3-From the Early Brothels to the Swedish Model of prostitution law

kamadeva · · 0

The Swedish model

As part of the Violence against Women Act, introduced in 1999, the Swedish model, also known as the Scandinavian Model, or the Sex Buyers Act, aims to eliminate the social need for prostitutes by criminalizing those who use sex services, but at the same time, it does not prohibit the operation of prostituted women and children[8]. At the heart of this approach there is the conviction that prostitution is a form of violence against women and children as long as sexual act is not consensual because, from a feminist point of view, buying sex is a form of male aggression against a woman[9]. According to this approach, buying sexual services cannot be considered consensual, since a sex client purchases a prostituted woman’s sexual services, therefore the prostitute participates in the deal in return for payment and does not voluntarily engage in sexual activity, in which the sex client merely exploits her. In countries where the Swedish model is applied, prostituted women are not legally sanctioned but provided those open to it with social assistance so that they will be able to abandon selling sexual services. Sex clients can face fines or imprisonment, but who are the most severely punished by the new law are procurers, human traffickers and brothel operators.

As with all innovations in general, no matter what the field is, the problem is that they do not always produce satisfying results, because by eliminating old problems new ones may emerge, and sometimes new problems may be more serious than the ones they solve. Something similar happened with the Swedish model, as after having seemingly eliminated the drawbacks there have been new ones emerged that are urgent to be solved.

The advantages of the Model

One of the advantages of the Swedish model is that it creates a legally protected social position for prostitutes, that is, when a sex business becomes known for the authorities, the sex worker does not have to be afraid of potential legal consequences, because only the sex client will be held liable. As a result, prostitutes no longer have to worry about the curiosity of law enforcement so they can work in safety, with only the clients concerned about staying unnoticed, which means sex workers have to care about one less thing. Of course, this seems too good to be completely true, because with all the benefits there is a disadvantage, which will be discussed below.

Another important achievement of the Swedish model is the complete elimination of agents of sex business from the sex trade, i.e. pimps, procurers and brothel operators, who usually skim sex business, thus decreasing the chances of sex workers leaving the sex business. This is also an important fact because a significant number of sex workers initially start working in sex trade from financial consideration in order to earn a good income, but without taking in account different expenses such as commission fees for pimps, protection costs, etc.

Another key benefit of the Swedish model is that by making the prostitute her own manager it helps to combat human trafficking and organized crime. Once a prostitute finds herself in charge of the sex business, who can turn to the police at any time for help, unlike before the time when they had no interest in uncovering the act of selling sex, so they often did not turn to authorities even when they needed to. But now with the current prostitution regulation, the legal protection included in the law, they do not have to worry about legal consequences, so in case of any adverse event or violence committed against them during sex business, they can safely seek the help of the police. Of course, it does not work that easy in reality.

The drawbacks of the Model

One of the major drawbacks of the Model is that it facilitates human trafficking, because where prostitution is legal and profitable, there will always be underground entrepreneurs who run sex workers, even if legally sanctioned[10]. At this point, prostitution no longer only attracts local sex crimes but also creates a cross-border, global form of criminal activity, that is human trafficking. Of course, this does not mean that the Swedish model of prostitution created human trafficking, because basically it is labour exploitation, cheap labour or forced labour are the main reason for smuggling people between countries, but the Swedish model has made it even worse because a new branch of human trafficking has been created.

Although prostitutes in Sweden are free to engage in sex work, they often face the problem of not finding a place to carry out sex business unless they have their own apartment or house. The vast majority of prostitutes are obliged to implement sex work in rented property, the owner of which, however, can easily face the serious charge of a procuring, thus getting imprisoned up to four years. As a direct result, prostitutes can find themselves being kicked out on the street very easily and quickly, as property owners tend to get rid of their turned-out-to-be prostitute tenants in a panicky manner due to the new legislation that can easily get a homeowner involved into the suspicion of sex business with the charge of pimping or procuring[11].

The next problem arises where the previous one was thought to be eliminated: the procurer or pimp having been taken out of sex business as they usually skim the profit, thus exploiting sex workers, their protection is also put to an end, so they are exposed to aggressive and dangerous sex clients. This is just exacerbated by the fact that sex purchase has been criminalized, so that the sex service should always be performed without the knowledge of neighbours and authorities, which inevitably isolates the sex worker by providing sex services in a secluded area. A common consequence of this is the variety of crimes committed to the detriment of sex workers, which may also be due to the fact that prostitutes may not be sufficiently convinced of the reliability of a sex client[12], because they always have to rush into sex business to avoid sensation, for instance, a prostitute quickly gets into the sex client's car before she could have a better look at him.

Frequent criticism of the Swedish model is that it passes on all responsibility and all blames to sex buyer. This new approach to prostitution completely disregards the fact that certain individuals are fully conscious of the choice of occupation, because if practiced wisely, they can earn a great income. This is called the so-called work model, which will be discussed in the next chapter.


This model does not approach prostitution from a moral or human rights, feminist point of view, as the Swedish model, but it regards it as an integral part of the entertainment and tourism industries, like it is in The Netherlands, where prostitution is completely legal. Both sex purchase and sale have been decriminalized since 1988, and in 2000, brothels became fully legal. Similarly to the Swedish model, prostitutes are legally allowed to work as independent sex workers with their own sex clientele or as sex employees in the red-light district in one of the many brothels. In Sweden, brothel operation is severely punished, but in the Netherlands, sex industry is part of tourism, with many foreign sex workers and sex clients.

Contrary to the Swedish model, the Dutch labour model has the disadvantage that organized crime has become increasingly involved in sex tourism because more and more sex workers turn out to be forced to sell sexual services, therefore the government has taken a number of measures to reduce prostitution in the country. One such measure was the registration requirement introduced in 2010 for each prostitute. Besides, sex clients are required to check prostitutes,’ escort prostitutes’ registration card before buying sex to make sure they engage in sex trade with a prostitute who pursues the oldest occupation out of her own will.


The advantage of sex trade in the Netherlands over the Swedish model is that the state generates significant revenue from the tax that prostitutes pay after sexual service they perform, not to mention the significant number of sex tourists coming to the country to enjoy the colourful sex market, spending a lot of money not only on prostitutes, but on other services as well. For sex tourists the Netherlands is a better choice than Sweden, because they do not have to be afraid of being caught and, as a result, severely punished.


As it can be seen, basically the sex industry is officially regulated from two aspects. One of the prevalent tendencies (the Swedish model) assumes that women's human rights are violated, while the other ignores all moral considerations and views prostitution as an occupation and a mere part of the entertainment industry, which, generates significant revenue for the state. For the time being, neither model seems to have been able to eliminate organized crime, which still goes hand in hand with prostitution.



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