New Report Claims the Swedish Sex Purchase Law is Ineffective

This just in from NSWP's European correspondent:

A new research report from Malmö University, commissioned by the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education (RFSU), criticises the so-called Swedish Modelof social policy on sex work, concluding that claims of the policy’s success have been greatly exaggerated.

“There is no evidence that the demand has declined to the extent claimed by the state-led evaluation,” RFSU’s President Kristina Ljungros told the daily Swedish newspaper, Dagens Nyheter. “The law has instead led to increased vulnerability for sex workers.”

The policy, named Sexköpslagen or “Swedish Sex Purchase Act,” was introduced in 1999, bundled into theViolence Against Women Act (Kvinnofrid). Advocates for the new policy claimed that the Act would shift the stigma and criminalisation from the person selling sexual services onto the buyer. With many in politics and the media hailing the law as progressive, versions of the Swedish Model were exported to other countries—including Norway, Iceland and Canada. However there has never been any solid proof that the policy has, as is claimed, reduced the number of people buying sex.

The research report says that the number of people who admit that they pay for sexual services decreased from 13.6 percent to 8 percent between 1996 and 2008, but researchers and the RFSU say that interpretations of this trend are unreliable.

“There is a great risk that many people didn’t give a truthful answer after the law was enforced, as they don’t want to admit that they have committed a crime,” says Kristina Ljungros.

Researcher Charlotta Holmström from Malmö University said that she was most surprised that no one had investigated how sex workers said they were impacted by the law. She said that the expressed ambition of the law was to combine it with social support services. Which is, according to the report, something that has not been realised to a sufficient degree.

“Without parallel and widespread investments in support services, the law seems to achieve different results than what was initially expected,”she said.

In fact, rather that expanding access to social services, the report found that Swedish Model has instead placed sex workers in situations of greater risk. The fear of being arrested means that those wishing to purchase sex do so by calling sex workers to meet them in less visible places—for the sex worker this means not knowing who they are going to be meeting, or under which circumstances.

The government report, “Ban on purchase of sexual services: An evaluation 1999-2008,” which claimed success of the policy was released in 2010 and criticised for its lack of scientific principle by, among others, Laura Agustin and Louise Persson. Interestingly, the report cites increased stigma on sex workers as indicative of the policy’s (which was sold as “feminist”) success.

“Although it is not illegal to sell sex they perceive themselves to be hunted by the police.” The report stated. “They perceive themselves to be disempowered in that their actions are tolerated but their will and choice are not respected,” an effect that “must be viewed as positive from the perspective that the purpose of the law is indeed to combat prostitution.”

The failure of the Swedish Model has been outlined in previous research papers, including Ann Jordan’s “The Swedish Law to Criminlaize Clients: A failed experiment in social engineering.”

Although RFSU does not explicitly state that their opinion is that the law should be overturned, Kristina Ljungros, does say that the report demonstrates a need to revise the legislation.

“I understand the intention with the Swedish law. But if it doesn’t work, we have to consider other alternatives,” she said.

European Regional Correspondent