I’ve mentioned in passing on this blog that I think prostitution should be decriminalized, but that being a John – that is, hiring a prostitute – should be criminal. I thought it might be nice to share with “Alas” readers one of the articles I’ve read which has helped convince me that this is a policy worth pursuing.
Here are some key quotes from “The Swedish Law That Prohibits the Purchase of Sexual Services,” by Gunilla Ekberg (of Sweden’s Ministry of Industry, Employment, and Communications), an article printed in the academic journal Violence Against Women (Vol. 10 No. 10, October 2004). I’ve liberally cut and pasted and changed the order of quotes to make this post; if you’ve got some time, I recommend reading the entire article (.pdf file).
For many countries, the options available for solutions to the problem of prostitution and trafficking in human beings for sexual purposes have been very limited. Some countries, such as Canada and the United States, have opted to criminalize the victims of prostitution…the women and children…as well as the buyers, through solicitation laws. These laws have generally been put in place for reasons of public order and are not based on gender equality or with concern for the well-being of the victims. The effects of such legislation have been that these laws are applied mainly to the victims.Victims have been arrested, fined or imprisoned, and have rarely been given access to services that could assist them to leave prostitution. The buyers usually escape punishment.
Many countries are looking for better and more effective solutions to the problem of prostitution than punishing the victims or, at the other extreme, legalizing prostitution activities, which, in reality, is capitulation to the prostitution industry. The Law in Sweden is an effective alternative to state-legitimated systems of prostitution. [...]
On January 1, 1999, the Swedish Law that Prohibits the Purchase of Sexual Services (the Law) entered into force. This Law recognizes that it is the man who buys women (or men) for sexual purposes who should be criminalized, and not the woman. The Law is gender neutral and is, as mentioned previously, a fundamental part of the comprehensive Swedish strategy to combat prostitution and trafficking in human beings. [...]
The ultimate goal of the Law is to protect the women in prostitution by, among other measures, addressing the root cause of prostitution and trafficking: the men who assume the right to purchase female human beings and sexually exploit them. From the Swedish experience, we know that when the buyers risk punishment, the number of men who buy prostituted women decreases, and the local prostitution markets become less lucrative. Traffickers will then choose other and more profitable destinations. The Law That Prohibits the Purchase of Sexual Services is a law that recognizes the harmful effects of prostitution on the women and girls who are the victims. This law is a fundamental step in abolishing prostitution and trafficking in women and girls. If more countries would address the demand for prostituted women, by criminalizing not only the pimps and the traffickers but also the buyers, then the expansion of the global prostitution industry would be seriously threatened. [...]
It is important to note that this legislation only targets buyers of persons in prostitution. The persons who are in prostitution, the victims of male violence, are not subject to any kind of criminal or other legal repercussions. The government pledged money and assistance to women who are victims of male violence, including prostituted women. Thus, the state, to a certain extent, is responsible for assisting women to leave violent situations, including prostitution, and for providing women with access to shelters, counseling, education, and job training. [...]
The Law is currently worded as follows:A person who obtains casual sexual relations in exchange for payment shall be sentenced… for the purchase of sexual services to a fine or imprisonment for at most six months.[...]
The offense comprises all forms of sexual services, whether they are purchased on the street, in brothels, in so-called massage parlors, fromescort services, or in other similar circumstances. To put the length of imprisonment in context, the longest sentence that can be imposed on anyone for any individual criminal offense in Sweden is 10 years. [...]
WHO ARE THE SWEDISH MEN WHO BUY PROSTITUTED WOMEN?
Every eighth man older than 18 years in Sweden, or approximately 13% of men ages 18 years and older, have, at least once, bought a person for prostitution purposes within Sweden or in other countries (MÃ¥nsson, 2001; National Institute of Public Health, 2000). These men represent all ages and all income classes. The majority are, or have been, married or cohabiting, and they often have children. Men who have or have had many sexual partners are the most common buyers of prostituted persons, effectively dispelling the myth that the buyer is a lonely, sexually unattractive man with no other option for his sexual outlet than to buy prostituted women. [...]
The effective enforcement of the Law is ultimately determined by the attitude of the leadership within the local police forces, as well as that of the individual police officer. In Sweden as in other countries, the police force is a male, homosocial, and conservative working environment…a police force that is being asked to enforce a law that seriously threatens traditional male values. Therefore, initially, representatives of the police were critical of the law, suggesting that it would be difficult to enforce (“Polisen Kritiserar nya SexkÃ¶pslagen,”? 2000). For example, in some cases in which men have been apprehended for purchasing sexual services, the police officers involved have agreed to send the letter of notification of a crime committed to an address of the offender’s choice, rather than to his home address, presumably to protect the offender from scrutiny by his spouse or other family members.
To increase the police officers’ competence and knowledge about prostitution and trafficking in human beings, the National Criminal Police in collaboration with the Division for Gender Equality, as well as several local and regional police forces, have established education programs for its personnel on this subject. This has had noticeable and immediate effects. The initial criticism of the law as being difficult to enforce has ceased. One year after the program began in 2003, there was a 300% increase in arrests, believed to be the result of the investigating officers’ better understanding of the reasons behind the legislation, their deeper comprehension of the conditions that make women vulnerable to becoming victims of prostitution and trafficking, and the development of better investigation methods. [...]
