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

[but] worsened the lives of sex workers.” The commissioners point to other studies suggesting the law has actually led to increased violence against sex workers, and deteriorating between sex workers, who want to maintain a client base, and law enforcement, who want to prosecute clients. This tension has led to a nearly non-existent conviction rate: “In spite of over 2,000 arrests, only 59 clients have been reported suspected of buying occasional sex. Only two have been convicted, after pleading guilty. No one has been jailed, and only low fines have been imposed, as per the law. Evidence to prove a crime is nearly unattainable. Workers do not consider themselves to be victims and are almost always unwilling to testify against their clients.”  

However, while SWOP-USA supports HB1614 and the move towards decriminalization, we acknowledge concerns about the bill’s contents. at the time of this writing, it is unclear that HB1614 actually promotes a policy of decriminalization. Decriminalization differs from legalization. Using the language of the latter leaves the door open to state control of sex work and prostitution. Models of legalization can restrict individual worker freedom and further criminalize sex work that does not occur within a regulatory framework. This is more than a linguistic debate. We support sex worker community input on bill’s such as HB1614, to ensure that these initiatives protect all sex workers, particularly people who are most marginalized and impacted by criminalization. 

We appreciate Rep. Edwards’ intentions with HB-1614 and support its passage. We invite her to reach out to us, or other regional sex worker led organizations, to solicit feedback and input. Similarly, we invite Rep. Hoell to meet with sex workers and trafficking survivors to discuss why the Swedish Model harms our community. We look forward to the opportunity to talk with Rep. Edwards, Rep. Hoell, and other state lawmakers, about developing model decriminalization legislation that represents both the spirit and intent of Amnesty International’s position. Ultimately, though, we want no laws about us without us.


SWOP-USA is the largest sex worker-led and supported organization operating within the United States. We are a national social justice network dedicated to promoting the fundamental rights of people involved in the sex trade and their communities. At both the national and local levels, SWOP-USA members seek to end stigma and violence against sex workers through education and advocacy.