Decriminalization of prostitution eliminates all laws and prohibits the state and law-enforcement officials from intervening in any prostitution-related activities or transactions, unless other laws apply.
Those who support decriminalization of prostitution argue that prostitution is a form of exploitation, that the act of prostitution is not by definition a fully consensual act, as the prostitutes are forced to sell sex. They also argue that the victims are the prostitutes themselves, that prostitution is a practice which leads to serious psychological and physical long term effects for the prostitutes.
The Swedish model
On January 1st, 1999, in recognition that prostitution is essentially a form of violence against women, Sweden passed a law that decriminalizes the selling of sex, but criminalizes the buyer (Svanstrom, 241). The law also provides for extensive social services designed at getting women out of prostitution, and law enforcement training and awareness programs. The number of prostitutes in Sweden has reduced significantly, along with the number of women trafficked into Sweden. Police in Stockholm estimate that the purchase of sex in the city has dropped 90%, and that most of the women who remain on the street have substance abuse problems (National Board, 23). Social Services teams in Goteberg estimate that the number of prostitutes on the streets has dropped by two thirds, and in Norrkoping, all signs of street prostitution have disappeared (National Board, 24-25). Admittedly, the amount of hidden prostitution may be rising, but statistics on this are difficult to obtain. To target indoor prostitution, Swedish authorities rely on the vigilance of law enforcers and the extensiveness of outreach and social service programs for prostitutes.
The Swedish law is modeled after various projects undertaken in Sweden in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The Malmo project, for example, gave prostitutes economic aid, assistance in finding housing, jobs, medical assistance, counseling and support, and protection from pimps (Barry 1995, 248). It was a great success, and over the course of four years, 72.5% of prostitutes in Malmo had quit, and of those who did not, many were drug dependent (Barry 1995, 249). From another perspective, in 1974 there were approximately 300 prostitutes in Malmo, and by 1981, there were only 60 known prostitutes left (Hoigard & Finstad, 607).
Barry, Kathleen. Female Sexual Slavery. New York: New York University Press, 1984.
Hoigard, Cecille & Finstad, Liv. “The fight against prostitution”. Prostitution. Matthews, Roger; O’Neill, Maggie (Eds.) Burlington, VT: Ashgate/Dartmouth, 2003.
National Board of Health and Welfare. “Prostitution in Sweden 2003”. Swedish government assignment. Socialstyrelsen, Oct, 2004.
Svanstrom, Yvonne. “Criminalizing the john – A Swedish gender model?” The Politics of Prostitution: Women’s Movements, Democratic States, and the Globalization of Sex Commerce. Outshoorn, Joyce (Ed.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
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