Is it harmful to have sex with strangers? Is it harmful to make money?
No, to sell your time, your company or sexual services is not in itself harmful. But it is damaging to sex workers to be subjected to oppressive conditions like discrimination and social stigma. Swedish prostitution law contributes to such oppression. Sex workers are being discriminated against, and thus prejudice and stereotypes are preserved. Even though the law supposedly aims at protecting sex workers, it is evident that the main purpose of the law is to protect society from a perceived social ill.
It is legal to sell sexual services in Sweden, however it is illegal to buy. According to a ruling some time ago in an administrative court of appeal (kammarrätt), sex workers must pay taxes for their incomes from prostitution, although nobody knows how. Sex workers have duties but no rights? Sex workers in Sweden are at risk being evicted if they are found selling sexual services; they are also at risk losing their regular jobs, and losing custody of their children.
What other groups in Sweden are denied their rights to work in cooperation with others or alone, in safety of their own premises?
Would it be possible to treat other groups of workers, or religious or ethnic minorities like this, without them crying out about discrimination or human right violations?
Every person saying that men ‘buy our bodies’’ is guilty of preserving inequality between the sexes. Even though we ourselves and our customers maintain otherwise, they continue to objectify us, and regard us a commodity.
Furthermore, they say that such an attitude cannot be acceptable in a gender-equal society; although they do everything they can to preserve it themselves! How will we ever achieve equality if such prejudice and stereotypes are allowed to persist?
Swedish politicians and feminists are proud of the state’’s prostitution policy. They insist that it has positive effects and are constantly bragging and telling lies about the situation in Sweden for sexworkers.
In Sweden you can only find ONE politically accurate opinion about prostitution and it is expressed by most of the politicians, the police and social workers. What they say is founded on what they believe and not on facts or scientifically research and sadly this believing is exported as facts to other countries. Another opinion among politicians would be the same as a political suicide.
People with another opinion are afraid to speak, because if they do they will be subjected to harassment and oppression or even loose their jobs.
Yesterday I read an article at ANSA.it – – Minister targets prostitute clients:
Interior Minister Giuliano Amato wants Italy to follow Sweden’s lead in the battle against prostitution by making buying sex a crime. Advocates say that, by targeting demand rather than supply, this approach has slashed the street sex trade without hitting its main victims – the prostitutes themselves – since being adopted in Sweden in 1999.
”In this way it is possible to pursue both the ‘managers’ and the clients and not just with fines for blocking the flow of traffic,” Amato said. ”Prostitution has been reduced in Sweden and almost all of its effects in terms of public security have been wiped out,” he told Italian news weekly L’Espresso.
I wonder who in Sweden has been telling lies this time?
And has Amato asked the sexworkers in Sweden what we think about the laws in Sweden? Properly NOT, cause sexworkers in Sweden strongly discourage other countries from adopting similar legislation.
Sexworkers in Sweden want to have the same human rights as the rest of society.
We want a more sensible policy and legislation concerning the selling and buying of sexual services, a decriminalisation that means that the legislation prohibiting sex for pay between consenting adults is removed. As a result of a policy change, sexworkers could then start to be protected for real by the existing laws, for example rape, sexual abuse, trafficking.
The law against procurement of sexual services (promotion or deriving profit from prostitution) and the law prohibiting the purchase of sexual services introduced in 1999 are the two main ways the Swedish state sees itself as ’’combating’’ prostitution.
As a summary, I can tell you that the law against purchasing sexual services have increased the risks and the violence against sexworkers and the law against procurement make it impossible for us to work safely.
Let us look at some facts instead of listening to what some feminist and politicians in Sweden want to believe. Petra Ostergren, a social anthropologist from Stockholm, has since 1996 written articles and done research about feminism, equal politics and prostitution. Last year here new book ’’Porr, horor och feminister’’ (Pornography, whores and feminist’s) got a lot of attention in media.
Petra Ostergren has written an article in English about Sexworkers Critique of Swedish Prostitution Policy. Here are some quotes from that article:
The law against procurement
The law against procurement renders it illegal to work indoors, work with others, to profit from the sexual labour of others, and advertise. Due to the law against procurement, sexworkers are forced to lie in order to rent premises, or alternatively they have to pay exorbitant rent. Either way, they constantly worry about being discovered. They also report often having to move (when discovered) and being treated badly by landlords and ’’rent pimps’’. Some women prefer to make contact with their customers on the street. Other sexworkers find this too humiliating.
Most of the women I have spoken to wish to be able to work together with others. This is to ensure safety and to support each other. They find it unfair that they cannot do this and feel scared when they have to work alone.
This law also makes it difficult for sexworkers to cohabit with a partner since it is illegal to receive any of a sexworker’s income. It is hard for a sexworker to have a family at all since sexworkers are considered to be unfit parents and therefore can lose custody of their children if it emerges that they sell sex.
The law against purchasing sexual services
As a result of the new legislation, the sexworkers say it is now harder for them to assess the clients. The clients are more stressed and scared and negotiation outdoors must be done in a more rapid manner. The likelihood of ending up with a dangerous client is thereby greater.
Due to the law, sexworkers feel hunted by the police, social workers, media and sometimes even anti-prostitution activists on the streets.
