Göteborg by night. Photo Credit: Linus Ekenstam, via Creative Commons on Flickr
Göteborg by night. Photo Credit: Linus Ekenstam, via Creative Commons on Flickr

Sweden has been seen as a role model in dealing with prostitution as a human rights matter, where it is illegal to buy sex, but not criminalized to sell sex – protecting prostitutes and criminalizing perpetrators.

There is one question I keep asking myself: “if it is illegal to buy sex, why are so few convicted for it?”

The difficulty to convict the buyer of sexual services in Sweden can be explained by the fact that it is of course not illegal to have sex, neither is it illegal to circle around a specific area by car and it is also not illegal for a girl to jump into a man’s car.

However, what is illegal is the act of buying sex, which in many cases is impossible to prove. It may require witnesses or someone filming the whole process. Many professionals who work to combat prostitution in Sweden are convinced that the Swedish law against the purchase of sex is weak and emphasizes that the law must be complemented by greater support for women in prostitution.

The Swedish legislation was aimed to protect women and prevent men from buying sexual services. However, the law may only prevent a minority of men from buying sex. As I wrote in a previous post, the climate of prostitution in Sweden today has become more cruel and brutal. Professionals and women in prostitution state that the law does not have a frightening effect on men, nor does it prevent them from buying sex.

Employees at organizations that support women in prostitution in Sweden assert that the only benefits the law brought for the target group is that women can threaten the customers of reporting to the police, and that the law may contribute to boost women’s self-confidence to say no. To be blunt, these are not good reasons for how the law helps women in prostitution. In other words, Swedish legislation is inadequate.

In the vulnerable positions that sex workers find themselves in, where they are dependent to raise money to pay off a debt in order to avoid being tortured, raped, or subjected to even more violence from a pimp, what are the options? How will it help her to threaten the costumer to report to the police? Who is going to pay the price?

The taxi industry also plays a big role in the sex industry. A criminal inspector in Gothenburg, Sweden asked some men who were caught buying sex how they got in touch with the women? A common answer, not surprisingly was, “I got the number from a taxi driver.” Some taxi drivers seem to have a secret agreement with sex workers to bring in new costumers.

Prostitution is a huge industry, that is linked to trafficking and violence against women. In line with what the European Women’s Lobby states, I believe that Sweden needs to take the law one step further to challenge the complexity prostitution implies.

What steps do you think Sweden needs to take to improve its legislation on sex work?

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2 Responses

  1. The obvious reason why Prostitution in Sweden has become as you state “more cruel and brutal” is because sex work has become criminalized in Sweden as making one side of the transaction illegal gives the same results as making the entire transaction illegal. You mention “Pimps” in your article but based on the best info coming out of Sweden, the vast majority of sex workers are independent. Taxi drivers likely have secret agreements with sex workers but the reason they are “secret” is because sex work is criminalized in Sweden. The best course of action would be for you and others to meet with and engage sex workers and get their input as to what the best solution to this problem would be.

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