Part 2 – The Significance of the Prohibition of Purchase of Sexual Services

“Men who purchase sex 2013” was the theme for this year’s event leading up to the anti-trafficking day. In order to summarize the evening we will post a mini-series on what was discussed, and what some of the conclusions were. This post will address the Swedish penal provision “the prohibition if purchase of sexual services” (Sexköpslagen) and its importance when combating human trafficking, as well as the question of whether or not Sweden should implement an extended edition of this provision which includes the purchase of sexual services abroad. The posts in this mini-series are titled as follows:
Part 1 – Men who purchase sex 2013
Part 2 – The significance of the prohibition of purchase of sexual services
Part 3 – How do we move on?

There was consensus among all participants during the evening: the Swedish legal ban on the purchase of sex is entirely positive. The law has had a constructive operative and normative effect. Since the implementation of the law street-prostitution has decreased, online-prostitution has increased less than in other comparable countries and the number of men who states that they have purchased sex has fallen from approx. 12% to 8%. The ban is also an important tool for law-enforcement’s work against trafficking. Despite this, the law is under frequent scrutiny and far from self-evident in other European countries. Realstars solidified its important role in exchanging experiences with organisations in other countries and in presenting the benefits of a law that penalises the individual who takes advantage of someone in need.

Some of the critique directed towards the law claims that it contributes to an increase in the prevalence of rape and that existing prostitution becomes more difficult to monitor, which increases the associated risk for prostitutes. The moderator for the evening was journalist and author Alexandra Pascalidou, who retold a conversation she had with Greece’s prior Minister of Justice regarding the country’s extensive prostitution when the Minister claimed, “You should speak! Sweden has the highest numbers of rape in Europe. Because prostitution is legal here we don’t see as many cases of rape.”

Sissela Nordling Blanco is a spokesperson for Feministiskt Initiativ, a feminist political party, and Jenny Westerstand is a research scholar at Uppsala University who has written “In-between men’s hands” (Mellan mäns hander) about men’s violence against women. Both Sissela and Jenny states that if one believes that rape increases as a result of criminalizing the purchase of sex one views the male sexuality as something uncontrollable, that it would be provoking and wrong to attempt to control or inhibit it. It is regrettable that it can be made to sound as if prostitution (a part of the female population being for sale) would save other women from being raped.

Niclas Järvklo, secretary in the government’s investigation on men and equality, did not hide his frustration over this claim. He cannot conceive that there is a correlation between the criminalization of the purchase of sex and an increase in the number of rape cases. It is more likely that Sweden has a higher number of rape cases since more crimes are reported and that the definition of what constitutes rape differs from certain other countries. This should be perceived as something positive, and a step in the right direction.

Another persistent argument against criminalizing the purchase of sex is that more prostitutes would receive assistance and better working conditions if their clients were not made into criminals. Unfortunately, there are no studies to prove that a lawful, regulated prostitution has had any benefits for the women involved. Those who have benefited the liberal approach to the sex-trade is the sex-purchaser (the practice becomes more socially accepted and easily obtainable), the pimps (legal, generates more money) and the human traffickers who have seen new lucrative markets arise. Patrik Cederlöf, national coordinator against prostitution and human trade at the county administrative board, stresses that illegal sex-trade often stems from legal sex-trade. In other words, legal sex-trade is often the root for illegal sex-trade where humans are taken advantage off.

The prohibition of purchase of sexual services is also important in the aspect that it does not criminalize those who sell sex. Individuals living in prostitution do not have to feel threatened or fear being penalized if they are seeking help to escape prostitution or if they have been a victim of physical abuse or rape (a common aspect of the everyday life of a prostitute).

Niclas Järvklo says that sex-consumption to a large extent is about where to draw the line. Laws and rules may have an impact on where such a line is drawn and this is again a reason for why the Swedish prohibition of purchase of sexual services is so important; it is precedential and sends out signals to state that it is not ok to purchase sex.The prohibition of purchasing sexual services 2.0

80% of all Swedes who have purchased sex have done so abroad. In Sweden, it is only illegal to purchase sexual services in Sweden and in other countries where it is prohibited, however it is legal for Swedish citizens to purchase sex in countries in which the sex-trade is legal. There are now suggestions that Sweden should do as Norway and criminalize the purchase of sexual services abroad.

The benefit of such a suggestion is that it sends out signals stating that it is not acceptable to take advantage of people just because they are not from the same country or continent as oneself. Sissela Nordling Blanco (spokesperson for Feministiskt Initiativ, a feminist political party) states that if we are serious about equality and human rights, we also have to decide that it is not acceptable to violate human rights outside of Sweden’s borders.

However, there are many difficulties with such a legislation and the process is more complex than what it may seem to be, says Eva Thalén Finné, who is the vice president of The Moderate Party’s Women’s association and commissioner on the parliamentary committee of justice. The Swedish law states that in order to be charged and convicted for a crime conducted abroad, the act has to be criminal both in Sweden and in the relevant country. However, there are exception to this rule, pertaining especially gruelling crimes and acts towards children. There could potentially be a number of consequences if more countries started to regulate their citizens’ actions outside of the country’s borders. Eva mentions women who travel to Sweden in order to have legal abortions as an example; it may not be possible to implement a prohibition of purchase of sexual services abroad.

So, what is the solution?
To make even bigger demands and to fight for the agenda of making more countries change their legislation to include a prohibition of purchase of sexual services. Realstars concludes that the debate regarding whether or not Sweden should criminalize Swedes who purchase sex abroad is important, but the significant difference Sweden can make is to influence other European countries to implement a law similar to the Swedish prohibition of purchase of sexual services, making it more difficult to purchase sex for Dutch, Germans, Swedes and Frenchmen. The law is groundbreaking even if the implementation of the law could be even better to truly show that it is unacceptable to purchase another human beings body.