When purchase of sex is a crime: About new legal measure and its impact on harm reduction among sex workers in Sweden and Norway

Sandra Thing, Pye Jakobsson, Astrid Renland
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The present article was written by a member of NSWP.

It aims to explore and discuss how and in which ways the new regulatory regimes in Sweden and Norway affect harm reduction work amongst sex workers. In Sweden, sex workers are regarded as victims of sexual exploitation and gender based violence (the so-called victim discourse). In this perspective there is never any “free choice”, and all sex work is considered forced sex work. Accordingly, in 1999 the Swedish government implemented a new law banning the purchase of sexual services. In Norway the victim discourse is based more on a general “prostitute misery life-narratives”, which means drug users and women from poor countries are those who are supposed to be lured or forced into sex work by poverty and traffickers. As a result, the Norwegian government introduced a law in 2009 criminalizing those who attempt to, or have purchased sexual services. The political approach to sex work has changed radically, not only in the Nordic Countries but also at an international level where sex work has become a central part of what we can call transnational policing through the link made between sex work, trafficking and organised crime. According to both the Swedish and the Norwegian governments the ban on the purchase of sex has been an effective barrier against the establishment of organised criminals as it reduced the demand for sexual services and resulted in a decline of the market. The authors of this paper challenge this by arguing that there is no evidence-based research to prove Nordic governments are right and by arguing that the political agenda in itself is harmful for sex workers as:

-          the new regulatory regimes fail to address the impact of the policy on sex workers rights, health and safety, and

-          it strengthens social stigma across public settings (health services, social services and other public and custodial services) against sex workers.