“We must teach more countries about our Sexual Purchases Act”

Opinion article, Expressen, 23 April 2016

France is the fourth European country to criminalise sexual purchases. We hope that more countries will take decisions in this direction, writes Sweden’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström and Minister for Gender Equality Åsa Regnér.

The French National Assembly recently voted to criminalise sexual purchases in accordance with the Swedish model. With this new law, the French government also wants to combat trafficking in human beings and trafficking networks – the modern slave trade.

France's position is a major success for all of us who are fighting for women's rights and the equal value of all people. It goes without saying that it should never be possible to buy another person or conduct trade in people's bodies. Prostitution is the exploitation of people and consolidates a sense of social superiority and inferiority that is harmful to individuals and to society as a whole. Everyone who is exploited is a victim, regardless of their gender, but we know that it is mainly women and girls who are exploited in prostitution and that it is often men who purchase sexual services.

Taking a stand for those who are exploited in prostitution and at the same time criminalising those who buy sex is the only right thing for a civilised society to do. People selling sex are often in a vulnerable situation and there must be no barriers to them seeking support to change their situation. This is why it is so important that selling sex is not a criminal act.

Sweden was the first country in the world to introduce a ban on purchasing sexual services. We are proud of this. In January 1999, it became a criminal offence to buy sexual services but not to sell them. France has become the fourth country, after Sweden, Norway and Iceland, to criminalise sexual purchases. We now hope that more countries will take decisions in this direction.

It is unworthy of a gender-equal society that men claim the right to have temporary sexual liaisons with women in exchange for payment, which is taking on increasingly organised forms in international criminal networks, where women's bodies are regarded as commodities.

When Sweden introduced the law against sexual purchases, it was thought that it could have a deterrent effect on potential sex buyers and reduce the interest from various groups or individuals abroad in establishing a more organised prostitution business in Sweden. This has proved to be true. Sweden is not as attractive a 'market'.

Support for the Sexual Purchases Act has remained constantly high in population studies going back several surveys. In the latest survey from 2014, 72 per cent took a positive view of the act (85 per cent among women and 60 per cent among men).

It is clear that the ban on purchasing sexual services has had a normative effect on potential buyers and has thus influenced the scope of prostitution in Sweden.

The Government has commissioned an inquiry into whether the ban on purchasing sexual services should also apply to Swedish citizens abroad. The inquiry has been tasked with investigating whether there is a need for measures aimed at ensuring greater protection in criminal law against trafficking in human beings, the purchase of sexual services and the purchase of sexual acts from children. The inquiry has received supplementary terms of reference to also look into the exploitation of vulnerable people for forced labour and begging, and it will present its report in June 2016.

The Government is now pushing for other countries to follow suit on the issue of criminalising sexual purchases, on the basis of both Article 6 (on prostitution and trade in women) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the EU Directive against trafficking in human beings. We are therefore pleased that France has now taken this step. As Minister for Gender Equality and Minister for Foreign Affairs, we will prioritise this issue this year so that more girls and women can get the legislation on their side, against exploitation and oppression based on gender.

Sweden's feminist government feels a great responsibility to keep knowledge about the Swedish Sexual Purchases Act alive, both nationally and internationally.

Åsa Regnér
Minister for Children, the Elderly and Gender Equality

Margot Wallström
Minister for Foreign Affairs