The Bodies Back Model: Re-Indigenizing the Policy Debate on the Sex Trade

The sex wars are over. It’s time for full decolonization. Land and #bodiesback.


On this anniversary of 9/11, we pause to consider the important role of the sex industry in facilitating the United State’s Global War On Terror and American occupation in Hawaiʻi, the Philippines, Afghanistan and Iraq. Prostitution is a vestige of slavery that was sanctioned, normalized, and institutionalized for over 100 years by the War Department/Department of Defense near U.S. bases as a “military necessity.” It was only recently, well after 9/11, that the U.S. Department of Defense reexamined its stance, at least on paper. Regardless, the military’s peer culture of sex buying as a “right of passage” continues. It harms the occupied nation’s adults and children because incentivizes sex trafficking of both in order to meet augmented demand for transactional sex.

In 2018, DOD’s network was ranked 19th out of almost 3,000 nationwide networks on the amount of peer-to-peer child pornography sharing. In 2019, 75% of the pedophiles arrested for attempting to arrange sex with a child during Hawaiʻi’s first pedophile sting were U.S. military personnel. The mantra “What happens TDY, stays TDY” persists (TDY meaning ‘temporary duty,’ or occupation). Abolishing the sex industry is key to ending U.S. colonization. Ending U.S. colonization is key to reducing the demand for sexual exploitation. Up until now, this imperial context was missing in the U.S. debate on prostitution policy.

The Nordic Model is a policy piloted in 1999 in Sweden that decriminalizes sex workers and relies primarily on the criminal justice system to penalize sex buyers with jail time. This model is heralded by the problematic mainstream anti-trafficking movement. The New Zealand Model is a policy piloted in 2003 that removes accountability for sex buyers, sex tourists, brothel-owners, and other bosses/people profiting off of sex workers, not just sex workers. The New Zealand Model does not only decriminalize all parties involved in prostitution, it also legalizes the industry by establishing a total system of sex industry-specific regulations such as fines for sex workers that fail to practice safe sex or meet their tax obligations.This model is heralded by Libertarians and, increasingly, the international development industrial complex.

The Nordic Model policy for prostitution is a bad fit for the racist, prison-pocked, consumer-crazed landscape of the United States. The New Zealand Model is exponentially worse, for everyone but a minority of “voluntary sex workers” who are majority settler and white. A new policy model is rising from the global anti-imperialist, socialist and indigenous Left. It’s time to exit the liberal cul-de-sac and head toward the #BodiesBack movement.

The Bodies Back Model is about noncarceral abolition of imperialist systems that run on and necessitate dominant and subordinate groups of people. The Bodies Back movement looks to pre-patriarchal history and asks what does it mean to be a woman beyond serving men and society? What does community safety look like when men’s needs, desires, and safety aren’t valued more than everyone else’s? Here are the policy elements:


Colonization is a vast process invading all spheres of a colonized people’s lives, not only their land.[1] It’s further complicated by the fact that social relations during our ancestors’ times were not necessarily patriarchy-free. The Bodies Back Policy is based on a comprehensive decolonization process with the goal of ending the ideological foundation of the status quo: patriarchy (domination).

This is not an intellectual drill. The bodily integrity of BIPOC are on the line daily in this industry, especially trans women. The Bodies Back Policy is based on the following findings from survivors of child and adult sex trafficking, sex workers, prostitutes, assistance networks, union organizers, social safety net administrators, birth workers, and BIPOC historians and activists. This is not to say that jobs, identities, and experiences are a political stance. The views of socialist and anti-imperialists were unapologetically centered over liberals:

[1] Ndlovu-Gatsheni, Sabelo

[2] Arista, Noelani; Manalo-Camp, Adam



[5] Kake, Jade

[6] Id. at 5.



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