The Swedish criminalization of the purchase of sex aims to abolish prostitution through targeting the demand, while decriminalizing those selling sex in an ostensible effort to protect sex workers – constructed as passive victims of gendered violence – from criminalization. Drawing from authors’ research and that of others, this article discusses the sex purchase law (sexköpslagen), exploring some of its impacts on the lives of sex workers and the dynamics of Swedish prostitution.
We argue that the law has failed in its abolitionist ambition to decrease levels of prostitution, since there are no reliable data demonstrating any overall decline in people selling sex. Furthermore, we argue that the law has resulted in increased dangers in some forms of sex work. Dangers are exacerbated by a lack of harm reduction services, which are seen to conflict with Swedish abolitionism. Moreover, discourses and social constructions informing the sexköpslagen have informed the attitudes of service providers. In addition to specific outcomes of the law, we note evictions of sex workers, problems with immigration authorities, child custody and the police, and briefly discuss these themes. Where Sweden continues to attempt to export the sexköpslagen to other parts of the world, these elements should be carefully considered.