This week, the New Hampshire legislature will open discussion on two bills related to changing the criminalization sex work in the state. The first bill, HB1614 introduced by Manchester Representative Elizabeth Edwards, seeks to “legalizes consensual sex between consenting adults and makes any solicitation of sexual contact involving a person under 18 years of age or through the use of force or intimidation a felony.” Meanwhile, HB1613, introduced by Merrimack Representative J.R. Hoell, promotes an “end demand” approach (also known as the “Swedish Model”) that enhances criminal penalties for those who purchase sex. We, the Board members of SWOP-USA, support the passage of HB1614. Decriminalization has repeatedly been shown to reduce stigma, reduce victimization, and reduce health risks for sex workers. Conversely, “end demand” policies have markedly negative outcomes for people engaged in sexual exchange, often increasing the risks they face.
In an interview earlier this month, Rep. Edwards explained that the recent Amnesty International study and subsequent organizational policy supporting the global decriminalization of sex work prompted her action. We, the Board members of the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP-USA), applaud Rep. Edwards’ initiative. We agree that decriminalization is a vital step forward in promoting and protecting the rights of sex workers. Decriminalization of sex work is in line with best public health practices, and has been shown to not only curb victimization, but also reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections by increasing sex workers’ ability to negotiate and use safer sex methods. Similarly, decriminalization policies in other countries has shown considerable promise in reducing violence against sex workers. Following the 2003 decriminalization of sex work in New Zealand, both independent and government-sponsored research found that that sex workers felt more inclined to report crimes to the police, more empowered to refuse clients, and were more likely to move indoors, to safer working conditions.
Meanwhile, the Swedish Model has not held up under scrutiny. In a scathing report, the U.N. Global Commission on HIV and the Law concluded the end demand model “has not improved