Challenging demand for prostitution: international evidence review

This rapid evidence review assesses and synthesises evidence on international approaches to challenging demand for prostitution.

4. Challenging demand

This chapter provides an overview of legislative approaches aimed at challenging men's demand for prostitution and summarises some key features and common principles identified across the jurisdictions examined in this review[7]. An understanding of these features enables the identification of similarities and differences in approaches and provides some necessary background information for the assessment of lessons learned. The information has been primarily sourced from government websites and legislation as well as academic literature detailing the introduction of challenging demand, its key drivers and implementation strategies adopted by the jurisdictions in question.

It is important to note that the focus in this chapter is on outlining the central features of the approaches adopted. Lessons learned, impacts, enablers and barriers are discussed in chapters 5 and 6.

Table 2: Summary of key features of challenging demand approaches



Northern Ireland

Republic of Ireland



January 1999.

Kvinnofrid (Violence Against Women) Act 1998.

January 2009.

Sexkjøpsloven (Sex Purchase Act).

June 2015.

Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2015.

March 2017.

Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017.

April 2016.

Loi no. 2016-444 Visant à Renforcer la Lutte Contre le Système Prostitutionnel et à accompagner les personnes prostituées (aimed at strengthening the fight against the prostitution system and support prostituted persons)

Key Drivers

Gender Equality and Violence Against Women

Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation

Gender Equality and Violence Against Women

Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation

Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation

Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation

Gender Equality and Violence Against Women

Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation

Main Sanctions

Fine or up to 1 year's imprisonment.

Fine calculated on basis of severity of offence and the individual's annual income.

Fine or up to 6 months' imprisonment.

Total fine determined by local police.

Fine of up to £1000 and 1 years' imprisonment.

Fine of up to €500 which goes up to €1000 in cases of recidivism.

Fine of up to €1,500 for first offence and €3,750 for repeat offence.

Attendance at awareness course at own expense.

Main Support Provisions

Specialist support services organised at municipal level:

Mikamottagningen in Stockholm and Gothenburg and the Prostitution Centre (Kompetenscentrum Sexuella Tjänster) in Malmö.

KAST: counselling and outreach programmes aimed at identifying potential buyers in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö).

Specialist care largely provided at municipal level by civil society organisations.

National organisations include Pro Sentret which provides information on service provision and gathers national data. Funded by both the central government and the Oslo Municipality.

KAST NORGE: Norwegian version of KAST (Sweden)

Publication of strategy of action to be taken to ensure a programme of assistance and support (PAS) is made available to those wishing to leave.

The published strategy and website set out existing mainstream and specialist services available to women and men involved in prostitution including housing services, job centres, health.

No specification of support services or exit pathways in statute.

Support services largely provided by statutory services such as the Health Service Executive Women's Health Service and Anti-human Trafficking Team, and organisations such as Ruhama and SWAI.

State funded exit programme to help support people to leave.


access to temporary accommodation; placement on priority lists for social housing;

help accessing health services;

6 month temporary residency permits (renewable to a max. of 18 months); tax debt forgiveness and financial aid for those not eligible for welfare/asylum allowances.


Challenging demand, also referred to as "abolitionism/neo-abolitionism"[8], "the Sex Buyer law"[9] or the "Nordic Model"[10], criminalises the purchase of sex whilst simultaneously decriminalising the selling of sex. The central premise behind challenging demand approaches is that prostitution constitutes a form of sexual violence that predominantly impedes women's equal participation in society and as such is incompatible with commitments to gender equality and universal human rights (Ekberg 2004: 1188). Proponents of the model argue that banning and penalising purchase introduces a "deterrence effect" than can reduce demand for sexual services and related crimes such as pimping and human trafficking (Hedlin 2017; Jonsson & Jakobsson 2017: 58). Moreover, the decriminalisation of selling is purported to support women and men involved in prostitution, reducing avenues for further exploitation and encouraging exit and access to help (Ekberg 2004).

The first challenging demand model was introduced in Sweden in 1999 and has since been implemented in a number of jurisdictions on the basis of its effectiveness in tackling crimes such as human trafficking for sexual exploitation (Iceland (2009), Norway (2009), Canada (2014), Northern Ireland (2015), France (2016), Republic of Ireland (2017) and Israel (2018)). Challenging demand approaches have garnered support at EU level seen in measures such as the Directive 2011/36/EU and the 2014 European Parliament resolution on Prostitution and Sexual Exploitation and its impact on gender equality[11]. More recently, the European Commission study on the "gender dimension of trafficking in human beings" recommended that Member States "consider criminalising the purchase of sex" on the basis of its decreasing men's likelihood to purchase in turn reducing demand for trafficking for sexual exploitation (European Commission 2016: 198).

The challenging demand model can be contrasted with other approaches to prostitution such as "prohibitionism" which bans all activities related to the selling and purchasing of sex as seen in most US states; "regulationism" which legalises and regulates purchasing, selling and brothel keeping, as seen in the Netherlands and Germany; and "decriminalisation" which aims to remove laws on voluntary prostitution and related offences as seen in New Zealand (Platt et al. 2018).

