The Sex Purchase Act

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The Sex Purchase Act

The Law

While it is legal to sell sex in Sweden, the so-called ‘Nordic Model’ introduced in 1999 made it illegal to buy sex. This is a result of many years of research, demonstrating that the person who suffers in prostitution is the person who sells their body (most often women) and she thereby requires all the support she can get to leave the sex trade. The purchaser however (most often a man), uses the woman as an object, which is unacceptable in an equal society.

From the beginning, the ban against the purchase of sexual services was placed in a specific law, which is often called the ‘Sex Purchase Act.’ Now, the ban is found in 6 Chapter 11 in the Swedish Penal Code and reads: “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 one year. The provision of the first paragraph shall also apply if the payment was promised or given by another person.”

Payment for sexual services can be in the form of money, as well as alcohol, drugs, and so on. It can be paid prior to or at the time the sexual service is performed.

The punishment for the purchase of sexual services is fines or prison up to a maximum of one year. The person who buys sex from a child (a person under 18 years) is convicted of the crime “purchase of sexual acts from a child” (Penal Code 6:9) and sentenced to pay a fine or prison for a maximum 2 years. The more stringent punishment for the purchase of sexual acts from a child signals that this crime is a more serious crime than the purchase of sexual services of a person that has turned 18.

In 2010, an official evaluation of the ban against purchase of sexual services was conducted.(1) The evaluation demonstrated that the ban has had a dampening effect on the sex trade. Below are some of the findings:

  • Since the ban against the purchase of sexual services was implemented, street prostitution in Sweden has decreased by 50%.
  • The law has a deterring effect on prospective buyers of sexual services
  • Criminal networks take the law into account when they establish themselves in Sweden. They do not perceive Sweden as an attractive market for their criminal activities, since sex-purchasers fear being caught.
  • The number of foreign women in street prostitution has certainly increased since the ban was introduced, but it should be noted that this sharp increase was reported by both Denmark and Norway, and at an “unparallel” level to Sweden.
  • Internet prostitution has also increased, but the extent of this form of prostitution is much larger in our neighbouring countries, Denmark and Norway. There is no evidence suggesting that there was a larger increase of prostitution online than in these comparable countries. This speaks against the notion that the ban resulted in street prostitution in Sweden switching arenas to the Internet. Put simply, the increased extent of internet prostitution is a natural progression consequence to the availability of the internet, not because of the law.
  • There is no evidence that the extent of indoor prostitution that is not marketed through advertisements in newspapers or on the internet, for example prostitution in massage parlours, sex clubs, hotels, as well as restaurants and night clubs has increased. There is also no evidence that those previously exploited in outdoor prostitution are now available in indoor prostitution
  • Because activities surrounding prostitution are dependent on displaying ones’ self to come into contact with customers, it is not likely that an unknown portion of prostitution exists. In other words, the decrease in prostitution that was found within this evaluation is reliable.