off people’s complicity and silence (which is itself complicity). They will make sure information that suits them circulates, and it will likely circulate more widely than the message of activists and women’s groups because we are nowhere near as rich and have our resources stretched by tackling all sorts of issues that affect women. They can pay internet shills to comment under posts with fake profiles on social media to give their arguments credibility. We can’t. They also spend large amounts of time and energy harassing and intimidating survivors of prostitution who speak up. We know some of these women have pulled back out of concern for their well-being, some have even received death threats. It is unacceptably cruel that women are being denied a voice to say what happened to them because it doesn’t fit with pimps’ agendas or with the story of the ‘happy hooker’. Where that ‘happy hooker’ exists, her freedom does not trump another’s abuse. We must listen to the other side of the story.

You can challenge the attitudes that support the sex ‘industry’ in your everyday life by influencing your friends and family to educate themselves, by calling people out who accept women’s ubiquitous sexual availability being sold to us in a huge majority of advertising, film, print media and so forth. Challenge the culture that creates those who buy women’s bodies. Support women to be confident within this culture. Don’t use the term ‘sex work’, which suggests sex is work and nothing more. These things count.

You can also help us by telling the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade (www.appgprostitution.org) before February 4th, 2013 that you support the uptake of the Nordic model in the UK.

What are your plans for the future?

We are launching a website full of information – you can also look on there for what you can do to help in a more targeted way, or on an ad hoc basis. We will be expanding and carrying out more direct action, circulating a petition, speaking at and attending relevant events and putting pressure on Parliament. On an individual level, I am also writing a thesis about helping women exit prostitution and how government needs to be proactive in making service providers offer this as an option to women. Shockingly, when women in prostitution seek help, the organisations they are likely to find are unlikely to give them their full range of options. They may give them condoms, clean towels, advice – but they will not mention exit. I find that abysmal. A woman that is under psychological pressure from a pimp, boyfriend or other coercer to continue selling sex needs to hear that there is another way and have someone believe in her that she can make it happen – with support. I hope to add some academic research to that field and perhaps help in some small way.

Recommended websites/further reading:

NorMAs – website (launching soon), Facebook, Twitter

Survivors Connect – a space for survivors to meet

Rebecca Mott – Blog / Interview for Human Trafficking Awareness Month

Secret Life of a Manhattan Call Girl

ExLondonCallGirl

The Prostitution Experience

Feminist Current – on prostitution

Eaves (useful NGO reports)

Equality Now – on the Nordic Model

Demand Change

Genderberg – FAQ

Breaking down the barriers: a study of how women exit prostitution 

All-Party Parliamentary Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade

About Ruth Jacobs (297 Articles)
Author of Soul Destruction: Unforgivable, a novel exposing the dark world and harsh reality of life as a drug addicted call girl. The main storyline is based loosely on events from my own life. In addition to fiction writing, I am also involved in journalism and broadcasting, primarily for human rights campaigning in the areas of sex workers' rights, anti-sexual exploitation and anti-human trafficking.

18 Comments on In the Booth with Ruth – Nicole Rowe, Feminist, Anti Sex-Trade Activist and Co-Founder of Nordic Model Advocates (NorMAs)

  1. Reblogged this on Soul Destruction – London Call Girl Diary & Book and commented:

    “A woman that is under psychological pressure from a pimp, boyfriend or other coercer to continue selling sex needs to hear that there is another way and have someone believe in her that she can make it happen,” says Nicole Rowe, a UK feminist and co-founder of Nordic Model Advocates (NorMAs), an organisation that tackles “the foundation that holds trafficking up – prostitution.”

  2. Reblogged this on Bipolar For Life and commented:
    “…women in prostitution, who are eighteen times more likely to be murdered than the average population and who face all kinds of verbal, physical and sexual violence are swept under the carpet. We are bowing to the profit-makers, to the pimps and the capitalists who see women as commodities. This needs to be discussed, or those interested in profit will win, as they are winning now, because neo-liberal capitalism lets them.”

  3. Amazing interview. Thank you, Nicole, for your intense activism. We need someone like you here in the USA, and also in Israel, where I am a dual citizen. Trafficking of girls and women is rampant in both places. We also need, especially in the US, strong voices for the boys and young men who are sold into sexual slavery because of their sexual orientation. You are an inspiration to those of us who are looking for ways to help.

  4. Reblogged this on Coventry Women's Voices and commented:
    Yesterday, Coventry Women’s Voices blogged about the fantastic work of, Ruth Jacobs, writer and campaigner, who, throughout the month, has conducted interviews with a variety of campaigners, survivors and exited prostituted women for Human Trafficking Awareness Month.
    Today we will share Ruth’s thought provoking interview with Nicole Rowe, Anti-Sex Trade Activist and Co-Founder of Nordic Model Advocates (NorMAs), in which she speaks of the circumstances that led to the formation on NorMAs, the work she is involved in and the legal improvements she feels need to be made in order to abolish prostitution.
    How did you become involved in supporting the abolition of prostitution?

