An all-party parliamentary group (APPG) report recommending the 'Nordic model' of prostitution, where clients not sex workers are criminalised, has been launched in the House of Commons.
The group, led by MP Gavin Shuker, launched the report Shifting the Burden: An Inquiry to assess the operation of current legal settlement on prostitution in England and Wales.
In it, Shuker says: "In short, we recommend a shift in the burden of criminality from those who are most marginalised and vulnerable – to those that create the demand in the first place.
"Because our lawmakers send no clear signals about the nature of prostitution, the most visible – women who sell sex –are targeted, while men who create the demand often walk away, without taking responsibility for the damage they do."
The report comes following a vote in the European Parliament in support of the Nordic model, which is currently adopted by Sweden, Norway and Iceland, among others.
Put forward by London MEP Mary Honeyball, 343 members voted in favour of the report, 139 against and 105 people abstained.
Laws regarding prostitution in England and Wales are currently blurred. Prostitution itself is legal, but a string of activities relating to prostitution are illegal, such as soliciting, kerb crawling and running a brothel.
While the Nordic model has been welcomed and championed by many, it has a high proportion of opponents who believe it increases risk to women by driving sex trafficking further underground, criminalising men who would not have otherwise broken the law and preventing women from working as prostitutes in safety.
Belinda Brookes-Gordon, author of The Price of Sex: Prostitution, Policy, and Society and reader in psychology and social policy at Birkbeck, University of London, has spoken out against the Nordic model on several occasions.
Commenting on the APPG report put forward by Shuker, she told IBTimes UK its recommendations are "very very dangerous", adding that the proposals will make the law even more confusing and dangerous for women.
Brookes-Gordon said the Nordic model will close off lines of intelligence police have about sex workers, such as male punters complaining about working conditions, while distorting policing practice towards clients instead of focusing on violent people, grooming gangs and traffickers.
Previously, she also noted that the Nordic model can lead to blackmail and makes both clients and sex workers less likely to report violence. It can also leads to other problems as prostitutes may turn to other forms of crime to make money as a result.
In the report launched at the House of Commons, the authors put forward several recommendations regarding the law. It says the "burden of criminality should weigh heaviest on those who purchase sex – who create demand – and not those who provide sexual services". It also said the law should help people wishing to leave prostitution and says "prostitution is incompatible with attempts to tackle gender inequality".
"In order to better protect those most vulnerable to exploitation, we call for the legal settlement to be reviewed with a view to reducing the demand for sexual services, by transferring the burdern of criminality from those selling sexual services onto those who facilitate or create the demand for its sale."
While there are many opponents to the report, Andrea Matolcsi from Equality Now welcomed its launch: "In recognising the widespread violence and sexual exploitation within the commercial sex industry, the UK APPG on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade has shown that it recognises the lived experience of survivors of prostitution, as well as the strong links between supposedly consensual sex and sex trafficking.
"We are delighted that the Nordic Model, which criminalises demand, including the purchase of sex, pimping and brothel keeping, decriminalises people in prostitution and provides exiting services and support, has been recognised as one of the best ways to reduce prostitution and sex trafficking."