Introduction to Political Theory

(Marvins-Underground-K-12) #1

Prostitution laws in Sweden


n 1998 the Swedish Parliament passed the
Prohibition of the Purchase of Sexual Services
Act. The Act does what its title suggests: it
prohibits the sale of sexual services. Most
countries have legal controls on prostitution,
which often include banning brothels, pimping,
kerb-crawling and advertising. The Swedish Act
tightened up on these aspects, but it achieved
international attention because it went much
further than other European countries: it made
it illegal to purchase, or attempt to purchase,
‘casual sexual services’. The prohibition applied
not only to street prostitution, brothels and
massage parlours, but also to escort services
or ‘any other circumstances’ in which sexual
services are sold. Obviously existing laws
covered many of these cases, but the new law
was a ‘catch-all’, and in that sense quite radical.
One important point was that the buyer rather
than the seller was criminalised.

In contrast, the Netherlands has adopted a
quite different approach: there prostitution is
defined as a profession, at least for those from
European Union (EU) countries. Prostitutes have
access to welfare services and pay taxes on their
earnings. Whereas in Sweden prostitution is
viewed primarily as violence against women, in
the Netherlands so long as coercion is not used

  • and that means that the participants must be
    of the age that they are deemed capable of giving
    consent – it is a voluntary exchange.
    Both Sweden and the Netherlands have long
    histories as liberal democracies and in defending
    their respective policies they draw on liberal
    arguments, yet they come to quite different
    conclusions on the regulation of prostitution.
    How might these differences be explained and
    which policy do you prefer? (See weblinks at the
    end of this chapter for further material on the
    Swedish prostitution laws.)

© Paul Vreeker/Reuters/Corbis
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