April 21, 2014

ISSUE PAPER 4: The Swedish Law to Criminalize Clients: A failed experiment in social engineering

In 1999, the Swedish government embarked on an experiment in social engineering to end men’s practice of purchasing commercial sexual services. The government enacted a new law criminalizing the purchase (but not the sale) of sex (Swedish Penal Code). It hoped that the fear of arrest and increased public stigma would convince men to change their sexual behavior. The government also hoped that the law would force the estimated 1,850 to 3,000 women who sold sex in Sweden at that time to find another line of work. Lastly, the government hoped that the law would eliminate trafficking into forced prostitution and the presence of migrant sex workers.

Not surprisingly, the experiment has failed. In the thirteen years since the law was enacted, the Swedish government has been unable to prove that the law has reduced the number of sex buyers or sellers or stopped trafficking. Read the article

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