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The percentage of Swedish men who buy sex dropped from A law banning the purchase of sexual services was introduced in Sweden in The other seven political parties opposed it. Close to 70 per cent of Swedes opposed it. So did the police, including a young graduate from the police academy named Simon Haggstrom. The feminist-led government viewed prostitution as violence against women and a clear sign of inequality.
But 17 years later, attitudes have changed. And that young recruit? Rape and domestic violence have not increased in Sweden. No prostitutes were murdered in Sweden last year; in Germany, where prostitution is legal, 70 were killed by pimps or buyers. In the United States, one in five men reports buying sex. There is no available Canadian data. Buying sex in Sweden is now deemed so shameful that Haggstrom says the overwhelming majority of those arrested plead guilty and pay a fine rather than go to trial.
One interesting aspect of the law is that fines are based on income. The majority of prostitutes are from Lithuania and Nigeria. Prostitution is not hidden from police, Haggstrom insists, pointing out that in order to get buyers, sellers have to advertise. The print and online ads are how police find sex buyers. They track the ads daily, placing a priority on those with the youngest-looking women.
The Swedish Association for Sexuality Education has suggested that the law has increased both stigma and discrimination, putting prostitutes in a more precarious position.
However, the group has opposed legalization and instead has been pressing for changes to address those unintended consequences. Haggstrom admits that another consequence is that Swedish men now are more likely to become sex tourists. Unlike Canada, Sweden does not have an extraterritorial law that allows it to prosecute Swedish offenders for sex crimes committed abroad. The counselling program for sex buyers — even repeat offenders — is voluntary, not mandatory.