As with any legislative model, there is no uniform way of implementing a challenging demand approach. There are marked differences across jurisdictions that reflect the influence of a complex range of contextual factors such as existing legislative provisions and varied cultural norms and approaches to the implementation of the legislation by interested agencies (Kingston & Thomas 2019). That said, a number of common features were identified across the countries examined for this review that can be summarised into the following overarching principles and strands.

Common principles

At the heart of the measures adopted in Sweden, Norway, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and France is the view that challenging demand entails the adoption of a criminal justice and social policy approach which recognises that prostitution is:

  • a gendered form of violence incompatible with commitments to gender equality and human dignity;
  • closely linked to other forms of crime and sexual exploitation such as human trafficking;
  • the result of a broad and complex array of structural inequalities and challenges (socio-economic, cultural, health).

In response to these features of prostitution, the provisions introduced across the five jurisdictions examined have aimed to achieve three central objectives:

  • To reduce demand for prostitution;
  • To improve the lives of "victims" of prostitution through support that reduces harm and/or helps exit;
  • To change social attitudes towards the commodification of (primarily female) bodies.

Achieving these objectives has resulted in strategies informed by a number of common principles which can be grouped into three intervention strands:

1. Criminal Justice Response

The adoption of a criminal justice system that:

  • recognises the unequal power dynamic between purchaser and seller and places the burden of criminality on the purchaser as the central driver of demand.
  • protects women and men involved in prostitution by decriminalising selling and enabling them to engage with the justice system and report crimes.
  • sends out a clear normative message against the commodification of human bodies through the criminalisation of purchase.
  • combines the criminalisation of purchase with robust measures aimed at combatting other forms of sexual exploitation e.g. human trafficking, pimping and brothel keeping.

2. Support for Victims

The adoption of social policy measures that:

  • recognise and respond to the complex needs of those involved in prostitution (socio-economic, health, cultural).
  • support women and men involved in prostitution to access a broad range of specialist/non-specialist services at local and national levels to help reduce harm and/or encourage exit.

3. Changing Social Attitudes

The incorporation of clear and consistent messaging across services and provisions to:

  • inform the public of both the law and available support in order to prevent further demand/entry.
  • change social attitudes towards prostitution to reduce violence against women and men involved.

The following subsections provide further detail on the individual jurisdictions considered in relation to these three strands. Specifically and in keeping with the objectives and strands here described, they outline each country's:

  • Criminal justice response - the legislative measures and enforcement practices adopted;
  • Social policy measures - any additional support services and provisions aimed at achieving the principles listed above.
  • Changing social attitudes initiatives – any measures aimed at changing social attitudes.
  • Evaluation and monitoring mechanisms – any evaluations undertaken by each country.

Little information exists on the day to day implementation and operations of the criminal and social policy provisions made which may mean that important features as well as similarities and differences in approaches have not been captured. Focus has thus been on providing an overview of the central features of each case (i.e. country) and where possible, further detail on implementation has been included. The findings from any evaluations are unpacked in the chapters that follow where discussion revolves around the identification of any lessons learned which may support the development of a model for Scotland.


Sweden was the first jurisdiction to implement a challenging demand approach. The criminalisation of the purchase of sex was introduced along with a range of other measures under the "Kvinnofrid"[12] bill on the 1 January 1999. The central aim of the bill was to "combat violence against women, prostitution and sexual harassment in working life" (as cited in SOU 2010: 30). Proponents argued that prostitution constituted a form of violence and obstacle to gender equality which was harmful to society at large (Ekberg 2004: 1189). Banning purchase would send out a clear message that women and girls were not "commodities" (Ekberg 2004: 1189) and deter "purchase" whilst reducing "the number of people involved in street prostitution"[13]. The Bill was passed in 1998 and the Act was later transferred to the Swedish Criminal Code in April 2005 under section 11 of the Sexual Offences Chapter[14].

Criminal justice response

Despite an emphasis on the gendered nature of prostitution, the legislation is gender-neutral and includes a number of key provisions which have come to characterise the Nordic Model. These include the criminalisation of purchase through penalties such as fines and prison sentences and the non-criminalisation of selling. Chapter 6, Section 11 of the Criminal Code states:

"A person who, in cases other than those previously referred to in this Chapter, obtains casual sexual relations in return for a payment, is guilty of purchase of sexual services and is sentenced to a fine or imprisonment for at most one year".

The purchase of sexual services is considered a criminal offence in cases where the relationship is casual and payment can be in the form of money or other items such as alcohol and drugs (SOU 2010: 32). Sexual relations primarily refer to sexual intercourse but may include other acts[15]. Moreover, the offence includes cases where payment is promised or made by a third person and is only applicable if it does not fall under other provisions made in Chapter 6 of the Criminal Code. These include offences for rape, sexual assault, child rape, child sexual exploitation, incest, and procurement.

Procurement is defined as the promotion or financial exploitation of "another person's engagement in casual sexual relations in return for payment" and is punishable by a maximum of 4 years or if "gross" i.e. aggravated, by a minimum of 2 years and a maximum of 8. Procurement also includes cases where a landlord has failed to terminate a lease in the event they become aware of a property's use for prostitution. Other relevant legislation includes human trafficking for sexual exploitation which is covered in Chapter 4, Section 1a of the Criminal Code and is punishable by a minimum prison sentence of 2 years and a maximum of 10.