EFFECTS OF THE LAW ON TRAFFICKING IN WOMEN
The National Rapporteur for Trafficking in Women at the National Criminal Investigation Department (NCID), Kajsa Wahlberg, is responsible for the collection of data related to investigations and convictions for trafficking crimes in Sweden and for reporting annually to the Swedish government about the trafficking in women in Sweden. In her reports published in 2003 and 2004, she noted that there are clear indications that the Law has had direct and positive effects in limiting the trafficking in women for prostitution to Sweden.
The NCID estimates that between 400 and 600 women are trafficked into Sweden every year, mainly fromthe Eastern European countries such as Estonia and Lithuania, as well as from Russia. This number has remained fairly constant during the past several years (National Criminal Investigation Department [NCID], 2004). This figure should be compared to the numbers of women who are victims of trafficking for sexual purposes in neighboring Scandinavian countries [...] where the purchase of sexual services is not prohibited. In Denmark, 5,500 to 7,800 women are prostituted every year. It is estimated that 50% or more of these women are victims of trafficking in human beings. [...]
The NCID has received signals from Europol and national police forces in other European countries that Sweden no longer is an attractive market for traffickers. Traffickers and pimps are businessmen who calculate profits, marketing factors, and risks of getting caught when they decide in which countries they will sell women into prostitution. In conversations recorded during crime investigations, pimps/procurers and traffickers have expressed frustration about setting up shop in Sweden and attracting customers who are willing to buy their women in prostitution. According to these intercepted telephone conversations, and fromadditional testimonies given bywomenwhoare victims of trafficking, the pimps and traffickers experience the following difficulties:
- Prostituted women must be escorted to the buyers, therefore giving less time to fewer buyers, and gaining less revenue for pimps than if women had been in street prostitution.
- Swedish men who want to buy women for prostitution purposes express serious fear of being arrested and prosecuted under the Law and hence demand absolute discretion from the pimps/traffickers.
- To minimize the possibility of exposure/detection, the pimps/traffickers are forced to operate apartment brothels in more than one location and to change locations regularly. Thus the mode of operation is expensive and requires that the pimp have local contacts. The necessity of several premises is confirmed in almost all preliminary investigations that have been carried out in 2002.
[...]NORMATIVE EFFECTS OF THE LAW
As with all laws, the Law has a normative function. It is a concrete and tangible expression of the belief that in Sweden women and children are not for sale. It effectively dispels men’s self assumed right to buy women and children for prostitution purposes and questions the idea that men should be able to express their sexuality in any form and at any time.
Amp favors a system that pretends to recognize the dignity of prostitutes, but in reality”“and under the guise of merely controlling their johns”“really keeps prostitution illegal. Amp, do you really believe that preventing prostitutes from earning a living will mollify pimps or help the prostitutes any?
I think that, in an imperfect and sexist society, prostitution will inevitably, in a significant number of cases, mean that the prostitute is hurt and abused by men – both the johns and the pimps. (Note I say “by men” purposely; whether you’re talking about male or female prostitutes, the vast majority of pimps and johns are male). The unequal power relationships involved guarantee it.
(In theory, prostitution could work differently, and better, in a more equal and decent society; but we ain’t even close to being there yet, so that’s kind of a moot point when discussing policy preferences.)
It’s actually a lot like having a minimum wage. Outlawing low-wage work does, beyond a doubt, hurt some potential low-wage workers; it would be easier for some people to find work if they could legally offer to work for a dollar an hour, for example. However, not having a minimum wage would hurt even more low-wage workers to a greater degree, because they’d be exploited to a greater degree than they currently are. (Note: Please don’t allow the comments discussion of this post to be divirted into a discussion of the minimum wage. If anyone feels an enourmous need to discuss the minimum wage, email me and I’ll do a separate post about it sometime soon.) To quote Michael Albert:
We set a minimum wage which precludes people paying or accepting less, even should they wish to. Violators can be fully cognizant adults. Low pay can be in their immediate interest. It doesn’t matter. The conditions of the economy and society coerce people, by the obliteration of alternative options, into accepting grossly dehumanizing, demeaning, and exploitative work. We say you can do the same work on your own, but we prevent an employer from paying you to endure the outlawed conditions. Similar logic justifies laws against demanding sexual favors for employee advance, or ignoring workplace safety regardless of the preferences of those involved. When the balance of power between constituencies is grossly unequal, we believe the state should proscribe certain behaviors. This is established.
I agree, as Mythago says, that it would be an unfair blow to some prostitutes that prostitution is not totally legal. But I think that complete legalization would be an even worse blow to more prostitutes (and non-prostitutes too), compared to the Swedish Law. (I also think that even total legalization, although I don’t favor it, would be better than the status quo here in the USA).
(It’s also worth noting that the Swedish law included increased efforts, and increased funding, for providing prostitutes with resources and training to leave prostitution. )