Legislation on the purchase of sexual services

Since 1999 it has been illegal to pay for casual sexual relations in Sweden. The penalty is a fine or imprisonment for a maximum of one year. This applies both to those who pay for sexual relations and those who take advantage of casual sexual relations paid for by another person.

The Act on prohibiting the purchase of sexual services (SFS 1998:408) entered into force on 1 January 1999. In connection with the sexual crimes reform of 2005, the Act was revoked and replaced by new legislation on the purchase of sexual services (Chapter 6, Section 11 of the Swedish Penal Code).

Important for society to fight against prostitution

The reason behind the introduction of legislation on the purchase of sexual services was – and is – the importance for society of fighting against prostitution. Prostitution is considered to cause serious harm both to individuals and to society as a whole. Large-scale crime, including human trafficking for sexual purposes, assault, procuring and drug-dealing, is also commonly associated with prostitution.

Legislation expected to act as a deterrent

The vast majority of those in prostitution also have very difficult social circumstances. When the legislation was introduced, it was expected that it would act as a deterrent to those who purchase sexual services, so that the number of purchasers would decline. This was also expected to lead to a reduction of the number of people involved in street prostitution and new recruits to prostitution. It was also pointed out that criminalising the purchase of sexual services could help make it harder for various groups or individuals in other countries to establish more extensive organised prostitution activities in Sweden.

Gender-neutral legislation

The term 'sexual relations' primarily refers to intercourse, but also encompasses other sexual acts. 'Payment' refers to financial remuneration and also any other payment in kind – for example alcohol or drugs. The legislation is gender-neutral, i.e. both buyer and seller can be male or female. Attempting to purchase sexual services has also been criminalised. However, it is not a crime to sell sexual services. Nor is the seller covered by the rules on complicity in a crime.

Evaluation of the legislation on the purchase of sexual services

The report 'Prohibition of the purchase of sexual services. An evaluation 1999-2008' (SOU 2010:49) was presented on 2 July 2010. The purpose of the evaluation was to investigate how the prohibition, which at that time had been in force for over ten years, works in practice and what effects criminalisation has had on the incidence of prostitution and human trafficking for sexual purposes in Sweden. 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.

In September 2014, the Government appointed an Inquiry to evaluate, among other things, the amendments on maximum penalty for the purchase of sexual services, that entered into force in 2011. The Inquiry will present its report to the Government in June 2016.