The imprisonment term of a year for purchase was raised from 6 months in 2011 in order to increase penalties and allow for a "nuanced assessment" of more serious cases of prostitution[16]. The most common penalty used, however, is a fine which is calculated on the basis of the severity of the case and the offender's income. In cases where there is clear evidence that an offence has been committed, the person apprehended may confess and a fine may be issued (Olsson 2021: 356). Where they do not, the case may be taken to court.

In a study of 1,430 criminal case records taken from district courts and local public prosecuting offices between 2011 and 2015, Olsson (2021) found that fines ranged anywhere between 500 to 80,000 SEK (approximately £40 to £6,400). A person found guilty of purchase is expected to pay a daily amount totalling one thousandth of their annual income for a number of specified days. The precedent set by the Supreme Court is 50 day fines for cases where the person is found to have purchased a sexual service (Olsson 2021: 362; SOU 2010: 40). This goes down to 40 day fines when conviction relates to attempted purchase (Olsson 2021: 362).

Selling remains legal in line with a view to remove the burden of criminality from those involved in prostitution. Purchase is considered a crime against public order which means the seller is not classified as the pursuer in legal proceedings but can act as a key witness (Östergren 2018: 171). Moreover, revenues from the selling of sex are taxed which makes those who pay tax eligible for access to sickness and childcare allowances as well as a pension (Östergren 2018: 173).

The legislation is "universal" in scope, meaning it can apply to offences committed abroad (Ratcovich 2019: 402). However, this has been hard to implement in practice due to the requirement of "double criminality" under Swedish Law which means the purchase can only be tried if it is subject to "criminal responsibility under the law of the State where it was committed" (Ratcovich 2019: 399). In 2017 a draft bill aimed at removing the double criminality requirement was rejected by the Council on Legislation in Sweden on the basis of its "inconsistency" with the principle of non-intervention under international law (Ratcovich 2019: 400).

There is little evidence with regards to day-to-day operations (Olsson 2021). The literature indicates that police enforcement largely relies on its own intelligence gathering (Olsson 2021: 362). Recent studies show that police often engage in targeted surveillance operations where they identify apartments used on escorting sites (Olsson 2021: 362), monitor people entering and exiting the premises to identify possible purchasers, and conduct ID checks of any women and men involved in the apartments (Vuolajärvi 2019: 157).

Enforcement practices also vary depending on the residency status of the person involved. The Swedish 2005 Aliens Act means that suspicion of selling sex can result in deportation or denial of entry (Vuolajärvi 2019: 155). Identified victims of human trafficking, however, may be eligible for a 6 month residency permit in cases where they may be needed for a trial or investigation. A range of concerns around these practices' potential criminalisation of women and men involved have been raised, and are explored further in Chapter 6.

Social policy and changing social atittudes measures

Despite there being no mention of prostitution in social services and health legislation, the provisions outlined above build on long-standing specialist support services organised at municipal level (Östergren 2018: 173). These have primarily focused on initiatives aimed at "fighting" prostitution by supporting women and men involved to exit rather than merely reducing harm (SOU 2010: 30). In addition to state welfare provisions, specialist support services such as Mika-mottagningen[17] in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Evonhuset (previously Kompetenscentrum Sexuella Tjänster) in Malmö, organise outreach activities and provide legal advice, counselling, training and health support to assist those involved in prostitution. Support for those with experience of purchasing sexual services is also available. KAST offers counselling and outreach programmes aimed at educating and identifying potential buyers in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö.

Over the past decade, government emphasis has been on the development of collaborative networks between statutory services and civil society organisations specialising in both prostitution and human trafficking (Erikson & Larsson 2019). In 2008, a National Action Plan to Combat Prostitution and Sex Trafficking was established, aimed at developing national partnerships between public agencies and NGOs to combat sexual exploitation more effectively (Erikson & Larsson 2019: 6).

The County Administrative Board of Stockholm (CBAS) hosted the National Coordinator overseeing activities related to combatting prostitution and trafficking in 2009 until 2018 when it was replaced by the Swedish Gender Equality Agency (SGEA) which was set up to help coordinate and support Sweden's Gender Equality aims[18] (Erikson & Larsson 2019: 6-7). The SGEA currently leads the National Task Force against Prostitution and Trafficking (NMT)[19], a national forum which streamlines regulation and collaboration in the governance of prostitution and trafficking (Eriskon & Larsson 2019: 8). It constitutes an "intermediary […] between rule makers and the implementation of policy" and fills "gaps" that have emerged in the absence of "operational guidelines" in the existing legislation (Erikson & Larsson 2019: 8). It includes agencies such as Social Services, the Police Authority, the Swedish Migration Agency, and the Swedish Prosecution Authority.

The NMT's website provides telephone helplines, an interactive map with information on regional coordinators, information on support programmes, recent reports, training guides for government and NGO staff. The NMT has also been responsible for recent awareness campaigns, notably "You Decide!" which included an informational film highlighting the links between human trafficking and prostitution, and which reached an estimated 1.6 million people (OSCE 2021: 54)[20].

