The Pimping of Prostitution by Julie Bindel – A book about the international resistance against the Nordic model

Review by Robert Schenck

Julie Bindel, famous English journalist and feminist, talks about her long standing, global fight against prostitution, and for “the Nordic model”. In the book we get to read about the tremendously strong forces that she has to work against and also about the arguments and strategies of the prostitution advocators.

Before the book review I feel the need to further explain a number of terms that appear in the international debate about prostitution. My source is first and foremost the up-to-date book: The Pimping of Prostitution:

“Pro-prostitution lobby”: This is a common designation of people and organisations that advocate and campaign for a total decriminalisation (like in New Zealand) or a new legislation (like in Germany and Holland) of prostitution. The lobby is also called “sex worker’s rights movement” since it claims to defend the rights of the prostituted. The movement consists of different areas of interest and includes certain leftist groups that regard prostitution as a matter of class rather than a matter of gender; pimps, brothel owners and criminals with profit interest; a lot of gay activists from the LGTB community; a lot of academics that are relying on “research”; and also human rights organisations such as Amnesty International that in a “leftist liberal” spirit emphasise “the right of the individual to decide over his or her own body and over his or her own life”. Right now, what the lobbyists have in common is that they detest every form of governmental involvement in the sex industry, with the exception of a number of activists from Holland, Germany and the US who still advocate for a totally legal, but partly regulated, form of prostitution. The pro-prostitution lobby is a very powerful and active opposition to all that “the Nordic model” stands for, above all the sex purchase act.

“The Nordic model”: “The Swedish model”, as it also can be called, criminalises sex purchase without stigmatising or blaming the prostituted that in most cases are women. The goal with the sex purchase act is to get hold of the sex industry by decreasing the demand. There is now a sex purchase act in the following European countries: Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Ireland and France.

“Sanitising the sex trade”: By using cosmetic terminology, the pro-prostitution lobby is trying to normalise prostitution. Some examples of these terms are: “sex workers”, “selling love”, “transactional sex”, “compensated daters”, “contract breach” (rape), “sex work management” and “occupational health risks” (violence, diseases etc.).

“Survivor”: A former prostituted who describes her or his past traumatic reality in books, articles and speeches.

“Abolitionist movement”: Literally means “abolitionist”, someone who wants to abolish something, in this case prostitution. In practice this is an accumulated term for all who fights internationally for “the Nordic model”.

SPACE International (Survivors of Prostitution Abuse Calling for Enlightenment), founded by survivor and author Rachel Moran, plays a central role in the movement. Having experienced it themselves, the survivors are extremely convincing in their descriptions about what prostitution is really about. Even though “the abolitionists” are evidently against trafficking they are not arguing against trafficking specifically, because they think that “prostitution in itself is not the problem”, and the best way to defeat both trafficking and prostitution is to limit the demand with a sex purchase act.

About the book The pimping of Prostitution:

First a few words about the title of the book: pimp means “hallick” in English and to pimp means “to live on being a pimp”. The common meaning of the verb pimp is however to transform something into something better, cooler or more impressive.

Julie Bindel explains her title like this:

“In the past few decades, prostitution and the sex trade have been given a serious makeover. The title of this book, The Pimping of Prostitution, is meant to convey how sanitised commercial sexual exploitation has become. The Urban Dictionary definition of pimping is “to make something ‘cool’, ‘better’ or ‘awesome’”.

In recent years, the sex trade has been rebranded to give the impression that it is not harmful, nor even prostitution. Academics and pro-prostitution activists have begun to use terms such as “selling love”, “transactional sex” and “compensated daters”. Those who support the sex trade use terminology that masks the reality of what it actually is: one person, almost always male, having sex with another person, almost always female, without mutual desire.”

The Pimping of Prostitution is thus about lobbyists doing everything they can to idealise prostitution as something harmless, inevitable and normalised. The book describes how the author together with many other like-minded spread knowledge all over the world about what prostitution is really about, and how they propagate for “the Nordic model” that criminalises sex purchase.

To be able to write the book, Bindel has travelled around the world for two years and met and interviewed all kinds of participants in the sex industry. In the book she methodically presents the argumentation of the prostitution advocators, immediately proceeding with her own counterarguments.

The advocators for prostitution sometimes have an economic interest in a total decriminalisation, sometimes they are LGTB people in a “pro-prostitution rainbow alliance”, many are academics who rely on “research”, and some are even human rights activists from very well known organisations. As a reader with a RealStars perspective it is chocking to learn that Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, World Health Organisation, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS and more have made an alliance with the pro-prostitution lobbyists. In spite of very bad experiences from decriminalised and regulated prostitution in for example New Zealand and the Netherlands, these organisations are on the same side in the debate as “the sex workers’ rights movement”, thus for legalising and strongly against the Nordic model. (The Swedish section of Amnesty International writes on their wed page that they have not “taken a stand for or against the Swedish sex purchase act”.)

The advocators for a total decriminalisation or a regulated legislation of prostitution are not afraid to take action. Julie Bindel describes how she and others who fight internationally for the Nordic model are being opposed in all kinds of ways. Even survivors are being harassed by the prostitution advocators. Rachel Moran, survivor and author of Paid For (see review on RealStars web page) is cited in Bindels’ book as follows:

“I’ve seen pro-lobbyists turn up to events with their stupid red umbrellas and deliver outpourings of hatred into the faces of women who are simply there to state the pain and harm men did to them in prostitution….

I’ve had violent threats direct to my front door. …I’ve had my bank details, personal email and home address procured and passed around pro-lobbyists. … Since they got hold of my email address the harassing emails have never stopped. Turning on my laptop feels like going into battle and it’s been years since I felt able to casually open my front door.”

The Pimping of Prostitution is systematic in its setup. For someone who will debate for the Nordic model in Sweden or abroad it is indispensable, but it is too detailed and cumbersome for me to be able to recommend it as a book to read from cover to cover for a normally interested Swedish reader.

The book is informative but it doesn’t capture me as a reader. The last chapter about the survivors was however intriguing, and the second last chapter, “A Queer Defence of the Sex Trade”, was very interesting. The author there explains and analyses how the gay movement, that started as a defence and a fight against prejudices and oppressions has been “hijacked by another group who favours pimps and sex buyers”.

Julie Bindel is a famous journalist who among other things writes in The Guardian, and she is a fighter: against violence against women, against surrogacy, against mail order wives, against trafficking, and for “the Nordic model”. In the epilogue she optimistically concludes:

“The tide is turning. The Nordic model has now been adopted in Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and France. The evidence is stacking up against countries that have legalised the sex trade, and the much-lauded “New Zealand model” has been exposed as nothing more than a licence for traffickers, pimps and punters to do as they wish.

In Germany, Holland and Australia, survivors are speaking out against the legal brothels in which they were sold. In New Zealand, the truth is emerging about how so-called “decriminalisation” is no different from the disastrous legalisation approach, and that nothing has improved for those who are prostituted under this regime.”