When Swedish public radio stations posted fake ads for sexual
services on websites in May, they were swamped with almost a
The stunt would hardly have raised an eyebrow in most European
countries, but in Sweden, where an antiprostitution law that targets
clients has been in force for a decade, it prompted an uproar, as
well as calls for stricter penalties for those who patronize
The country's pioneering "sex purchase" law - promoted
internationally as a model for reducing human trafficking and
prostitution - is under review this year. Although lawmakers and
police want harsher sentences to deter clients, some sex workers'
organizations and analysts claim the law is unworkable and fails to
"It has made Sweden a less attractive destination for
traffickers, but the penalties are so low that the police have not
prioritized the crime," says Johan Linander, a Center Party member
Mr. Linander's party, part of Sweden's governing center-right
coalition, wants stricter sentencing, particularly for repeat
offenders and those who frequent prostitutes controlled by pimps or
In Sweden, it's not illegal to be a prostitute. But it is illegal
to hire one. The law considers prostitution a form of violence
against women. Visiting a prostitute is currently punishable with a
six-month jail sentence. However, despite about 2,000 arrests, no
one has been jailed and convictions have only led to minor fines -
due mainly to difficulties with finding evidence and the low maximum
penalty on the statute books.
"We need the real possibility of jail terms for the law to become
more of a deterrent," says Detective Inspector Ewa Carlenfors, chief
of Stockholm's antitrafficking group, which has successfully closed
several East European prostitution rings.
"At the moment, the penalty is the same as for petty theft. But
buying a person's body and pinching a tube of toothpaste is hardly
the same thing."
WHEN THE LAW CAME INTO FORCE in 1999, street prostitution
virtually vanished here, but in recent years it returned, prompting
calls for a crackdown.
Nonetheless, compared with other European capitals, Stockholm's
red-light district - a nondescript street perched on a hill above
the commercial center - hardly deserves the name. Most prostitution
in Sweden is mobile, and some estimates suggest less than 10 percent
is operated from the streets.
"It's much easier to sell sexual services via the Internet and
cellphones. The hidden part of prostitution is far bigger," explains
Anna Jutterdal, a spokesperson for Stockholm city's prostitution
unit, which offers healthcare and advice to about 200 women per
week. The prostitution unit's official role is to reduce
prostitution, and having a law - however ineffective - that targets
clients, plays an important part in that effort, says Ms. Jutterdal. …