Other cross-agency groups which work closely with the NMT include the Swedish Platform against Human Trafficking[21], an organisation made up of NGOs working against human trafficking. It "collects data on all first contacts made with civil society" and "cooperates with authorities" in anti-trafficking efforts (Erikson & Larsson 2019: 13). In 2015 it also set up a National Support Programme which provides funding for accredited service providers to support and protect human trafficking victims. Finance can be granted for victims for a 30 days' reflection period before they report to police which is extendable to 90 days support in cases where the person does not want to report (GRETA 2018: 28).


The legislation has undergone continuous monitoring and evaluation. The National Board of Health and Welfare (NBHW) was mandated to monitor the nature and extent of prostitution in Sweden in the 1998 Bill, resulting in 3 reports published in 2000, 2004 and 2007 (Malloch et al. 2017: 21)[22]. In 2010, an official inquiry reviewing the impact of the legislation's implementation was conducted which concluded that the legislation was having the desired effect in challenging demand[23].

In 2013 the County Administrative Board of Stockholm was commissioned to map and gather knowledge on prostitution[24]. The mapping exercise drew from online surveys, a National Board of Health and Welfare report, a population survey, civil society, and research with people involved in prostitution and the police (Mujaj & Netscher 2015: 12). The study found a significant decrease in on-street prostitution as well as a notable increase in online advertisements for sexual services[25].


A decade after Sweden implemented legislation aimed at challenging demand, Norway introduced the "Sex Purchase Act" (Sexkjøpsloven) on the 1 January 2009. Much like the Swedish case, debates around the criminalisation of the purchase of sex had been taking place for over 30 years. Prostitution was regarded as a form of violence and major obstacle to gender equality closely tied to human trafficking by the Act's proponents (Skilbrei 2012).

Criminal justice approach

Purchasing or attempting to purchase sex is now punishable with fines or up to six months' imprisonment. According to Section 316 of Chapter 26 on Sexual Offences of the Penal Code, the penalties apply to anyone who:

"a) procures sexual intercourse or any other sexual act, for himself/herself or for another person, in return for payment or agreement to provide payment,

b) procures sexual intercourse or any other sexual act in return for another person paying or agreeing to pay, or

c) in the manner described in a) or b) above induces someone to carry out acts that are equivalent to sexual intercourse with himself/herself."[26]

The inclusion of intent to purchase means that agreement between the relevant parties is enough to classify as an offence (Jahnsen & Skilbrei 2018b: 188). If the activity occurred in a "particularly offensive manner" and "does not fall within the scope of stricter provisions", the imprisonment term increases to a maximum of one year[27]. The most common penalty issued is a fine and prison sentences are only applied in severe cases or when the offender refuses to pay (Jahnsen & Skilbrei 2018b: 189). The fine level is determined by local police and has been found to fall anywhere between NOK 15,000 and NOK 25,000 (approx. £1,250 to £2,075) (Jahnsen & Skilbrei 2018a: 258). The ban does not only apply to offences which take place in Norway but also extends to offences committed abroad, however, little is known about how this has been implemented in practice (Jahnsen & Skilbrei 2018b: 188). Similar to Sweden, earnings from selling sex are also tax deductible.

Section 315 on "controlling and facilitating prostitution" makes the "promotion of prostitution to others" and "renting of premises for the purposes of prostitution" punishable by a fine or an imprisonment term not exceeding six years. Additionally, it also specifies that "public announcements" offering sexual services are punishable by a fine or six months' imprisonment which extends to those involved in selling. How this has been enforced with regards to online advertising remains unclear. The Norwegian Penal Code also includes other provisions related to sexual offences including a separate ban against the purchase of sex from minors which increases the imprisonment term to a maximum of two years and three years where it has been particularly offensive. Human trafficking for prostitution is liable to imprisonment for a maximum term of six years which rises to 10 in cases where there has been evidence of aggravated human trafficking.

Little was found detailing implementation and enforcement practices in Norway, however, similar policing approaches as seen in Sweden were identified in the literature. Police can use a broad range of surveillance powers such as the recruitment of informants or undercover policing (Jahnsen & Skilbrei 2018a: 258). Operajson Husløs (Operation Houseless) which was introduced in 2007 to help tackle human trafficking involved police working with hotels and landlords to identify women involved (Jahnsen & Skilbrei 2018a). Similar concerns have been raised around the effect of these operations on the women and men involved. The literature indicates that police can banish women and men involved from particular areas if considered a public nuisance and Operation Houseless has resulted in women and men being evicted from accommodation (Jahnsen & Skilbrei 2018a). Like Sweden, victims of human trafficking may be granted six months' residency permit which may be extended to a year or a permanent residency permit in cases where the victim is central to an investigation and legal proceeding (Jahnsen & Skilbrei 2018a: 260). During the six month reflection period, victims are also entitled to legal and medical assistance, a safe place to live, follow-up care provided by social services or immigration authorities, and return to their home country (GRETA 2017: 19).

