There's a new war on porn on the horizon, and the artillery being used is the same tired old trope as ever: shame and humiliation.

That this tactic has a high failure rate seems to be of no consequence. This month, a  group of Ohio lawmakers met to discuss a potential new bout of legislation that would target clients ("pimps and johns," as Kamala Harris refers to them) rather than workers themselves.

If this, like shame and humiliation, sounds familiar, it's because it is. In essence, this new legislation is a poor mimicry of our good old pal, The Nordic Model.

It's been done. Again and again. And each time, it's proven to be a hot mess disaster for the sex working community.

"The “Nordic” or “Swedish Model” of sex work (SW) criminalization is promoted by police, religious institutions, sex worker exclusionary feminists¹, and mainstream non-governmental organizations across the  globe. The central feature of this model is a sex-purchase ban,  typically introduced as the smart, compassionate, and progressive  alternative to the more longstanding prosecution of sex sellers. The  stated purpose of these laws is to shift the weight of stigma and  prosecution from sex workers to pimps and clients." --Nordic Model: The Ongoing Criminalization of Sex Workers in Northern Europe.

The Nordic Model--which is as un-nuanced as it is insidious--has been not only the bane of sex workers' rights organizations world-wide, but has been additionally condemned by Amnesty International.

The Not So New Nordic Model

The new Ohio "anti-porn" bill reads similarly in scope, with advocates of the legislation preferring to penalize patrons and clients of sex workers, rather than create safe working environments.

Essentially, this is a law that targets folks who would potentially be punished at the same level as the folks they're allegedly trying to "rescue." And not even obscurely like FOSTA has; this is even more direct.

It's dangerous. It's classist. It's paternalistic. And it's all under the umbrella of morality--a term so nebulous an objective that not even the moral right can get a sense of what the hell it is.

According to the Columbus Dispatch,  “in a bid to use shame to deter the purchase of sex, Ohio Attorney  General Dave Yost and a group of lawmakers want to post the names and  photos of convicted ‘johns’ and pimps in an online registry." Yost is asking for upwards of $200,000 in tax payer money.

This tax payer money would go towards the moralistic agenda of select politicians, which violates the necessity of separation between church and state, and prioritizes the lives of certain people over the lives of others.

This Is Larger Than Just Sex Workers

Aside from the regular reasons why the Nordic Model is a toxic and harmful one for providers, this particular iteration of it impedes the ability of workers to be able to hire protection and security for themselves, which will further hurt the already disenfranchised. This is due to the fact that any and all associated persons could come under the same public scrutiny– which includes those who solicit services, yes, but also those who do business with providers themselves.

This is particularly applicable to those who offer security services to providers, as they can be reclassified, within this approach, as "pimps."


While the Nordic Model – or legislation that otherwise criminalizes clientele – may seem like a decent option, the very method of it not only harms workers for the aforementioned ideas, it also implements invasive surveillance of providers that threaten their livelihoods.

So this law would harm working class people who also aren't even providers themselves.

Shame And Humiliation

In addition to being invasive and harmful, the newly proposed anti-pornography legislation utilizes an already tried-and-true failure of a system: shame.

From XBIZ: "“Never underestimate the power of shame as a human motivator,” Yost said last Wednesday as he spoke to a group of legislators that included Jena Powell, an outspoken, openly religiously motivated Republican  lawmaker for the 80th district, in the western part of Ohio, bordering with Indiana.

For an in-depth look at Powell’s astonishingly speedy rise to state  and national attention at 25, fueled by support from religious right  think-tanks and organizations connected to his brother, Ohio roadside billboard magnate Justin Powell, click here.

Powell was instrumental in spearheading the legislation that is about to turn Ohio into the 17th state to declare a supposed “health crisis” around pornography. This is part of a well-funded War on Porn being waged by a low-profile coalition of religious fanatics, for-profit  propaganda outlets, “leadership summits” and more mainstream “conservative” politicians, often in alliance with supposedly  progressive SWELs (Sex Worker Exclusionary Liberals) and SWERFs (Sex  Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminists).

The Columbus Dispatch wrote last Wednesday that Ohio’s Attorney  General Dave Yost told the crowd that “basic economics works under the  premise of [sex work] supply-and-demand, and right now we have a demand  problem in Ohio.”

“Our goal is to reduce the demand and in return rescue victims from  this modern-day slavery,” said Yost, echoing the religiously motivated  language equating all commercial sex, including among consenting adults, with human trafficking."

We've seen shame used as a political tool in ways that have failed spectacularly--namely, Morality in the Media, which had its roots in the 1970s and 80s, was a right who’s who of Conservative Christian  organizations who sought to see pornography banned outright. The  organization had a history of approaching political candidates and swaying them to get the U.S. Department of Justice to crack down on  current obscenity laws and to crack down on “porn and indecency.”

It may not even be a stretch to say that shame exists as a tactic is abstinence-only sex education, a type of pedagogical move that is still taught in many parts of the United States.

From Emily Rose Thorne, host of Between the Bills, a reproductive justice podcast based out of Macon, Georgia: "As  for nuanced discussions on sexual orientation, desire, safe sex for any  and all genders, communication during sex, masturbation, foreplay, and  all the rest? Most schools don’t even touch it.

Our modern sex education becomes increasingly problematic when said education is predicated on the binary that abstinence is right and having sex is  wrong. It creates adversarial relationships with students and their  bodies and of course, the trust of consensual sex isn’t ever part of the conversation."

The Same Old FOSTA/SESTA Boondogle

The anti-porn legislation of Ohio problematically posits consenting sex workers with those being trafficked. This is important because the blanketed proposals for helping each of these very separate communities is, necessarily, extraordinarily different, and to refuse to acknowledge that is to dually harm both.

In the same ways that FOSTA/SESTA refuses to understand the difference between trafficking and consensual sex work, Ohio's anti-pornography bill dangerously blankets providers under a moral umbrella, instituting a one-stop-shop solution for industries that are infinitely more complex than that.

On The Other Hand

A more nuanced, educated, and non-shame based tactic for approaching the sex industry also came into the public eye last week when the incoming DA of San Francisco, Chesa Boudin, made a statement regarding consensual sex work:

"We will not prosecute cases involving quality-of-life crimes," he wrote  in response to an American Civil Liberties Union pre-election  questionnaire. "Crimes such as public camping, offering or soliciting sex,  public urination, blocking a sidewalk, etc., should not and will not be  prosecuted. Many of these crimes are still being prosecuted; we have a  long way to go to decriminalize poverty and homelessness."

Boudin has gone on the record of saying his pro-decriminalization, a measure that has been presented as the opposite of the Nordic Model. According to Human Rights Watch, criminalizing sex work is a massive rights violation, and that extends to providers within the porn industry as well:

"Criminalizing adult, voluntary, and consensual sex – including the  commercial exchange of sexual services – is incompatible with the human  right to personal autonomy and privacy. In short – a government should  not be telling consenting adults who they can have sexual relations with  and on what terms.

Criminalization exposes sex workers to abuse and exploitation by law  enforcement officials, such as police officers. Human Rights Watch has  documented that, in criminalized environments, police officers harass  sex workers, extort bribes, and physically and verbally abuse sex  workers, or even rape or coerce sex from them."

Ohio appears to be moving backwards, towards the defunct models that center shame and dissociation as punitive tactics as attempts to disband the sex industry. We know that these models fail--the numbers of consenting workers and trafficked victims alike have not changed under them. Life has only become more dangerous for those who willingly sell sex as a profession.

But what we have not tried, on a large scale and in this country, is decriminalization. And perhaps San Francisco, which has been the forefront to so many human right's battles, will take the lead once again.