The more vulnerable sexworkers seem to be the ones most negatively affected by the law. Women working on the streets in some bigger cities claim that there is now a greater percentage of ‘perverted’ customers and that the ’’nice and kind’’ customers have disappeared. A ‘perverted’ customer is someone who demands more violent forms of sex, sex with feces and urine and who is more prone to humiliate, degrade and violate the sexworker. He also more often refuses to use condoms.
All of these reports find that street prostitution dropped immediately after the introduction of the law. They also suggest that recruitment was lower, although the National Council for Crime Prevention means that the exact number of prostitutes in for example Stockholm was hard to estimate because street prostitution had moved to other streets and took place in a larger area than before. All of the authorities say that there is no evidence that prostitution was lower overall. Instead hidden prostitution had probably increased.
All of the reports address the problems emerging after the new law was introduced. The National Police Board writes that the sexworkers that are still in street prostitution have a tough time.
The respondents in the National Board of Health and Welfare’s study (of which none are sexworkers themselves) believe female sexworkers now experience more difficulties and are more exposed then before.
The buyers are ‘worse’ and more dangerous, and the women who cannot stop or move their business are dependent on these more dangerous men, since they cannot afford to turn them down as before. Even the buyers that were interviewed believe that the law mostly affected the already socially marginalised women.
The National Police Board has also found the law an obstacle to prosecuting profiteers who exploit the sexual labour of others. Earlier legal cases against such men could sometimes be supported by the testimonies of sex-buyers. But these men are no longer willing to assist, since they themselves are now guilty of committing a crime.
Some pictures from a story sent in Norwegian TV the 28th of April this year about prostitution in Sweden – Sexkjøp i det skjulte.
The police in Sweden are going to arrest a customer of a sexworker, literally with his underwear down, and they barge in to the hotel room.
The sexworker sees that they are filming and tries to cover her head with a towel to protect her own integrity.
The police shout very aggressively: – What are you doing? And then he rips off the towel and says: – This is the police!
The pictures change and now you see a policeman in a car. He works with prostitution and says:
– It’s not ok to buy another human, that’s slavery according to me, prostitution is awful and inhuman.
But he is not talking about prostitution; he is talking about trafficking for sexual purpose. And unfortunately people very often think that selling and buying sexual services is the same as sexual trafficking. But it’s NOT.
Prostitution is voluntary sexual service carried between consenting adults. If there is no agreement it is not about prostitution, then it’s about enforced sex and sexual violence, for instance sexual slavery and victims of trafficking.
Many politicians says that the Swedish law against purchasing sexual services is an effective weapon against trafficking. But there are no facts at all that can show that our laws about prostitution in Sweden have been effective against trafficking. And there is no logical argument that are suspense and strong to claim this opinion. In Sweden the cases of trafficking for sexual purpose is increasing for every year.
Trafficking is modern among politicians these days and of course they want to show action against trafficking and they use this issue to gain votes and to make a political career. But to fight trafficking you need to inform people about how to discover trafficking, you need creative and focused resources and not laws that forces prostitution underground.
A new report, from organisation for migration research IOM, exposing that within trafficking 75 % is about slavery work in other areas than the sex industry. Do the politicians in the future also want to outlaw all who employ help to agriculture because people are forced to do slavery work at farms? Or shall we become criminals if we buy diamonds in a jewelery store, diamonds that can have been found by child labour under slavery in Africa?
Very often politicians also claim that all foreign sexworkers are victims of trafficking. In Denmark the police says that a maximum of one percent of the foreign sexworkers are victims of trafficking.
And if you are a victim of trafficking the only help you can expect from the Danish or Swedish governments is to be locked up in a closed institution for refugees for some months BUT only if you help the police and expose yourself, for the threat against your family can be executed by criminal organisations.
And when the police no longer need you, you are deported back to your home country directly in to the arms of criminal organisations.
Countries which adopt the Swedish laws about prostitution can calculate on that robbery, ill treatment and rape of sexworkers will grow, that the policy that comes along with such laws will imply more discrimination towards sexworkers and that sexworkers will be to afraid to go to the police if they need help.
Communication between sexworkers and authorities will collapse, collaboration will become aggravated and sexual trafficking will be hard to detect. We have already seen this happen in Sweden.
Isabella Lund (trying her best to write in English)
Sexworker in Sweden
If you want to learn more about how the laws in Sweden has affect us, please read Petra Östergren’s whole article Sexworkers Critique of Swedish Prostitution Policy. I also recommended:
- A Norwegian report from 2003: Purchasing Sexual Services in Sweden and The Netherlands (pdf). It is written by a working group whose task was to collect experiences, which argued for and against the criminalisation of the purchase of sexual services. The working group was appointed by on the Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Police Affairs. They gathered experiences from both Sweden and The Netherlands and it is very interesting to read their report.
- An assessment of Gunilla Ekberg’s account of Swedish prostitution policy (pdf) by: Vincent Clausen. Gunilla Ekberg’s account of Swedish prostitution policy is frequently referred to in debates worldwide, and it is thus forming part of the basis of knowledge upon which strategies and approaches are discussed and constructed. Ekberg frequently draws conclusions that are directly contradicting or otherwise in conflict with the evidence in the sources used. Ekberg’’s article should be seen as a political manifesto, rather than an attempt at accounting for the effects of the prohibition of the purchase of sexual services.
Download the French translation