Social policy and changing social attitudes measures

The Norwegian government committed to an annual package of 10 million Norwegian Kroner (approx. £850,000 in 2022) for support agencies to facilitate policy rollout (Amnesty International 2016: 26). Beyond general welfare services, specialist care is provided at municipal level and by civil society organisations such as the Church City Mission which offer support in finding alternative sources income, counselling, 24 hour helplines and courses. They primarily act as "intermediaries" between women involved in prostitution and "universal welfare services", helping them to complete applications and contact state agencies. They also provide health check-ups and advice in coordination with STI clinics (Brunovskis & Skilbrei 2018: 312). Support provision has been heavily focused on harm reduction and not solely on providing support to exit (Brunovskis & Skilbrei 2018).

A major player in both support provision and national data gathering has been Pro Sentret, a centre funded by both the central government and the Oslo Municipality. It was initially established in 1983 as Oslo's specialist service aimed at supporting those selling sex. In 1993 it was named "a national centre of expertise" and helps provide information on the prostitution market and "best healthcare practice" (Pro Sentret). It prioritises prevention, the promotion of gender equality and the monitoring of prostitution in Norway and abroad:

"Pro Sentret believes that all work in relation to prostitution must be based on human rights. Prostitution is an act, not a character trait of human beings. We want to live in a society where no-one feels that prostitution is the only available option. We cooperate with individuals, respecting the choices that they make in the situations in which they find themselves. Pro Sentret wants to replace myths and prejudices about prostitution with greater insight and knowledge. We want to live in a society that, instead of stigmatising persons who sell sex, shows solidarity with them. Society should invest heavily in preventing prostitution and in providing help to people who are looking for alternatives to prostitution. Persons who sell sex must be included as equal partners in the processes involving them and their lives. Pro Sentret aims to support individuals by making them aware of their rights and responsibilities, and by helping them to maintain their self-respect and good health so that they can take control of their own lives and realise their potential."[28]

Its website currently hosts a range of resources on relevant legislation, links to available services such as ROSA, a government funded programme aimed at assisting female victims of human trafficking[29] and KAST Norge which much like its Swedish counterpart, provides support and educational resources to men with experience of purchasing sex with the aim of preventing men from purchasing sex/reoffending in the future[30]. KAST Norge is a free and anonymous conversation service.


An evaluation of the legislation was commissioned by the Ministry of Justice and Public Security in 2013, the results of which were published in 2014. The findings suggested that the ban on purchase had contributed to a reduction in prostitution. Further detail on the findings of the report can be found in the 2017 international evidence assessment commissioned by Scottish Government (Malloch et al. 2017).

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland (NI) introduced the "Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland)" in June 2015. The legislation made changes to the existing Sexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order of 2008 which criminalised soliciting for the purposes of prostitution in public, kerb crawling as well as the purchase of sex from someone subject to force. The introduction of a challenging demand approach to prostitution was regarded as a key step within a broader effort to introduce a more "robust legal framework" aimed at combatting human trafficking (Department of Health, Safety and Public Policy 2015: 4)[31]. The legislation not only introduced harsher penalties for those profiting from sexual exploitation but also strengthened support for victims. The Bill increased provisions to combat human trafficking such as new offences related to slavery, forced labour and exploitation as well as new support provisions for victims of trafficking.

A draft Bill of the 2015 Act was presented to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2014 by Lord Morrow from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) at a time when a Challenging Demand approach was gaining support across Ireland more generally. Research suggests that the development of the Bill had been heavily influenced by the Swedish model, with well-known Swedish advocates playing a key role as advisors in the Bill's drafting (McMenzie, Cook & Laing 2019). It was passed in December 2014.

Criminal justice approach

Article 64A of the "Sexual Offences (Northern Ireland) 2008" order now makes it an offence to purchase sexual services. Someone found guilty is punishable by up to one year's imprisonment and a fine of up to £1000. It states:

"(1) A person (A) commits an offence if A obtains sexual services from a person (B) in exchange for payment—

(a) if the payment is made or promised by A; or

(b) if the payment is made or promised by a third party and A knows or believes that the payment is made or promised by a third party."[32]

Payment is defined as "any financial advantage to B, or any person other than B" and includes "the provision of goods or services (other than sexual services) gratuitously or at a discount". The legislation also specifies that an offence is only committed when there is evidence of B being in the physical presence of A, of sexual touching of the other party, or of B having touched themselves for sexual gratification in A's presence. In practice this means police must prove physical presence, sexual touching and promised or exchanged payment (Ellison et al. 2019: 62).

In line with other challenging demand approaches, the "Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland)" also repeals Article 59 which had made loitering and soliciting for purposes of offering prostitution illegal. However, it does specify that an offence is committed in cases where the person involved in prostitution is found to have played a role in "aiding, abetting, counselling, or procuring the commission of an offence under Article 64A by the purchaser".

The legislation builds on provisions made in the Sexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order of 2008 such as "causing or inciting prostitution for gain", "controlling prostitution for gain" and brothel keeping which are all punishable by up to seven years' imprisonment[33].

Social policy and changing social attitudes measures

The 2015 Act makes provisions for the development and publication of a strategy aimed at supporting people wishing to exit prostitution. Section 19 states that the strategy should "provide for a programme of support and assistance to be made available in accordance with the strategy no later than 1 April 2016" and should not be published later than 10 months after the Act's implementation. Unlike France, the legislation does not provide great detail on what the proposed support and assistance actually entails but it does nevertheless specify that the strategy must ensure that support provided is not:

"(a) "conditional on the person acting as a witness in any criminal proceedings;

(b) "is provided only with the agreement of that person; and

(c) "is provided in a manner which takes due account of the needs of that person as regards safety and protection from harm."[34]

Assistance and support must be offered from someone who is the same gender as the person receiving it and a review of the strategy should be conducted every three years after implementation. Crucially, it specifies that the assistance and support provisions do not affect entitlement to support and assistance offered in other statutory provisions.

