Should Selling Sexual Acts Be Decriminalized but Buying Criminalized Such as in Sweden?
Gunilla Ekberg, Special Advisor on issues of prostitution and trafficking in women at the Swedish Division for Gender Equality, in the Oct. 2004 Violence Against Women article "The Swedish Law That Prohibits the Purchase of Sexual Services," wrote:
"The ultimate goal of the Law is to protect the women in prostitution by, among other measures, addressing the root cause of prostitution and trafficking: the men who assume the right to purchase female human beings and sexually exploit them. From the Swedish experience, we know that when the buyers risk punishment, the number of men who buy prostituted women decreases, and the local prostitution markets become less lucrative... If more countries would address the demand for prostituted women, by criminalizing not only the pimps and the traffickers but also the buyers, then the expansion of the global prostitution industry would be seriously threatened."
Julie Bindel, journalist, and Liz Kelly, PhD, Roddick Chair of Violence Against Women at London Metropolitan University, wrote "A Critical Examination of Responses to Prostitution in Four Countries: Victoria, Australia; Ireland; the Netherlands; and Sweden" and submitted it on Feb. 4, 2004 to the Local Government and Transport Committee of the Scottish Parliament:
"The Swedish regime is not simply a piece of ideological legislation, but a holistic approach to the problems of prostitution...
No increase in violence against women since the law was implemented has been reported from a majority of the police districts...
Although it is often argued that restrictions on street prostitution results in poor and drug addicted women losing their only source of income, there has been very little protest regarding this issue from opponents of the legislation. However, the Swedish government investment in drug and alcohol rehabilitation programmes and other exit strategies has undoubtedly enabled more women to leave prostitution. Some of the NGOs argue that a number of women have been inspired to leave by the new legislation.
Decriminalising the selling of sex has meant those in prostitution do not have to contend with harassment and arrest from police, which can enable the women to feel less stigmatised. Furthermore, this system serves to prevent the 'revolving door', and means that services can be explicitly directed at assisting women to leave prostitution, and with reintegration into society...
What emerged strongly from this review, even with the limitations of time and resources, is that most approaches to prostitution lack a coherent philosophical underpinning, from which specific short and longer term aims and objectives could be drawn out and evaluated.... The most coherent approach in terms of philosophy and implementation is that adopted by Sweden, and interestingly it is the only one where no one who sells sex is subject to the criminal law."
Marie De Santis, Director of Women's Justice Center, in the June-July 2005 Peacework article "Opposing Prostitution As a Form of Male Violence: the Swedish Model," wrote:
"In a centuries deep sea of clichés despairing that 'prostitution will always be with us', one country's success stands out as a solitary beacon lighting the way. In just five years Sweden has dramatically reduced the number of its women in prostitution. In the capital city of Stockholm the number of women in street prostitution has been reduced by two thirds, and the number of johns has been reduced by 80%. There are other major Swedish cities where street prostitution has all but disappeared. Gone too, for the most part, are the renowned Swedish brothels and massage parlors which proliferated during the last three decades of the twentieth century when prostitution in Sweden was legal.
In addition, the number of foreign women now being trafficked into Sweden for sex is nil. The Swedish government estimates that in the last few years only 200 to 400 women and girls have been annually sex trafficked into Sweden, a figure that's negligible compared to the 15,000 to 17,000 females yearly sex trafficked into neighboring Finland. No other country, nor any other social experiment, has come anywhere near Sweden's promising results."
David A. Feingold, PhD, Coordinator of Trafficking-HIV/AIDS Programs, Culture Unit, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Bangkok, in the Sep.-Oct. 2005 Foreign Policy article "Think Again: Human Trafficking," wrote:
"[S]ome efforts to prohibit prostitution have increased sex workers’ risk to the dangers of trafficking, though largely because lawmakers neglected to consult the people the laws were designed to protect. Sweden, for example, is much praised by antiprostitution activists for a 1998 law that aimed to protect sex workers by criminalizing their customers. But several independent studies, including one conducted by the Swedish police, showed that it exposed prostitutes to more dangerous clients and less safe-sex practices."
Petra Östergren, MA, author, wrote the Feb. 6, 2004 article "Sexworkers Critique of Swedish Prostitution Policy" posted on her website, that stated:
"Swedish politicians and feminists are proud of the state's prostitution policy. They insist that it has positive effects. Sexworkers are of a different view. Most of the female Swedish sexworkers I have interviewed voice a strong critique of their legal and social situation. They feel discriminated against, endangered by the very laws that seek to protect them, and they feel under severe emotional stress as a result of the laws...
Criticisms similar to those made by my respondents were voiced in the three official reports made since the law against purchasing of sexual services was introduced... All of the authorities say that there is no evidence that prostitution was lower overall. Instead hidden prostitution had probably increased...
The National Police Board writes that the sexworkers that are still in street prostitution have a tough time. This, they explain, is because customers are fewer, prices are lower and competition harder for the women. This leads to the sex workers selling sex without protection of condoms for a higher rate, and it leads to them having to accept more customers than before (since the prices are lower). The respondents in the National Board of Health and Welfare's study (of which none are sexworkers themselves) believe female sexworkers now experience more difficulties and are more exposed then before. The buyers are 'worse' and more dangerous, and the women who cannot stop or move their business are dependent on these more dangerous men, since they cannot afford to turn them down as before. Even the buyers that were interviewed believe that the law mostly affected the already socially marginalised women. According to the National Police Board, the healthcare system has worries about declining health among sex workers and spreading sexually transmitted disease."
Sue Bradford, Member of New Zealand's Parliament, said in a Feb. 19, 2003 speech in Parliament that:
"Nor should we turn to the Swedish model which prosecutes the men who pay for sex. The Swedish experience shows that all this does is drive prostitution underground. In the UK, laws criminalising the client have been tried for 17 years, and there is no sign whatsoever that prostitution is dying out, even though this is the main rationale for this type of law.
While on the Select Committee we heard evidence from a sex worker in Sweden who talked about the much greater physical dangers she and others now face as a result of the law change there. She reported that some of the worst consequences of the Swedish law have been that there is a lot more underage teenage prostitution, that the mafia bosses have more control, and that workers are too scared to get police help even when friends are murdered because if it gets out that they've called the cops, they lose all their customers.
I would like to ask those feminists and Christians in the House who are so fond of the Swedish model, whether they really think it preferable that we should impose greater criminalisation on the industry with all that that entails, rather than remove sanctions and create the protections which come when prostitutes feel able to call police and other services for help when they need it, without fear of persecution or of loss of trade."