This article explores the policy underpinning Sweden’s 1999 ban on purchases of sexual services with a focus on the social and health service sectors and their role vis-à-vis people who sell sex. It argues that the rationale behind the ban is difficult to reconcile with legislation and practices beyond the merit of criminal justice. While an understanding of prostitution as “men’s violence against women” may serve symbolic functions at central policy level, it can hardly guide local implementation without conflicting with core social policy principles. The article concludes that there is a need to address the agency of people who sell sex, since denying or minimizing such agency may be counterproductive to the policy’s own objectives.
This article is a critical discussion of the 1998 Swedish law that made it a crime to purchase or attempt to purchase `a temporary sexual relationship’. It discusses the cultural context in which the law was proposed and passed, and it reviews newspaper articles and government commissioned reports that assess the effects of the law. The point of the article is to argue that the law is about much more than its overt referent `prostitution’. Instead, the argument is made that the law is a response to Sweden’s entry into the EU. For a variety of reasons, anxiety about Sweden’s position in the EU is articulated through anxiety about prostitution. The Swedish case is one where we can see that sexuality is one site where boundaries and roles in the new Europe are being imagined and negotiated.
In Sweden, sex workers are often viewed as ‘victims in denial’ by public health authorities. As a result, Swedish sexual health interventions have traditionally focused on women and utilised face-to-face interventions and exit strategies. Unmistakably, interventions targeting male and/or transgender sex workers that utilise harm reduction approaches or low threshold on-line interventions remain marginalised or non-existent. This stands in opposition to recent Swedish research on the sexual health of men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender people (TG). This research stresses the need for targeted community-based sexual health services. Recent Swedish research also highlights the success of innovative on-line approaches that help male sex workers and TG understand personal risk to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), their legal rights and how to access community-based health services. Responding to the research and not viewing sex workers as victims, this paper outlines the design of Sweden’s first bespoke online platform targeting male and transgender sex workers. We outline our unique approach and the steps we undertook to design the Röda Paraplyet webpage (http://www.rodaparaplyet.org) in collaboration with male sex workers and Rose Alliance, a leading sex worker organisation. We argue the voices of sex workers are essential to shifting the Swedish discourse around sex work from one of victimisation that limits sex workers access to Sweden’s extensive evidence-based health care to one that is empowering and increases the safety of sex work, explores how to negotiate condom use and educates sex workers about their rights. In conclusion we illustrate how a broad coalition between organised and non-organised sex workers, LGBTQ organisations, academics and the health care system is essential for creating a sustainable platform of multi-disciplinary knowledge to improve the sexual health and legal rights of sex workers in Sweden and globally.
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An intense debate and political struggle is taking place both internationally and in many countries on whether prostitution should be considered as violence or work, as an expression of coercion or as agency, and whether the provider of sexual services should be seen as unfree or free (Sanders, O’Neill and Pitcher, 2009). Sweden represents a quite unique context in this debate, as all political parties represented in the Swedish parliament, from left to right, are in favour of the Swedish ban on the purchase of sexual services. This legislation was introduced in 1999 and, at the time, was controversial because it defines prostitution as violence against women and only criminalises the purchase of sexual services and not their sale. In this way Sweden introduced a new system of regulating prostitution, a ‘Swedish model’, which did not fit previously adopted regulatory systems and ‘prostitution regimes’ (Skillbrei and Holmström, 2011).
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Asa Yttergren *
Sweden is often described in terms of its high level of gender equality, which is associated with its institutionalized welfare. The quite radical official Swedish ambition regarding gender equality is laid down in many public documents. Within this context, prostitution is conceptualized as an extreme expression of gender inequality (see Gunnarsson and Svensson in this issue). The aim of this article is to provide an overview of the official Swedish attitude towards trafficking in persons for sexual purposes (hereafter referred to as trafficking), to place this view in an international context, and also to critically analyze problems that arise when the official Swedish objective of establishing gender equality is confronted with the issue of women who have been trafficked to Sweden.