How the Nordic Model will make getting access to mainstream services far more difficult through creating extra shame. Whether it’s banking, or counselling, or legal advice, increasing stigma isolates populations.
Stigmatisation occurs in all aspects of their life: from clients, general public, healthcare and other service providers, and police (Sanders, 2007b). This can result in reduced contact with health services and other providers of support, increased stress leading to mental health problems, and feelings of isolation; contributing to social exclusion.(Cusick and Berney, 2005; UK NSWP, 2009)
Many have talked about how these laws isolate sex workers in many ways, but not so much in regards to accessing mainstream services. I’m the director of Adult Industry Services, and we are part of a growing movement of directory services created specifically for sex workers. Other ones being Pineapple, Manhattan Alternative, and Adult Performer Advocacy Committee. The main aim of these sites is to reduce stigma by building a bridge between sex workers, and the mainstream service providers that everybody has a human right to access.
What I found, when I was contacting professionals to list, made we worry more about these new laws.
It was very difficult to get people to join, and the two main reasons given were: association with a stigmatized group could negatively affect my business, and “I fear there might be legal ramifications”. In other words, many wanted to help but felt they couldn’t. That is how a person becomes isolated, when they are told by others: “I want to help you, but I can’t risk being associated with you.” This will become amplified in any country that adopts these “Nordic Model” style rules.
How would that happen, and what might it look like?
A quite succinct definition of shame is: to lose one’s position on society. We all live in fear of this. To know more about where shame comes from: Moral Outrage Vs. Reason. If you increase the level of shame around a group within a society, then others will naturally distance themselves from that group. This has been demonstrated over and over again: From race in Nazi Germany or the deep south in the U.S., to issues with sexuality all over the world. Just a simple affair in many countries can result in total social isolation. All have had shame placed upon them. The immediate result being: other people will seek to distance themselves from that person or group for fear of being associated with them, and therefore losing their position in the social group.
The very point of placing shame on a person or group has the explicit intention of punishing them with the fear of rejection and isolation in order that they conform. For this to work however, anyone wanting to associate with the shamed must be scared off, or the isolation punishment will fail. The message therefore that has to be given to the rest of the group is: “do not associate with that person or group or you will be included in it and thus rejected”. A recent Pink Therapy conference was focused solely on this issue of isolation, and the need for acceptance of sex workers by the psychological community.
In professional realms
When a sex worker, or any other stigmatized person in history, seeks help from a mainstream source, they often have to hide their identity for fear of either being refused the service, or being treated in a shameful negative way. This creates a feeling of isolation; disconnection with a large part of society. Even with a counsellor, or doctor that you need to be open with to get the best help, many worry they will be rejected and so lie: creating more isolation. When you can’t be yourself with a group, you are isolated from it. Any law that increases stigma and legal pressure, will exacerbate this situation. Here’s a list of mainstream service organisations, from Bank of America to Skype, that already in some way or another refuse services to sex workers.
What I saw
So as I was emailing, calling around, and interviewing, trying to get people to list, I didn’t really blame those that didn’t want to as I understood they saw it as a risk to their business. Many told me outright that it was not “personal”, that they had nothing against sex work, but that they could not be seen publicly saying that. Others went further, and expressed fear of getting into trouble with the law, since they would be interacting with a profession that is not fully legal. Again often saying they had no problem with sex work, but that they had their livelihoods to think about. And again, I feel no animosity towards those people and companies who expressed this. Rather animosity towards those that create a situation that removes access to needed services that we all as a right in society should have access to.
A very succinct quote by a sex worker from Professor Nic Mai’s research:
“If I wanted to seek help the stigma might stop me. I can’t even imagine seeking help for something related to my sex work and how that would play out. If I were seeking help for something unrelated I might but I wouldn’t talk about sex work. I am scared of being judged and it being recorded in some kind of records that I’m a sex worker.”
Even when seen
There is one other ramification of these laws: increasing vulnerability. This is often spoken about in the context of law enforcement. But it also takes place in the realms of other services.
A sex worker, for example, seeks out a service such as a therapist. In the course of the therapy, they get up the courage to be honest with their counsellor about their career choice. If in that situation the counsellor went on to judge their choices, can they complain? Do they feel comfortable and accepted enough by the society around them to stand out and say I was mistreated? Less if the environment around them is not friendly. A classic example of this was mentioned in Vice, concerning the treatment by a medical doctor. Was it safe for a gay person to complain about a service received 60 years ago? Of course not, they risked being ridiculed or even arrested.
This then often leads to a situation where a person in a marginalized group will not seek help at all, for fearing what might take place. Meaning that they do not receive the service that anybody else in a society has full access to. Services that give advice on how to live happier, healthier, safer, and more successful lives. The exact advice that a marginalized group needs. Not law enforcement, shame, and isolation. Here’s a great article from Psychology Today talking about how it’s difficult to get psychological support.
Whenever you get a group that has trouble accessing good advice, you make that group more vulnerable. When you have a vulnerable group that cannot defend itself, the next inevitable consequence is others will seek to take advantage of them since they cannot defend themselves. A bad service provider may either just offer very bad or corrupt advice that benefits them, knowing no complaint can be made, to outright violence and abuse.
The vulnerable in any society inevitably become targets of frustrated and angry beings seeking to get rid of their pain by putting it on others. The idea that those in that group are “damaged people” that have issues and need rescuing is in part created by the psychological stress on that group. In other words, I hit you and then say your physical pain is your fault. Or what is commonly referred to as “gaslighting”.
This is why these directories are trying to counter these ideas. When mainstream service providers openly state that they are not judgmental they not only provide needed services, but also show support: that there are many professionals from all walks of life who do not judge. There are those that are not part of these campaigns to further ostracize the already ostracized.
Many who propose these models say that they do not criminalise the sex worker. But it doesn’t matter, you have criminalized the act. You have stated that the action is negative, shameful, harmful, and needs eradicating. This is enough. Any person engaging in the action is therefore part of that shame. It is a simple equation: increase the shame around a group, and the rest of the system will distance themselves from that person or group. Criminalizing something = shaming something. These laws do just that.
Because of social ostracization, we already have a situation where a marginalized group struggles to get support. Criminalizing will only increase this stress by increasing the stigma.
Shame and isolation do not help any situation improve, ever. Over and over again, we find that discussion and integration of all sides is always the better course of action, even if less comfortable. When we pathologize a group, label them as toxic, and then attempt to make them extinct, to cease to exist, this does not end with positive results for anyone.
Whatever someone might think of someone’s choices to live their life, they may discuss with them, even disagree with them. But when you start trying to change the law to remove a group of people with a certain set of beliefs or ways of acting, then you end up causing more harm than good.