Should the Sex Purchase Act be decriminalised? Part 1

In 1999, Sweden was the first country to introduce a sex purchasing law that made it illegal to buy sexual services, but not to sell them. Other countries, such as Iceland and Norway have followed Sweden’s approach. The United Kingdom also has similar legislation.

Even though prostitution is legal, the buyer can be charged if the seller has been forced (as in trafficking) and it is illegal to purchase sex from a minor. More than a decade has now passed, and it is important to research how the Sex Purchase Act has influenced the purchasing of sex in Sweden and influenced other countries. So far, the results are promising, but not everyone is pleased with the law.

The Centre Party Youth Association (CFU) believes that the Sex Purchase Act should be abolished in its entirety. Their website states: “A person must also have the right to decide over their own body and, therefore, we believe that the Sex Purchase Act should be abolished. However, prostitution is an industry with significant problems, including trafficking and prostitutes that are forced into having sex..”

The CFU is right when it says that prostitution is an industry with significant problems, where threats, abuse, addiction, trafficking and exploitation of minors is commonplace. At the same time, the CFU contradicts itself when it states that a person should make decisions about their own body, this is particularly the case when you have ‘johns’ paying women simply so they can make decisions about their bodies, to buy their bodies and to have sex. Whether these women are part of a trafficking network or…’forced into sex’ these women cannot make decisions about their own bodies. Having a law that what protects women by making the purchase of sex illegal is one way of protecting women and punishing buyers.

The media has described the CFU as being ‘new liberals’ and sees them as ‘innovative’ for their views on prostitution and the Sex Purchase Act. But we don’t agree. To completely decriminalise the prostitution does not contribute to innovative approaches and neither is it liberal.

Rather, the CFU paints a romanticised and unbalanced picture of prostitution that, according to the CFU,, is not about compulsion, violence of dominance. Even though the view that the man is ‘helping the woman’ by paying is common, particularly amongst ‘johns’, it feels both sexist and ignorant to assume that those women in prostitution are making choices about their own bodies when, in reality, it is men, by payment and buying, that are making decisions about women.

Contreras and Farley, professors in clinical psychology with a research focus on prostitution, trafficking and sexual violence state that those seeking to decriminalize prostitution see prostitution as a (active) choice for women and that decriminalization will lead to a reduction in violence. There is no evidence that decriminalization results in a reduction of violence against women and, on the contrary, Contreras and Farley state that: “Societies that fail to condemn the pimps, johns and traffickers that promote prostitution, and who continue to view prostitution as a choice and an industry, are contributing to the proliferation of the abuses that make human trafficking possible,” (p. 33, 2011). We agree and we prefer a society where the buying and selling of bodies like commodities, violence against women, sexual exploitation and rape do not fall outside the law. In this case, it is not a positive to be called a ‘new liberal’

Hennie Weiss & Elin Weiss for Realstars

Contreras, Michelle and Melissa Farley. 2011. ”Human Trafficking: Not an Isolated Issue”, Pp.
22-36 in Surviving Sexual Violence: A Guide to Recovery and Empowerment, edited by Bryant-Davis Thema.