The Leaving Prostitution Strategy was published in December 2015 by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety[35]. Its central objective is to set out "actions to be taken by departments to develop" the Programme of Assistance and Support (PAS) (Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety 2015: 4). The strategy identifies barriers to leaving prostitution, available services that can help support those wishing to exit and respond to the identified barriers. These include: housing; mental and physical health problems; experiences of violence as children; criminalisation; finance; coercion; among others. Services include: existing health and counselling services; Jobcentres; and helplines. The strategy makes clear that the core purpose of the PAS is not to replicate already existing services but to "[connect] those wishing to leave prostitution with the services and support" outlined (Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety 2015: 20). A PAS website provides details of statutory services available to those involved in prostitution such as the Belfast Commercial Sex Workers drop-in Service, which offers sexual health support and advice for those involved in prostitution and is one of the few agencies providing specialised support for women and men involved[36].

It is worth noting that when the legislation was being implemented, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) established two sex worker liaison officers (SWLO) in accordance with National Police Chief's Council (NPCC) guidance (Ellison et al. 2019: 60). The central role of the SWLO's is not law enforcement, but support for women and men involved in prostitution. The number of liaison officers has since been raised to five following discussions between the PSNI and "sex worker" peer organisations[37]. While not specified in the Strategy, the evidence suggests that along with the Belfast drop-in service, the SWLO have become important statutory actors engaging with women and men involved in prostitution since the legislation's enactment.

No studies on the impact of challenging demand on social attitudes to prostitution was identified in the evidence search.


The legislation requires that the Department of Justice carry out a review of Article 64A after three years[38]. The evaluation which adopted a mixed methods approach including interviews, online surveys and data "scraping"[39] was published in 2019 and found little evidence of a reduction in the estimated numbers of people involved in prostitution. The authors, who were highly critical of the legislation, argued that the absence of the anticipated reduction may have been the result of difficulties in enforcement and a lack of robust evidence around the effectiveness of the Nordic model more generally (Ellison et al. 2019: 167). The results of the review have been criticised by supporters of the legislation on the basis of its use of data supplied by Escort Ireland[40].

Republic of Ireland

At the time that NI was reviewing and implementing a challenging demand approach, similar debates and discussions were taking place in the Republic of Ireland (RoI). The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 was introduced in March of that year as part of a broader effort to tackle child sexual abuse, human trafficking and sexual exploitation in response to Directive No. 2011/93/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 December 2011 on combating the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and child pornography[41]. Much like NI, the criminalisation of the purchase of sex was seen as a central piece within a wider attempt to combat human trafficking (Huschke & Schubotz 2016). The legislation aimed to send out a clear message highlighting the links between prostitution and sexual exploitation (Campbell et al. 2020: 281). In addition to criminalising purchase, it made changes to legislation on sexual exploitation and abuse and introduced offences related to child sexual grooming and child pornography (Shannon 2020).

Development of the legislation began almost a decade prior with extensive campaigning by the likes of Turn Off the Red Light (TORL), a coalition of over 60 frontline service providers seeking to end prostitution and sex trafficking[42]. A number of studies had drawn attention to an extensive human trafficking and sexual exploitation network in Ireland (Shannon 2020). Under existing legislation at that time, soliciting for the purposes of selling, pimping, human trafficking for the purposes of sexual or labour exploitation and brothel keeping were illegal.

In response to increasing demands for legislative change, the Department of Justice and Equality announced a consultation on the "future" of prostitution legislation in Ireland on 22 June 2012 (Shannon 2020: 4). The majority of stakeholders who participated in the hearings supported a Nordic approach and the committee recommended the adoption of a challenging demand approach following a visit to Sweden where members found positive evidence in favour of the Swedish model (Shannon 2020: 4). It argued that criminalisation of purchase would "reduce demand, stigma, barriers to support services, and risky sexual practices, lessen harm, and promote public health" (Ryan & Ward 2018: 52). A draft Bill was developed in 2015 and Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 was passed two years later.

Criminal justice approach

The Act amends the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993. It creates the offence of "payment etc. for sexual activity with a prostitute" making it punishable by a €500 fine which in the event of a repeat offence, goes up to €1000. Purchase includes giving, offering or promising "to pay or give a person (including a prostitute) money or any other form of remuneration or consideration for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity"[43]. Sexual activity is defined as:

"any activity where a reasonable person would consider that—

(a) whatever its circumstances or the purpose of any person in relation to it, the activity is because of its nature sexual, or

(b) because of its nature the activity may be sexual and because of its circumstances or the purposes of any person in relation to it (or both) the activity is sexual".