    As a feminist activist, you have to be wilfully blind to ignore the sex trade. I was planning a one-off activist stunt around sex trafficking at a UK activist training event, and was fortunate that those I met were passionate and dedicated enough to want to form an organisation with me to tackle the foundation that holds trafficking up – prostitution. If we lived in a world where women’s bodies were not for sale, then sex traffickers would not be able to operate. So, the best place to start alleviating the problem of trafficking is with prostitution.

    What draws you to support and advocate for people in prostitution?

    Largely, the lack of people doing so, and my outrage at that. Put simply, we live under a capitalist, patriarchal system, which means profit comes before people. For those at the receiving end of the profit, this is, of course, brilliant. For those who aren’t, they can become the capital. These are likely to be the most disenfranchised members of society – and under gender inequality, which manifests itself in all sorts of sexual exploitation, those are likely to be women, or actually, girls. The average age of entry in prostitution varies ever so slightly from country to country or from study to study, but from what I have read, it is consistently between eleven and thirteen. Worldwide figures about the human rights abuse of violence against women should be shocking us into action. Instead, it is under-funded. Prostitution is doubly neglected because it is ‘too controversial’. I went to a recent human rights conference about the Istanbul Convention (an international convention to commit member states of the Council of Europe to act against violence against women) where they flatly admitted this. They immediately discounted prostitution, although it fits legal definitions of violence against women – purely because they knew it was divisive and they needed to be productive within a limited time. So, women in prostitution, who are eighteen times more likely to be murdered than the average population and who face all kinds of verbal, physical and sexual violence are swept under the carpet. We are bowing to the profit-makers, to the pimps and the capitalists who see women as commodities. This needs to be discussed, or those interested in profit will win, as they are winning now, because neo-liberal capitalism lets them.

  5. Prostitution among adult and consentient people is a rightness and it must be respect. Prohibition for selling and/or buying is the water of Mafia fish and it is better to avoid it as the paying sex among adult and consentitent people. Moreover, it is better to legalize and tax prostitution to cope with the World Wide Crisis.

    • If it were true that prostitution is an act between consenting adults entered into because both parties were informed and wanted it, then your argument might be true. In reality, it is just the reverse. The vast majority of prostitution is controlled by organized crime. Legalization has been tried in various places including Nevada, United States, and of course in Holland. Instead of reducing the control of pimps, it has actually increased the prevalence of trafficking and decreased the freedoms of the prostituted! It’s not like the legalization of drugs, which does indeed reduce Mafia control. Human trafficking is the fastest growing form of organized crime, and the reason is that its money-making commodities are young helpless girls, and its customers are men whose only care is about using a girl as a means to get an orgasm.

      • It is the same as drugs. Naturally, with the legalization the fact of slavery can get up easly and with the prohibition this activity goes underground as the wine in America during 20s years. Moreover, it is seen that the most of prostitutes are free. In fact, the western women do not fall so much into sex slavery and the sex paviments gets empty during Christmas and Easter holidays. This one is the evidence that sex slavery is not so much widespread.

  6. Brilliant interview, really informative and interesting. Just wondering if you could explain by what you mean by buying and selling sex being legal in the UK? Thank you

  7. To abolish prostitution is only an illusion.

  8. This asshole “Francostars” has got to be a pimp. What, if anything, should we do about this comment?

    Love you xoxo

  9. I mean his one about prostitution never being abolished.

  10. I think explaining why he is wrong. However, he refuses to answer anyone’s questions yet we answer all of his. He will not be allowed to keep posting the same thing over and over without answering questions as we are all going round in circles. He also backs up nothing of what he says, yet we have all backed up our facts xx

  11. Prostitution is always existing. It has got a transformation recently. In fact, prices are getting low because the number of sex workers is so much increasing. But this one I think it will not get to the end of this job, because the contrast in sex carring out between the relative of women’s prudery and the oposite condition of men will get it always alive! If we want to fight agaist the orrible sex trafficking it is necessary to persecute pimps and not unknown relative customers. I hope I would not to be forced to repeat me again!

  12. Thank you so much.

8 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. In the Booth with Ruth – Nicole Rowe, Feminist, Anti-Sex Trade Activist and Co-Founder of Nordic Model Advocates (NorMAs) (Reblogged) | Coventry Women's Voices
  2. Human Trafficking Awareness month – Ruth Jacobs Interviews « Scottish Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation
  3. In the Booth with Ruth – Nicole Rowe, Feminist, Anti Sex-Trade Activist and Co-Founder of Nordic Model Advocates (NorMAs) | #Prostitution : le modèle nordique (French AND English) | Scoop.it
  4. In the Booth with Ruth – Nicole Rowe, Feminist, Anti Sex-Trade Activist and Co-Founder of Nordic Model Advocates (NorMAs) | SCANDALE PROSTITUTION "Fée Ministe " | Scoop.it
  5. In the Booth with Ruth – Rebecca Mott, Exited Prostituted Woman and Abolitionist | Ruth Jacobs
  6. Dear Nottingham conference organisers, | everyday whorephobia
  7. Sex Worker Open University: open letter to the Nottingham Conference | {s~w@ve}
  8. Modern Magdalenes? What Should We Think About Prostitutio? | The New Prostitution Wars

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