Prostitution is not the oldest profession, but the “oldest oppression,” writes Jimmy Carter in a controversial editorial for The Washington Post. The former president of the United States said he does not believe consensual work exists and strongly disagreed with assertions that prostitution can be an affirmation of female agency: “[But] I cannot accept a policy prescription that codifies such a pernicious form of violence against women.” He then suggested a change in policy “consistent with advancing human rights and societies,” but certain critics are finding faults with his proposal.
Carter favors “the Nordic model” and refers to his 2014 book, A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power, when explaining why he disagrees with human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and UNAIDS on the decriminalization of sex work. The Nordic model, adopted in Sweden, Canada and France, decriminalizes the selling of sex. Managing, pimping and buying of sex, however, remain illegal. “Normalizing the act of buying sex also debases men by assuming that they are entitled to access women’s bodies for sexual gratification,” Carter writes. “If paying for sex is normalized, then every young boy will learn that women and girls are commodities to be bought and sold.”
But critic Anna Merian says the Nordic model is problematic and that Amnesty “stopped supporting the Nordic model after doing something we’re not sure President Carter has ever tried: they talked to sex workers about it.” Merian points to a Q&A entitled “Policy To Protect The Human Rights of Sex Workers,” in which Amnesty notes that the model “provides a better scope for sex workers’ rights to be protected” (these rights include access to health care and the ability to report crimes to the authorities). Regardless, “laws against buying sex and against the organisation of sex work can harm sex workers,” as in the case of sex workers who relayed feeling “pressured” to visit buyers’ homes so they could avoid the police, a position resulting not only in loss of control, but the compromise of their safety. Sex workers are also penalized under the Nordic model for organizing for their safety. Safe accommodations can be hard to come by as well: landlords face potential prosecution for letting premises to sex workers. Forced evictions become the next logical step.
Merian also accuses the former president of moralism, as when she writes that Carter is “doubling down, though, arguing that decriminalization doesn’t just hurt sex workers; it hurts everybody, somehow, by devaluing the sex you’re having and the nature of sex itself.” Indeed, while Carter suggests that sex should ideally be “between people who