The Equality Model: What it is and why it works

The Equality Model or Nordic Model is women-centred and targets buyers, exploiters, and traffickers as profit-making exploiters of poverty, racism, and other intersectional vulnerabilities. The core pillars of this Model are:

  • Individuals selling or being sold for sex are no longer criminalised – this means they can go to authorities for protection
  • Supports are provided to help women leave prostitution, and to offer vulnerable women at risk of sexual exploitation more choices
  • Buying sex is punishable by a range of legal sanctions– this discourages people from buying sex and reduces the demand for prostituted women
  • Pimping and brothel keeping remain illegal to reduce the opportunity to profit from sexual exploitation.

A key part of the Equality Model was established in Ireland through Part IV of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017, shifting the burden of criminality in this coercive and exploitative trade to the buyer. This law confirmed the Irish states’ commitment to reducing levels of sexual violence and exploitation of women and girls and vindicating their rights to be safe and secure. The Equality Model has been also adopted in other countries including Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Canada, France and Northern Ireland. The Equality Model was approved as the best model to address prostitution by the European Parliament and The Council of Europe in 2014.

Support women

Support equality

Support freedom from exploitation

“The thing that a lot of people don’t understand is that the moment you step outside that box and look to control the reins even slightly to what’s happening to your body you’re inviting aggression … you’re inviting aggression big time … they’ll do exactly the things they know you don’t want them to do. Now in any other walk of life that’s called sexual abuse but it’s not sexual abuse the world tells you in prostitution because you’ve been paid.”

Quote from ‘Ruth’ in Choice, agency consent and coercion: Complex issues in the lives of prostituted and trafficked women,  Monica O’Connor, Equality Studies Centre, University College Dublin, Women’s Studies International Forum 2017

Why does it work?


Supporting women
Most people enter prostitution due to poverty and other circumstances that limit their choices in life. A key pillar of the Equality Model is providing supports to individuals at risk of exploitation or seeking to exit prostitution. This includes support with accommodation, healthcare, childcare, education and training, pathways to employment, legal representation, counselling and financial assistance. With these supports, individual women will be less vulnerable to the coercion and grooming of commercial sexual exploitation and will have more choices in their life.

Ensuring justice
The Equality Model shifts the burden of criminality to the exploiter. Women are no longer criminalised and can access health, social welfare and policing services when they need support, or when they need to report violence or exploitation.

Ending demand
By naming prostitution as violence against women, highlighting its stark gender and racial injustice and making it an offence to buy sex, we discourage people from exploiting prostituted women.

The prospect of being prosecuted, revealed as a sex buyer and exploiter of vulnerable women and girls to families and community can act as a powerful deterrent. This can reduce demand for prostituted women, shrinking the sex trade and reduce trafficking for sexual exploitation, the most prevalent type of exploitation in Ireland.

Myths on Prostitution and the Equality Model


“The Equality Model increases violence against women in prostitution”

Unfortunately, violence is an inseparable part of the sex trade and only by reducing and ultimately ending the sex trade can we reduce the violence that takes place there. The Equality Model has been in place in Sweden for over 20 years and there is no evidence to suggest that it has led to greater violence.

“The Equality Model drives prostitution underground and makes it more dangerous”

Most sex buyers are ordinary men who need to be able to find and access women in prostitution. It is not possible for the sex trade to operate underground. Unfortunately, the sex trade is dangerous with violence perpetrated by buyers, pimps, and traffickers. The Equality Model supports women to be able to access the police and justice without fear of being criminalised themselves.

“The Equality Model does not support women in prostitution’s choice and bodily autonomy”

Consent is based on mutually-wanted sex which cannot exist in prostitution. Prostitution is based on a power imbalance between the sex buyer and the person selling sex. The sex buyer holds the power and so they make the decisions about the encounter. Those in prostitution are forced by circumstance or financial dependency to say yes to this unwanted sex. The Equality Model provides supports to women so they have more choices in life, and do not have to engage in paid sex out of financial need, coercion or exploitation.

“I am free today but still trying to recover… To every victim of human trafficking out there do not lose  hope, I know people will try to break you, condemn you, intimidate you, make you feel less of  yourself… even when you are totally broken and there is just a tiny piece of thread holding you  together… Do not lose hope because where there is life there is always hope”

Quote from ‘Moira’ provided by Ruhama

Beyond Exploitation

Community Foundation Ireland
Dublin Rape Crisis Centre
Irish Nurses & Midwives Organisation (INMO)
Longford Women’s Link
Men’s Development Network
One In Four
Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI)
Safe Ireland
Women’s Aid

If you are in prostitution and would like to talk: Ruhama text REACH to 50100 for free, and get free confidential support. Or call us on 01 8360292 today

If you have experienced sexual violence: Dublin Rape Crisis Centre National 24-Hour Helpline: 1800 77 8888

If you have a query about your immigration status or that of someone close to you: Immigrant Council of Ireland helpline 01 6740200

If you are a victim of human trafficking: An Garda Síochána Freefone 1800 666 111

If you have witnessed or suspect you have witnessed human trafficking: An Garda Síochána Freefone 1800 666 111 or 999/112 or