On June 15, 2021, in solidarity with a number of my sex working comrades, I offered oral testimony to the Massachusetts Joint Committee on the Judiciary in favor of decriminalizing common nightwalking and against the Nordic model (also known as End Demand, or rather ironically, “the Equality Model”). I’m reposting it here.

Chair Eldridge, Chair Day, and the Members of the Committee on the Judiciary,

Thank you for having me today. My name is Kendra Albert, and I am an attorney at Harvard Law School, where I teach in the Cyberlaw Clinic. I am also an out transgender person, and I serve as the Director of the Initiative for a Representative First Amendment. My practice at the Cyberlaw Clinic focuses on the free speech impacts of regulation of sex work. I am here today to oppose bill H.1761/S.940 and to support bill H.1800/S.992.

Massachusetts has long been a national leader in evidence-based policy. What we know about sex work, both from what sex workers tell us and from research, is that harm to sex workers comes primarily from stigma and criminalization, not from the work itself. Because of that, repealing common nightwalking is vital - it removes one avenue that police use to profile sex workers and people who police believe look like sex workers. But merely erasing the most antiquated language while continuing to incentivize police targeting clients, as H.1761 does, just moves the problem around.

Making Massachusetts follow the evidence leads to supporting full decriminalization, not asymmetric criminalization under the guise of helping sex workers access exit services. Studies show that the model suggested by the advocates of H.1761/S.940 (generally called the “Nordic Model”) leads to reluctance to call police for help and may exacerbate violence. A peer-reviewed study released in Social Science of five “nordic” jurisdictions in Canada found that almost one third of sex workers surveyed would be unable to call 911 if there was an emergency.1 In another study from Montreal, sex workers reported dramatic increases in violence after Nordic-style policing was implemented.2 In fact, sex workers in Canada have had to file lawsuits to try to end human rights harms that comes from these failed policies. There is no evidence that the Nordic model reduces demand for sex work, nor that it reduces human trafficking.

Sex workers in Massachusetts deserve better than a policy intervention that has already failed elsewhere. For those reasons, I encourage you to support full decriminalization, H.1867, or as an interim step, the full repeal of the common nightwalking crime, H.1800/S.992, rather than providing favorable reviews on H.1761/S.940.

Thank you for your time and the opportunity to testify.

  1. Crago A-L, Bruckert C, Braschel M, Shannon K. Sex Workers’ Access to Police Assistance in Safety Emergencies and Means of Escape from Situations of Violence and Confinement under an “End Demand” Criminalization Model: A Five City Study in Canada. Social Sciences. 2021; 10(1):13. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10010013. 

  2. Chu, S. K. (2013). Sex Work Law Reform in Canada: Considering Problems with the Nordic Model. Alberta Law Review, 51(1). Retrieved from http://www.aidslaw.ca/site/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Nordic_model-ALR-Oct2013.pdf