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FKA twigs, Dazed Autumn/Winter 2016
Photography Ryan McGinley, fashion Karen Langley

FKA twigs, Sisters Uncut & more sign letter against criminalising sex work

The open letter, spearheaded by Decrim Now, calls for politicians to take an evidence-based approach to the sex industry and reject the so-called Nordic Model

A newly-published open letter that calls for MPs to oppose the further criminalisation of sex work in the UK has received 150 signatures, including those of celebrities, activists, and human rights organisations (such as FKA twigs, Amnesty International, and Sisters Uncut), and figures across politics, the media, and academia.

Spearheaded by the UK campaign group Decrim Now, the letter takes aim at legislation that criminalises the purchase of sex — often known as “the Nordic Model” — warning that measures touted as solutions to sex trafficking and exploitation “will only exacerbate violence against women, including those who are being exploited”.

It also encourages politicians to take an evidence-based approach to the sex industry, and to engage with and listen to sex workers. This comes amid repeated attempts to criminalise paying for sex in the UK (including the recent Sexual Exploitation Bill put forward by Labour’s Diana Johnson, which Decrim Now links to the controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill) despite evidence suggesting that the move is likely to prove ineffective, and may have harmful consequences.

“Evidence shows that the Nordic Model does nothing for the very groups it claims to protect,” the letter continues, citing a sharp increase in violence against sex workers after similar legislation was introduced in the Republic of Ireland in 2017. In 2018, the non-profit initiative Ugly Mugs Ireland reported that violent crime against sex workers went up 77 per cent after the ruling came into effect.

Likewise, FOSTA/SESTA laws introduced in the US in 2018 pushed many workers into unsafe or exploitative working conditions, as online advertising platforms were shut down. Research published in the Anti-Trafficking Review last year suggests that online sex workers have faced “detrimental effects on their financial stability, safety, access to community, and health outcomes”, while there is “no evidence that FOSTA/SESTA has curbed trafficking”.

Decrim Now’s letter also draws attention to the Nordic Model’s disproportionate effect on marginalised groups, including women, migrants, people of colour, disabled people, LGBTQ+ people, and those that have experienced poverty and homelessness — “the same workers often conflated with trafficked victims”.

“While wealthier sex workers may emerge unscathed, it will be marginalised groups who, facing destitution, are forced to take on worse, more dangerous work.”

Among the signatories of the letter are groups such as Sisters Uncut, Amnesty International, SWARM, and Stonewall, celebrities and commentators such as FKA twigs and Roxane Gay, and politicians including Labour MP Nadia Whittome. View the full list of those supporting the open letter, and read the letter in its entirety, via Decrim Now. You can also add your own name here.

Last year, twigs also launched an initiative to support sex workers during the coronavirus pandemic, which has brought added employment uncertainty and financial precarity, and used her social media as a platform for grassroots sex worker led organisations. “There’s a bigger journey in challenging public attitudes, tackling stigma, and fighting for rights and protections,” she noted at the time.