The model has been a success: Street prostitution in Sweden has dropped 50 percent, and communications intercepted between organized crime members indicate the country is “no longer a good place to do business.” Several European countries, as well as Israel, have since adopted the Nordic model.
The research behind Sweden’s approach resonated with what Bos and co-founder Sara Lous—both social workers—already knew from their experience counseling women leaving prostitution: Women exiting the profession exhibited the same symptoms as survivors of sexual abuse: disassociation, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. They also knew that contrary to the common Dutch view of women freely choosing sex work, those who “chose” prostitution almost all came from vulnerable backgrounds of trauma and abuse. In 2012 Bos and Lous saw an Al Jazeera documentary about Amsterdam’s role in modern-day slavery and had to speak up. They started a blog to expose truths about prostitution and human trafficking.
Bos and Lous, who call themselves abolitionists, are both Christians, but they say their organization is for anyone who wants to fight the injustice of trafficking. Their work led to a social media campaign last spring. “I Am Priceless” showed photos of young people asking, “What if she was your sister?” The campaign linked to a petition to end legalized prostitution. In the wake of #MeToo, the petition hit a social nerve and by early April had passed the 40,000 signature threshold required to introduce debate into the Dutch parliament. “In the Netherlands we’ve educated our citizens with a lot of propaganda about prostitution,” says Bos. “If it’s visible you can control it. If you criminalize it, it will go underground. It’s just a normal job—it’s the oldest job in the world. It’s really hard to change those belief systems, so we focus on young people who are more open to change.”
They also want to educate visitors to Amsterdam. One campaign involves giving tourists facsimiles of 50-Euro bills. On the reverse side is a list of possible options for how to spend them: rent two bicycles for the day, take a barge tour through the canals, buy a poor woman for sex. Bos says the point is to demonstrate that the purchase of other humans has no place in a modern city.