A 2010 report, ordered by the Swedish government, states that: "The law lived up to its goals as an important instrument to prevent and fight human trafficking for sexual purposes". The law mentioned above is the so called "sexköpslagen" (The Sex Purchase Act), which bans the purchase of sexual services and criminalizes the buyer. The report further claims that "prostitution in Sweden has not increased in comparison with other countries" and that the level of street prostitution has halved. This is seen as a success for the struggle against prostitution. Furthermore, the report also states that the public attitudes towards prostitution has become more negative since the introduction of the law (which, according to the report, is to be seen as something positive).
The law was passed by the Swedish parliament on the 28th of May 1998. The only party voting against the law was the conservative Moderate Party, which today are ardent supporters of the hunt on sex buyers and -sellers. The law was put in action on the 1st of January 1999. In the year 2012, the penalty for buying sexual services was raised to one year in prison. Before Sexköpslagen, Sweden already had a law against coupling and the running of brothels. The lawmakers claimed that a majority of the population backed the introduction of the law.
Norway and Iceland has followed Swedens example. Other Nordic countries, like Finland and Denmark rejected the law.
The Swedish leftist parliamentarian Marianne Berg is running a campaign for the abolition of the Sex Purchase Act. In an interview with the German paper TAZ (4/11 2013), she says that "this law is an example of the Swedish dream of a clean 'folkhem' (a term phrased in the 40's, describing the idea of a united and puristic social democratic Sweden)." She is seeing historic parallels to other phenomenons of "governmental care" which were justified by the motto "The government knows what is best for you": From lobotomy of the mentally ill to forced sterilization of Swedens "margin groups". With the Sex Purchase Act, the state is trying to control sexual activities between adults, Berg says. Basically, this is a patriarchal idea with a division between "good" and "bad" sex. Berg adds, "of course, we will have to fight slavery and trafficking, but this is the wrong way".
It is highly possible that Swedish prostitution has moved away from the streets and into the Internet, were the law is almost toothless. Only one person has until this date been sentenced to prison. No one actually knows if this law have had any positive effects at all. The government's own reports are the only official surveys that has been made, and they are considered to be highly biased: "Ideologic pamphlets, with predetermined results", Berg says.
The Swedish "National committee for sexual information" (RFSU) also demands an unbiased and objective study of the Sexual Purchase Act to be done. Amazingly enough, "all the official reports are missing the perspective of the men and women working as sex sellers", Kristina Ljungros, chairwoman of RFSU tells TAZ.
Marie-Louise Svarfar, social worker in the Swedish town Malmö is saying, "It has become rougher for the [sex selling] women since the Sex Purchase Act became law." It's a higher risk of getting violent customers now than it used to be. "The sex buyers, purchasing illegal sex has nothing to lose" and the sex workers have no support from the society or safety like they would have in a brothel. The murder of the sex seller Petite Jasmine in 2013 is a proof that the law has failed to protect women selling sex.
Many organizations, including The UN, UNAIDS, WHO and Human Rights Watch are demanding the decriminalization of prostitution. Also the International Labour Organisation are highlighting the importance to talk about the rights of sex workers. Lately, Amnesty released a report where they demanded prostitution to be decriminalized. This was too much for Swedish puritans (claiming to be feminists). Many of them wrote angry articles, accusing the human rights organization for "betrayal of the women" and treatened to withdraw their Amnesty memberships. None of them seems to care about the fact that Amnesty is working for human rights, for the sex workers, and not against them.
One organization working in the opposite direction to Amnesty and Human Rights Watch is The European Parliament's Women's Rights and Gender Equality Committee. They have adopted a report from Mary Honeyball, Labour MEP for London, recommending the EU to take on the Swedish Sex Purchase Act. This report was put forward to the European Parliament were a vote on it was done yesterday, February the 26th. 560 NGOs and 86 academics asked the MEPs to reject Ms Honeyball's report. Nevertheless, the report was accepted by the European Parliament. It is not judicial binding, still it is a dangerous sign that, in Europe, puritan moralism has become more important than the human rights perspective.
An interesting parallel: Three days ago the Ugandan president, Museveni, signed an anti-gay law. He said homosexuals are "mercenaries" and "prostitutes" as he signed a law setting harsh penalties for gay practices. The Swedish government and other European governments condemned the anti-gay law. Embarrassingly unaware of the irony of such condemnations. Both laws are signed with society's "moral standards" in mind, and without one single thought about personal freedom.
Above: Women protesting against anti-sexworker violence and the Swedish model.