Evaluation of the prohibition of the purchase of sexual services

On 2 July 2010, Chancellor of Justice Anna Skarhed submitted the report Prohibition of the purchase of sexual services. An evaluation 1999-2008 (SOU 2010:49) to the Government.

The Inquiry's remit was to evaluate the application of the prohibition of the purchase of sexual services and the effects the prohibition has had since entering into force in 1999. The Inquiry looked into how the provision works in practice and what effects the prohibition has had on the prevalence of prostitution and human trafficking for sexual purposes in Sweden. One starting point for this work was that the purchase of sexual services is to remain a criminal offence.

The Inquiry's conclusions

The evaluation shows that the prohibition of the purchase of sexual services has had the intended effect and is an important instrument in preventing and combating prostitution and human trafficking for sexual purposes.

The Inquiry notes that prostitution in Sweden, unlike in comparable countries, has at least not increased since the introduction of the prohibition.

Street prostitution in Sweden has been halved since the prohibition was introduced in 1999. This reduction may be considered to be a direct result of the criminalisation of sex purchases.

Prostitution where the first contact is made via the Internet is more prevalent in our neighbouring countries. There is nothing to indicate that there has been a greater increase in prostitution via the Internet in Sweden than in these comparable countries. This indicates that the prohibition has not led to street prostitution in Sweden shifting arenas to the Internet.

Furthermore, there is nothing to indicate that the prevalence of indoor prostitution that is not marketed through advertisements in magazines and on the Internet, e.g. prostitution in massage parlours, sex clubs and hotels, and in restaurant and nightclub settings, has increased in recent years. Nor is there any information that suggests that prostitutes formerly exploited on the streets are now involved in indoor prostitution.

Moreover, the Inquiry notes that it is difficult to assess the exact extent of human trafficking for sexual purposes in Sweden. However, the establishment of this type of crime is considered to be substantially less prevalent here than in other comparable countries. According to the National Criminal Police, it is clear that the prohibition of the purchase of sexual services acts as a barrier to human traffickers and procurers considering establishing themselves in Sweden.

The Inquiry thus shows that the criminalisation of the purchase of sexual services has helped to combat prostitution and human trafficking for sexual purposes.

Furthermore, the Inquiry notes that prohibiting the purchase of sexual services also has had a normative effect. There has been a marked change in attitude to the purchase of sexual services that coincides with making it a criminal offence to purchase sex. There is now strong support for the prohibition of purchasing sexual services in Sweden. The prohibition has proved to act as a deterrent to sex purchasers. The Inquiry could find no indication that criminalisation has had a negative effect on people exploited through prostitution.

The Inquiry's investigation into the application of the prohibition shows that, following an initial period of some uncertainty, police officers and prosecutors now consider that, in general, application works well. However, it is clear that the effectiveness of application depends on the resources deployed and the priorities made within the judicial system.

The Inquiry's proposals

The Inquiry stressed the value and necessity of continued and sustained social work to prevent and combat prostitution and human trafficking for sexual purposes and proposed the establishment of a national centre, tasked with coordinating efforts against prostitution and human trafficking for sexual purposes. The Inquiry also proposed that the maximum penalty for the purchase of sexual services should be raised from imprisonment for six months to imprisonment for one year.

In the opinion of the Inquiry, a person exploited through prostitution may be regarded as the injured party in cases involving purchase of sexual services. However, this issue must be determined individually in each case. The Inquiry did not propose that the dual criminality requirement should be removed in order to give Swedish courts competence to pass judgement on purchases of sexual services committed abroad.

Amendment in force July 1, 2011

On May 12, 2011, the Swedish Parliament decided to approve a bill from the Government with a proposal for more severe penalties for the purchase of sexual services (prop. 2010/11: 77). Thus, on July 1, 2011, the maximum penalty for the purchase of sexual services is raised from imprisonment for six months to imprisonment for one year. The purpose of the amendment is to make possible a more nuanced assessment of the penal value in serious cases of purchase of sexual services.