The Swedish legislation

The Swedish legislation
Sexköpslagen – criminalizing the purchase, but not the sale, of sexual services.
By Maria Persson- FCAHT Intern

The most common legal approach among the countries in the world, towards prostitution, is either full acceptance where buying and selling sexual services are legal, or criminalizing the sale of sexual services. What these two types of legal approaches seem to lack in knowledge is the fact that persons engaging in prostitution often suffer from poor conditions, lack of gender equality and respect for human rights, poor education and the inability to find employment. In addition, social problems, addictive behavior and other health issues might lead to a situation where a person is put at risk. These contributing factors are why people who are being used and engaging in prostitution. Moreover, the primary reason for maintaining prostitution is the demand, of people buying sex (Integrations- och jämställdhetsdepartementet 2009:4).

In the light of these harmful factors and the never ending demand, the Swedish government introduced a ban on the purchase of sexual services since it was deemed that fighting prostitution was of pressing social interest. “The ban was intended to help fight prostitution and its harmful consequences in a more effective manner than […] using the previous measures against prostitution” (Statens offentliga utredningar 2010:29). The ban, Sexköpslagen, became a law, January 1 1999, and the penal provision is currently found in Chapter 6, section 9 and 11 of the Penal Code.

The ban reads as following:
A person who, otherwise than as previously provided in this Chapter, obtains a casual sexual relation in return for payment, shall be sentenced for purchase of sexual service to a fine or imprisonment for at most six months. The provision of the first paragraph also apply if the payment was promised or given by another person. (Law 2005)

Concerning children, under the age of 18:

A person who, otherwise than as previously provided in this Chapter, induces a child under eighteen years of age to undertake or endure a sexual act in return for payment, shall be sentenced for purchase of a sexual act from a child to a fine or imprisonment for at most two years. The provision of the first paragraph also apply if the payment was promised or given by another person. (Law 2005)

The primary motive for introducing Sexköpslagen was, as was mentioned, a pressing social interest in fighting prostitution. The reason stressed that prostitution bring serious harm to individuals and society as a whole, and that prostitution is closely linked with pimping, drug trafficking and battery. The law was supposed to deter the johns, which would result in the decreasing of demand for sexual services, which would lead to a decreasing number of prostitutes. Furthermore, by criminalizing the purchase of sexual services, the interest from foreign criminal groups to establishment of organized prostitution business in Sweden would probably decline (Justitiedepartementet 2008:2).

As a matter of fact, Sweden was the first country in the world to criminalize the purchase of sexual services, but is the law really effective? Has prostitution disappeared or is it merely being forced underground?

Between 1999 and 2011, 5,138 cases were prosecuted using Sexköpslagen, Section 9 and 11. The following diagram shows the number of cases distributed among the years of prosecution and referred section of Sexköpslagen. The x-axis shows the year of prosecution, and the y-axis shows the amount of cases.

Source: Statistiska Centralbyrån 02/25/2012

As shown above, Sexköpslagen can be considered effective due to the number of prosecutions, but the fact that people are still being prosecuted using Sexköpslagen indicates that prostitution still exists in Sweden. However, as the diagram shows, the number of cases have increased in recent years. This fact would indicate that the implementation of Sexköpslagen has been effective and therefore the numbers of prostitutes may have declined in recent years.

Swedish law enforcement has identified two arenas for prostitution, street prostitution and indoor prostitution. As understood from the description, street prostitution occurs in the street, e.g. the prostitute by physical appearance, is promoting sexual services in the street where the potential john approaches them. Indoor prostitution is promoted and/or takes place in massage parlors, hotels, restaurants and sex clubs etc. The contact between the prostitute and the john is not mediated in a street environment. Instead, the contacts are established over the phone and/or via the internet, and thereafter they meet in a hotel, in the john´s residence, in the prostitute´s house or another premises that either one of them may possess (Statens offentliga utredningar 2010:146 ff). Since the introduction of the internet, and the fact that more people have access to the web, increasing contact is taking place in this environment and therefore it has become increasingly more difficult to estimate the number of prostitutes in Sweden. The statistics from 2008 show that approximately 300 prostitutes are engaged in street prostitution and there are no numbers available for indoor prostitution (Integrations- och jämställdhetsdepartementet 2008:6-7).