Section 25 also amends subsection 2 of section 1 of the 1993 Act which included offering of "his or her services as a prostitute" in its definition of soliciting or importuning for the purposes of prostitution, thereby decriminalising the selling of sexual services. Soliciting for "the purpose of obtaining that other person's services as a prostitute", or "on behalf of a person for the purposes of prostitution" continue to be offences. Failure to follow police instructions to leave an area if suspected of loitering is punishable by a €1000 fine and a maximum imprisonment term of six months. Importantly, the act also doubles penalties for brothel keeping and pimping from a €1000 fine or six months' imprisonment term to €5,000 or 12 months. For more serious offences, the Act increases the maximum imprisonment term from five years to 10. In addition to "keeping" or "managing" a brothel, brothel keeping also includes "being the tenant, lessee, occupier or person in charge of a premises" used for prostitution or the "landlord lessor". Publication and distribution of adverts for brothels and prostitution were made illegal in 1994. In 2021 the Minister for Justice also announced plans to expunge previous criminal records for the selling of sex with the view to "firmly assert" a commitment to supporting victims of exploitation[44].

Like Sweden and Norway, enforcement practices primarily rely on police intelligence gathering. An Garda Síochána engage in welfare checks, brothel raids as well as targeted intelligence operations where they locate premises used for prostitution and identify suspected purchasers entering/exiting (Shannon 2020). The Garda National Protective Services Bureau (GNPSB) "provides advice, guidance and assistance to Gardaí investigating" sexual crime, child exploitation, domestic abuse, human trafficking, organised prostitution and missing persons among others[45]. The bureau also "liaises with relevant Government Departments, State Bodies and voluntary groups". In 2021, an Organised Prostitution Investigation Unit was set up within the Bureau, to replace Operation Quest and is now responsible for enforcement of the legislation[46].

In 2017 a High-Level Working Group was established tasked with aiding the implementation of the purchase part of the 2017 Act. It includes members from An Garda Síochána, Health Service Executive, SERP (Sexual Exploitation Research Programme, UCD), the Department of Justice and Equality (as observers), Ruhama, Men's Development Network, Mia De Faoite, the Immigrant Council of Ireland, the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, Doras Lumní, the Children's Rights Alliance and Dr Geoffrey Shannon, and serves as a means for sharing information between frontline workers and experts as well as monitoring, gathering and collating data, documenting progress, and learning from international experience (Shannon 2020).

Social policy and changing social attitudes measures

Unlike some of the other legislative provisions (NI and France) here considered, the 2017 Act did not specify the provision of specialist support for women and men involved in prostitution, however, there are a number of state funded initiatives and programmes aimed at victims of sexual exploitation. Support services made available to women and men involved in prostitution currently include services such as the Health Service Executive (HSE) Women's Health Service (WHS) and Anti-human Trafficking Team (AHTT) which operate sexual health clinics and outreach support for women and trans women involved in prostitution as well as providing support for victims of human trafficking (Breslin et al. 2021)[47].

The WHS primarily provides specialist sexual health support while its outreach service provides help on a range of issues such as housing, finance, legal and immigration concerns (Breslin et al. 2021). Other major actors include Ruhama, an NGO partially funded by the state and specialising in support for victims of prostitution, sex trafficking and other forms of sexual exploitation[48] and the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI), a "sex-worker" led organisation in favour decriminalised approaches[49]. Ruhama offers a range of services such as counselling, care plans, employment, housing and accommodation support, legal and immigration advice, health and well-being support and outreach. SWAI focuses on "sex worker" advocacy, law, health and immigration guidance, and research support. In addition to providing specialist support, Ruhama has also played an important role in awareness campaigns such as "We Don't Buy It" in 2015 which was shared via outdoor advertising, radio, online and social media. The campaign reached 17% of the general public and generated 2.5 million "impressions on social media" (OSCE 2021: 53).

Similar to NI, no studies on the impact of challenging demand on social attitudes to prostitution in RoI was identified in the evidence search.


Section 27 makes a review of the legislation a requirement no later than 3 years after commencement. The Department of Justice and Equality launched an online consultation survey in August 2020 as part of the legislation's mandatory review, the results of which have not yet been published[50].


France introduced legislation aimed at "strengthening the fight against the prostitution system and support prostituted persons"[51] in April 2016[52]. Much like the Swedish approach, the move was informed by the adoption of a "global" approach which aimed to both deter the purchase of sex and support women and men involved in prostitution (Gaudy & Le Bail 2020: 17). Proponents of the new legislation argued that criminalising purchasers supported the fight for gender equality, sending out a zero tolerance message capable of changing social attitudes and protecting those involved[53].

Criminal justice approach

Law No. 2016-444 was passed 64-12 in the National Assembly after three years of debate in parliament (St Denny 2020). It decriminalises the selling of sex and provides an exit programme aimed at helping people to leave prostitution, bringing an end to previous legislation that made public soliciting punishable by a €3,750 fine and two months imprisonment[54]. In addition, it allocates funding for national policy focused on 1) reducing harm to those involved in prostitution, 2) preventing entry, and 3) raising public awareness of the negative consequences of the selling and purchasing of sex.

