Over the last 30 years, the governments of various Western democracies have made significant changes in their approach to managing prostitution. However, little consensus exists on the most appropriate legislative response. In various countries, attempts to adopt a new legislative approach (whether to enact or repeal criminal penalties) have sparked fierce controversy. Though the similarities between these legislative approaches are not always immediately apparent, all of them express the aims of both protecting the health and safety of sex workers, and preventing their exploitation by pimps or clients.
In Australia, most forms of prostitution have been decriminalized in the Australian Capital Territory, but some controls remain in place, such as registration requirements and a prohibition on street sex work. Meanwhile, a similar decriminalization approach is currently being adopted in the state of Victoria, replacing the previous regime of legalization with strict controls and regulations. A fully decriminalized regime has been in place in New Zealand since 2003. Local governments are permitted to introduce their own regulations concerning certain activities, and some have done so, most of them striving to confine sex work to specified areas of cities.
In the Netherlands in 2000, the law prohibiting prostitution was replaced by a new system of legalization that tightly regulated sex work occurring in registered businesses. However, an increasing proportion of sex work in the Netherlands occurs illegally. A similar situation prevails in some counties within the state of Nevada in the United States (U.S.), where prostitution in licensed brothels is legal but declining in proportion to the level of prostitution occurring illegally.
Sweden introduced a neo‑abolitionist model in 1999, which is based on the premise that sex work is inherently exploitative, and consequently, criminalizes pimps and clients. This has become known as the “Nordic model” and has been implemented in many other countries in recent years, including Canada.
An abolitionist legislative approach in England criminalizes most of the activity related to outdoor sex work, as well as brothel‑keeping and pimping, yet it does not specifically criminalize the act of prostitution itself. This exception sets it apart from prohibitionist jurisdictions that dominate in the U.S.,such as in the state of California, where prostitution is illegal.
Read the full text of the HillStudy: Prostitution: A Review of Legislation in Selected Countries
By Lara Coleman, Library of Parliament