Since the introduction of Sexköpslagen in 1999 it would appear that the number of prostitutes has diminished compared to the number prior to the introduction of the law. When in fact the number of prostitutes has remained about the same since the introduction of Sexköpslagen in 1999 until 2008 (Statens offentliga utredningar 2010:18 and 147). Interestingly, there has been an increase in the number of prostitutes engaged in indoor prostitution in recent years (Statens offentliga utredningar 2010:110). The dimidiate number of street prostitution could be a indicative of the effectiveness of Sexköpslagen, being that the johns are discouraged from buying sex. Although, viewed in a broader perspective the prostitute involved in street prostitution might have changed their arena and engaged in indoor prostitution to continue promotion of sexual services. Also, the criminalizing of purchasing sexual services leads to the prostitute engaging in street prostitution, have to find other ways to promote their sexual services. It is well known that the johns will not approach a prostitute in the street if the john anticipates prosecution for that action.

Another factor influencing the dimidiate number of street prostitutes is that concerted effort has been made to fight street prostitution. The reason for prioritizing this type of prostitution is the immediate effect Swedish law enforcement has made to deter presumptive johns from continuing to buy sex. Unfortunately, no financial and expertise resources have been made available to fight indoor prostitution, and the lack of prioritizing this type of prostitution is still present (Statens offentliga utredningar 2010:22). In the light of the increasing numbers providing indoor prostitution, it can be assumed that fighting indoor prostitution will potentially lead to a decrease in the number of prostitutes although finding this type of prostitution is more demanding for Swedish law enforcement. To sum up, there is no evidence of an increase of prostitution in Sweden, neither is there any evidence of a reduction of prostitution in Sweden (Statens offentliga utredningar 2010:104). Although, Statens offentliga utredningar (2010:20), is convinced that criminalizing the purchase of sexual services contributes to combating prostitution in Sweden.

Challenges still exist before law enforcement will be able to establish an effective approach in the fight against prostitution in Sweden. Improvement should include prioritizing indoor prostitution monitoring since the number of prostitutes have increased within this particular arena. Fighting street prostitution has proved effective, but for the reason of fighting prostitution as a whole, all types of prostitution both street and indoor must be prioritized. Resources must be made available for fighting both types of prostitution simultaneously, in order to fulfill the purpose of Sexköpslagen. The purpose of the law was to fight the harmful consequences of prostitution, as of this writing, the purpose has still not been accomplished. Moreover, the imposed penalty has to be more harsh than it is today. The maximum penalty is six months imprisonment for the purchase of sexual services and two years imprisonment for purchasing a sexual act from a child. Apparently the imposed penalty does not deter johns from continuing to buy sex, which can be directly attributed to the fact that indoor prostitution has become so prevalent in recent years. Finally, Sexköpslagen has failed to prevent criminal groups from establishing organized commercial business with the express purpose of involving prostitution. This is due to the fact that there has been an increase of aliens engaging in prostitution in Sweden (Statens offentliga utredningar 2010:145). Probably, these persons suffer from organized crime committed by foreign criminal groups which have established organized prostitution businesses in Sweden.

To overcome these challenges, the Swedish government has presented an action plan (Integrations- och jämstäldhetsdepartementet 2008). However, the results from implementing an effective approach in fighting prostitution in Sweden, are still to be proven.

Works cited

Integrations- och jämställdhetsdepartementet, (2009), Mot prostitution och människohandel för sexuella ändamål, (accessed 02/25/2012)

Statens offentliga utredningar, (2010), Förbud mot köp av sexuell tjänst en utvärdering 1999-2008, SOU 2010:49, accessed 02/10/2012)

Law, (2005:90), interpretation of the Swedish Penal Code, (2005), (accessed 02/20/2012)

Justitiedepartementet, (2008), Utvärdering av förbudet mot köp av sexuell tjänst, 2008:44, (accessed 02/08/2012)

Statistiska centralbyrån, (2012), (accessed 02/25/2012)

Integrations- och jämställdhetsdepartementet, (2008), Handlingsplan mot prostitution och människohandel för sexuella ändamål, 2007/08:167, (accessed 02/08/2012)