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Criminalizing Sex Work in Maine

July 26, 2023

Last month, Maine Gov. Janet Mills signed into law a bill adopting the so-called “Nordic model” for sex work. The Nordic model eliminates criminal penalties for the sale of sex, but continues the criminalization of the purchase. For this reason, it’s sometimes called the “end demand” approach. Some people, like Rep. Lois Reckitt, a sponsor of the bill, believe this is better for sex workers because, in Reckit’s words, laws that follow this model “better protect and decriminalize sellers engaged in prostitution without legalizing pimping and sex buying.” 

Sex worker Henri Bynx explains the falsity of this claim – explaining that the Nordic model doesn’t “better protect” sex workers at all. In fact, as Bynx says, “any element of criminality in consensual sex work keeps people in danger, full stop.” Unless Maine decriminalizes all people participating in the sex industry, sex workers will continue to be exposed to dangerous policing, including police violence. Sex workers will continue to face harmful stigmas about their labor. The continued criminalization of clients, as in Maine’s law, represents a continued direct attack on sex workers’ livelihoods. 

Bynx isn’t alone. Other sex workers and advocates have long agitated for full decriminalization of sex work. Human Rights Watch and the ACLU, among other organizations, have clearly explained why criminalizing adult, voluntary, and consensual sex poses grave risks to sex workers and their clients. (If you’re curious to lean more about why, exactly, the Nordic model that Maine adopted is so devastating to the sex work community, Decriminalize Sex Work (DSW) explains and outlines its critiques in impressive detail.)

We at the Woodhull Freedom Foundation have always advocated for the decriminalization of consensual sex work, and we join Bynx, Human Rights Watch, the ACLU, Amnesty International, DSW, and others, in repeating our demand for full decriminalization of sex work. We know that full decriminalization makes sex workers safer. It would also, as DSW notes, “help end human trafficking, improve public health, promote community safety, and protect civil liberties.” Full decriminalization is, in our eyes, nonnegotiable in our fight for sexual freedom.

Sex Work
Sex Workers

Photo of a person protesting.

A person holds a sign reading "sex work is work!" (Erik McGregor/Pacific Press)

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