In 1999, the Swedish government embarked on an experiment in social engineering to end men’s practice of purchasing commercial sexual services. The government enacted a new law criminalising the purchase (but not the sale) of sex (Swedish Penal Code). It hoped that the fear of arrest and increased public stigma would convince men to change their sexual behaviour. The government also hoped that the law would force the estimated 1,850 to 3,000 women who sold sex in Sweden at that time to find another line of work. Lastly, the government hoped that the law would eliminate trafficking into forced prostitution and the presence of migrant sex workers.
Not surprisingly, the experiment has failed. In the thirteen years since the law was enacted, the Swedish government has been unable to prove that the law has reduced the number of sex buyers or sellers or stopped trafficking. All it has to show for its efforts are a (contested) public support for the law and more danger for street-based sex workers. Despite this failure, the government has chosen to ignore the evidence and proclaim the law to be a success; it also continues to advocate that other countries should adopt a similar law.
This paper examines the flawed policy in detail.
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This resource is in English.