Client-Only Criminalization in the City of Stockholm: A Local Research on the Application of the “Swedish Model”

Danna, Daniela (2012): Client-Only Criminalization in the City of Stockholm: A Local Research on the Application of the “Swedish Model” of Prostitution Policy, Journal Sexuality Research and Social Policy  Volume 9, Issue 1 , pp 80-93 

The Swedish prostitution policy model aims at abolishing prostitution, the direct exchange of sexual services for money or other values, by penalizing only its demand. Offering sexual services is not punished by law. According to official sources, preventing prostitutes from earning by selling sexual services is a way of pressuring them into abandoning the trade, and it discourages trafficking in women. How is this policy model implemented at the local level? Seven years after the new law against clients came into force, a research in Stockholm contributes to mapping shifts in prostitution. It reports on the activities of social services and police efforts against clients and trafficking and discusses the evaluations made by other researchers on Swedish prostitution and trafficking laws, including the official evaluation (SOU 2010, 49).


“Prostitution by foreign women is completely illegal according to the Penal code, cap. 9, § 2, n. 2, (last amended with Law no. 716, 2005, but also in previous versions). According to the Alien Act, foreigners who do not “earn a living in a decent way” [försörja sig på ett ärligt sätt] are deported to their home countries and not allowed to return to Sweden for 2 years. Unless already held for at least 3 years, residence permits may also be withdrawn as a result of prostitution charges.” (pp. 84)

“According to the interviewed policemen, about half of the migrant women arrested in flats talked to them, and none of them said they had been abused or raped by the people who organized their coming to Sweden. Only one stated that she thought that if she had wanted to break the agreement and go home, she would have been threatened. However, many women report that agreements had not been honoured. On the other hand, the women have no one to turn to if they are taken advantage of.” (pp. 84)

“The “pathology-therapy model” adopted by social services in Stockholm in their interaction with prostitutes does not facilitate dialogue, and the explanations based on trauma are rejected by the prostitutes themselves. “Trafficking networks”, or organizers of illegal migrant work, are active in Sweden and provide women who agree to work in prostitution a place indoors to practice it. The police intervene only where there are minors or large numbers of women, hoping at least some of them will press charges against their “traffickers”.16 Only one client has been condemned to prison, and most men were convicted because of evidence they visited (illegal) brothels, or because they accepted the fine on the spot. Otherwise, this crime remains extremely difficult to prove.” (pp. 91)

“In sum, the Swedish decision to prohibit prostitution by criminalizing only the client was the culmination of a very rigid abolitionism and follows the path already taken before 1998 of harsher laws and intensification of police action against extremely limited street prostitution. The stated objective of the law, the abolitionist goal of eliminating prostitution so as to diminish violence against women and to stop women being reduced to sexual objects for male use and consumption (which happens also outside prostitution) has so far not been accomplished, and even diminution of prostitution cannot be proven. And although, officially, prostitutes are not criminals, in practice they are often considered as such. If they refuse to stop prostituting themselves, they are viewed as betrayers of the female gender.” (pp. 91)

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