In 2011 a cross-party commission published a report reviewing France's approach to prostitution and recommended the criminalisation of the purchase of sex[55] as well as improved police training to strengthen victim detection and increased support for victims of both prostitution and trafficking (St. Denny 2020). A few months later in December 2011, the National Assembly unanimously approved a resolution in favour of criminalising the payment for sex and reaffirming a commitment to the abolition of prostitution[56]. MPs argued that prostitution was an obstacle to gender equality and criminalising clients was the surest way of shifting blame from the victims and reducing demand (Théry & Legardinier 2017). In 2013 the National Assembly's Women's Rights Delegation prepared a bill setting out a challenging demand approach which was eventually passed with some amendments on 6th April 2016 (St. Denny 2020).

The legislation comprises 23 articles covering a range of provisions which include the criminalisation of the purchase of sex even if committed abroad, an exit programme focused on helping women and men involved in prostitution to leave, and funding for health and awareness programmes[57]. Purchasing sex is now punishable by a fine of €1,500 which in the case of repeat offences rises to €3,750 and becomes a criminal offence. Offenders may also be required to attend an awareness course at their own expense. The primary focus of the awareness course is to inform offenders about the "fight against the purchasing of sexual activities"[58]. The legislation defines purchasing as:

"The act of soliciting, accepting or obtaining sexual relations with a person involved in prostitution, including in an occasional manner, in exchange for remuneration, a promise of remuneration, the provision of a benefit in kind or the promise of such a benefit".[59]

For cases where the person involved in prostitution is a minor or has a known disability or illness, purchasing initially became punishable by three years' imprisonment and a €45,000 fine. This has since been increased to five years and a €75,000 fine after amendments were made in 2021 which strengthened the protection of minors from sexual crimes. The provisions for vulnerable people and minors are further supplemented with fines of up to €100,000 and €150,000, and prison sentences of up to seven and 15 years in cases where the offence occurred habitually or with several persons, through violence or abuse of position, or via an online messaging platform.

The legislation builds on extensive anti-pimping and anti-trafficking laws. Procuring is currently punishable by up to seven years' imprisonment and a €150,000 fine. Procurement refers to anyone who "helps, assists or protects the prostitution of others", "makes a profit out of the prostitution of others", "hires or corrupts a person for the purpose of prostitution" (Darley et al. 2018: 96). In the case of procuring a minor or vulnerable person, the penalties go up to 10 years' imprisonment and a €1,500,000 fine. Where the person involved is younger than 15, these penalties increase to 20 years and €3,000,000.

We find similar provisions in cases of human trafficking for sexual exploitation[60] and brothel keeping which is punishable by up to 10 years' imprisonment and a €750,000 fine[61]. The legislation also "created an obligation upon internet service providers" to alert authorities "of any content that violates the Act in respect of pimping, and to make public the means and measures they devote to combating such illegal activities" (OSCE 2021: 62).

In line with an approach that aims to support victims of prostitution, public soliciting which had previously punished both purchasers and sellers was decriminalised. Like Norway and Sweden, earnings from selling are subject to taxation, however, how it works in practice remains unclear.

Social policy and changing social attitudes measures

Articles 5-14 of the legislation now provide for a range of resources to help victims of prostitution, trafficking for sexual exploitation and pimping. The services include access to temporary accommodation, placement on priority lists for social housing, help in accessing health services, six month temporary residency permits for migrant women and men involved in prostitution which are renewable for up to 18 months. They also provide for tax debt forgiveness in cases where the person is unable to pay and financial aid to facilitate social and professional integration for those who are not eligible for government welfare and asylum allowances (€330 monthly stipend and an extra €102 per dependent child) (Gaudy & Le Bail 2020: 17).

To access the programme applicants must, however, be committed to exiting and be supported by an accredited organisation. Accreditation can only be acquired if organisations show that they have been in operation for at least three years and prove that they are committed to helping people to exit. Applications to the programme are then reviewed, approved/rejected by "depártement" committees composed of representatives of the public sector including the gendarmerie, police, local authorities, health professionals, and social workers.

Other provisions aimed at supporting women and men involved in prostitution include: access to temporary housing by victims of human trafficking and pimping who have brought proceedings against perpetrators; the possibility for full compensation for damage caused; and the right to in camera proceedings (Théry & Legardinier 2017). In addition to these, the legislation also includes provisions aimed at bolstering efforts to change social attitudes. Articles 17, 18 and 19 establish two national policies, one focused on preventing physical, social and psychological harm, and a second one aimed at informing secondary school students of the dangers of prostitution and the commodification of the human body. In 2016 the Ministry for Women's Rights launched a poster campaign aimed at spreading awareness of the new legislation (OSCE 2021: 52-53). Other awareness campaigns have included Mouvement du Nid's[62] "The Tormenters" which also included posters and videos shown across cities such as Paris and Nice (OSCE 2021: 53).


The legislation makes a review of its implementation a requirement after two years which was completed in December 2019[63]. Other reports have included the Scelles Foundation's local evaluation which examined implementation in Narbonne, Paris, Bordeaux and Strasbourg[64]. The Ministry of Solidarity and Health published a report in June 2021 which showed a steep rise in the prostitution of minors. Estimates suggest that as many as 10,000 young people may be involved in prostitution, contributing to the announcement of a €14 million plan to tackle underage prostitution[65]. A recent report produced by the National Advisory Commission on Human Rights, suggested that a major contributing factor behind the lack of visibility has been the increased use of the internet[66].



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