Statement: Sweden has not made it safer for women

In 1999 Sweden criminalised men who buy sex, who on conviction face six months in jail. In 2003 the Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Police Affairs launched a Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Women and Children. One of the measures in the plan was the appointment of a working group to collect experiences for and against the criminalisation of the purchase of sexual services. We enclose excerpts showing the impact of criminalisation on women.

Despite this and other evidence from academics and sex workers in Sweden that the law has forced prostitution further underground, undermining women’s safety, driving women into the hands of pimps and making it harder for the police to prosecute violent men and traffickers, it is being actively promoted by some ministers in the UK. But decriminalisation introduced in New Zealand in 2000, has been dismissed without regard for its benefits for women’s safety and welfare; and sentences for women working together (much safer than the street) have gone up from 6 months to 7 years. There is now talk of an amendment to adopt the Swedish model as part of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill (CJIB) currently going through Parliament.

At the same time, the government claims to be helping prostitute women by introducing Clause 72 of the CJIB: compulsory rehabilitation under threat of three days in jail.  The Safety First Coalition – which includes the RCN, NAPO, Ipswich residents, church people, anti-rape organisations, anti-poverty campaigners, prison reformers, drug rehabilitation projects and the English Collective of Prostitutes – believes that Clause 72 will result in more women being criminalised and imprisoned.

In the name of women’s safety, we urge you to read this evidence and oppose any further criminalisation of prostitution. You are also invited to put your questions to Isabella Lund (Sexworkers and Allies Network in Sweden) and Catherine Healey (New Zealand Prostitutes Collective and co-ordinator of the coalition which won decriminalisation in NZ). They will speak in Parliament on 16 January 2008, Committee Room 11, 4pm.

Excerpts from “Purchasing Sexual Services in Sweden and The Netherlands:
Legal Regulation and Experiences
”, Working Group on the Legal Regulation of the Purchase of Sexual Services, Ministry of Justice and Police Affairs, 2004, Norway.

“Street work has gone up in Malmo [town on the border with Denmark] and down in Gothenburg and Stockholm.

“It has not been possible for the working group to find an answer to the question as to what happened to the women who disappeared from the street. …”  

“Our informants have given us a general impression of an increased fear of attack. … For the street prostitutes prices have fallen and fear has increased. …The women’s experience is that they feel that the criminalisation process has affected them negatively… It has become more difficult to carry out ‘quality assurance’ on those clients.”

“It has been claimed that prostitutes’ dependence on pimps has increased because street prostitutes cannot work as openly. The police informed us that it is more difficult to investigate cases of pimping and trafficking in human beings because prostitution does not take place so openly on the streets anymore. … Women are less visible … they are more difficult to reach by the support system.”

“Prostitutes’ dependence on pimps has probably increased. Someone is needed in the background to arrange transport and new flats so that the women’s activity is more difficult to discover and so that it will attract the attention of the police.”

Isabella Lund, SANS – Sexworkers and Allies Network in Sweden, 6 June 2007

“The law has increased the risks and violence against sexworkers …”

“Those who are worst afflicted are unfortunately the most vulnerable sexworkers, the street prostitutes, addicts and sexworkers from other countries.  On the streets the negotiations must happen a lot faster than before since the police can be around the corner. … it is therefore hard to do a correct risk assessment.”

“The risk of infection has gone up because if a sexseller gets infected with a sexually transmitted disease, and the authorities advise her customers to contact them, many men are afraid to do so.” 

“… if a customer meets a sexworker that he/she suspects is the victim of sexual trafficking, that person is today scared of going to the police. Before you could obtain evidence against traffickers and pimps based on customer’s testimony.”

“A lot of sexsellers on the street report being robbed and feel it’s harder for them to contact clients outdoors. They therefore have to rely on other channels … and the likelihood of ending up in the hands of profiteers and pimps for those who need help increases.” 

“Sexworkers feel more pressure from the police. … Police have also sometimes been reported to become heavy handed or brutal.”

“Sexworkers also report that the networks between sexworkers that existed before on certain known streets for prostitution have disappeared or weakened as a result of the sex-purchase law. Earlier you could warn each other for dangerous customers, fake cars, etc. … The “normal” clients have almost disappeared from the streets. Those who remain are the ones with a twisted mindset and street prostitutes today are more exposed to robbery, assault and rape than before.”

“When the prostitution market disappears underground it is harder for the authorities to intercept the persons that really need help. In Gothenburg many young women seek help to detoxify because of their addiction to heroin and almost all of them have sold sexual services. But the city’s prostitution group (social workers) seldom comes in contact with these women because they don’t show up on the streets today. The same goes for the young drug addicts in Malmo.” 

Recent correspondence from Ms Lund: “The police got an extra 7 million SKR to implement the law but there are no extra recourses to help sexworkers leave prostitution.”

Other sources:

Sex in the New Europe: the criminalisation of clients and Swedish fear of penetration” Don Kulick, Professor of Anthropology at New York University and Stockholm, 2004.  In addition to many of the above, Prof. Kulick found that evidence such as possession of condoms by women was used to convict men and that foreign sex workers were immediately deported and therefore would not report violence.

Sex workers critique of Swedish Prostitution Policy”, Petra Ostergren, 6 Feb 2004.

Sweden Radio report: “Swedish police report that prostitution on the streets is on the increase … and has returned to earlier levels – despite law banning sales of sexual services …” , Dec 2006.

Issued by Safety First Coalition

We are available to discuss any of the above.

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