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Criminalisation of Clients and the New Moralism: What’s Harm Got to Do With It?

Nina Peršak

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In order to reduce the demand for prostitution and in turn the prostitution itself, the Swedish model of regulation of prostitution focuses on the criminalisation of clients of. In Belgium, similar ideas have been recently voiced by a political party, proponents of which similarly consider prostitution as such to be violence towards women. The paper will reflect upon this conception of prostitution and the proposed solution to the “prostitution problem”, and examine its underlying legal philosophical and criminological issues. It shall take a closer look at the discourse of the advocates of such criminalisation and unpack their arguments. Are they really harm-based, as they purport to be? It will be argued that what lies behind the caring language, the language of protection and harm, seems rather to be a type of moralism – “new moralism”, for the moralistic arguments are now disguised as harm-based arguments, possibly in order to reinstate legal moralism as a legitimate ground for criminallaw prohibition. Additionally, some downsides of this new moralistic discourse will be addressed. Moreover, should all “socially undesirable” conduct be legitimately criminalised in a modern criminal legal system? Where are the limits of state intervention through criminal law? The paper shall tackle these questions as important principled, legal and ethical objections or limitations to the idea of criminalisation of clients, which should be considered prior to any legislative undertaking.

Keywords: prostitution, clients, harm, legal moralism, criminalisation.