of the Swedish law against the purchase of sexual services

The Swedish sex-purchase law surrounding the sale of sexual services has brought a number of negative consequences for sexworkers.

The law has increased the risks and violence against sexworkers and the law forbidding procuring or pimping makes it impossible for sexworkers to work safely and secure.

Those who are worst afflicted are unfortunately the most vulnerable sexworkers, the street prostitutes, addicts and sexworkers from other countries. New and/or young sexworkers are also more vulnerable for the laws negative consequences than their more experienced colleagues.

The current legislation and the Swedish prostitution policy reinforce the whore stigma, the social shame, and the stereotypical and biased image that surrounds the sale of sexual services.

The sex-purchase law

The sex-purchase law means that it is a crime to buy sexual services in Sweden. It is however completely legal to sell sexual services.

Some customers are afraid to get caught for buying sex and that makes the clients more nervous and stressed. On the streets the negotiations must happen a lot faster than before since the police can be around the corner. If you market your services thru the internet a customer can suggest the meeting should take place in a remote location where no one can see you or demand an arrangement where he/she cannot get discovered at all.

During the negotiations with the client it is therefore hard to do a correct risk assessment.

Is the client stressed, anxious and nervousness due to the fact that he/she is afraid to get caught by the police or is it a customer that wants to hurt you?

A lot of customers are also scared to state their real names or contact sexsellers thru registered telephone numbers. Few sexsellers save the contact information about their customers because they are keen to protect their integrity.

The risk of infection have gone up because if a sexseller gets infected with a sexually transmitted disease, and the authorities advise customers to the sexworker to contact them, many are afraid to do so.

If a client meets a sexworker that he/she suspects is in need of help the client is scared to contact for example the social services. Anf if a customer meets a sexworker that he/she suspects is the victim of sexual trafficking that person is today scared of going to the police. Before you could obtain evidence against traffickers and pimps based on customer’s testimony. These days they aren’t likely to participate in trials and if they are forced to testify as the same time they are prosecuted for buying sex their testimony are not credible in the same way.

The customer is also without legal rights as a result of the sex-purchase law. It happens that criminals lure customers with a fake sexworker to rob them. The client is exposed to threats about being reported for sexcrimes if they go to the police.

A lot of sexsellers on the street report being robbed and feel it’s harder for them to contact clients outdoors. They therefore have to rely on other channels for communication. Everybody doesn’t have the possibility to market themselves thru the Internet, and the likelihood of ending up in the hands of profiteers and pimps for those who need help increases.

Sexworkers feel more pressure from the police. The police must sometimes wait until the sexworker and the customer have started the sexual act before they can arrest the client. This is naturally deeply offensive to the sexworker.

Police have also sometimes been reported to become heavy handed or brutal in these situations.

Sexworkers also report that the networks between sexworkers that existed before on certain known streets for prostitution have disappeared or weakened as a result of the sex-purchase law. Earlier you could warn each other for dangerous customers, fake cars, etc, but due to the more stressful situations on the streets and a reduced number of sexworkers they find this harder to do. Street prostitutes used to help new sexworkers and if they met a person they thought was too young, they could alarm the social services.

When the prostitution market disappears underground it is harder for the authorities to intercept the persons that really need help. In Gothenburg many young women seek help to detoxify because of their addiction to heroin and almost all of them have sold sexual services. But the city’s prostitution group (social workers) seldom comes in contact with these women because they don’t show up on the streets today. The same goes for the young drug addicts in Malmo.

The ”normal” clients have almost disappeared from the streets. Those who remain are the ones with a twisted mindset and street prostitutes today are more exposed to robbery, assault and rape than before. Certain sexworkers follows sexbuyers scared of the police to hidden locations, where they can’t call for help if they need to. The new situation on the street also means that the prices have dropped and it happens that women in desperate need of money forego the requirement for a condom.

The law against procuring or ”pimping”

It is a crime according to the law against procuring to promote or in some other undue way financial benefit from a person that has temporary sexual relations in exchange for money. A landlord is required to terminate a lease if that person receives knowledge that the sale of sexual services is occurring in one of his/hers apartments.

Sexworkers in Sweden can in principle only work legally in cars, trailers or outside in hideaway locations. You are scared and/or not willing to receive clients in your own apartment and may as a sexworker find yourself having difficulty or not afford your own work premises. Few own their own house where they can receive customers.

If the sexworker entertains clients in a facility or apartment that he/she is renting, they must always be on guard to avoid detection.

There are sexworkers who have been forced to pay an exorbitant rent, get evicted, forced to switch locale on a short notice and on the whole been completely left to the landlords whim.

This causes stress and large expenses and makes it difficult to plan your business long term and pay taxes since sexworkers can’t know when they have to take a break in their work with a huge loss of income as a result. And since you have to keep your workplace a secret, sexworkers are also more vulnerable to potential dangerous customers.

Since no one else can partake in your income from the sale of sexual services it affects a sexworkers family – and work relations.

Partners and cohabitants and children of legal age to sexworkers can be convicted of procuring.

Nor can the sexworkers who want to work together do so. This makes Swedish sexworkers more isolated and unprotected against potential threatening customers.

Social issues, taxes and other stuff

Sometimes the social services consider parents unfit as a parent solely because they are selling sexual services. Sexworkers therefore always run the risk of losing the custody of their children if it is revealed that they sell sexual services.

This is one of many reasons that causes sexworkers not to seek help from the police if they are the victims of abuse or has been tricked. The confidence in the police as well as for the social authorities is often non-existent because all the legislation aims to do is counteracting the sale of sexual services.

Everybody in Sweden has a duty to pay taxes. The administrative court of appeals has ruled that the sale of sexual services is a business model that should be taxed. But sexworkers hasn’t been able to register companies and name their real activity because the tax authorities do not accept it.

And even if the tax authorities would accept the occupation as legit it involves risks for the sexworkers to pay income tax for such a business considering their families, living conditions and the procuring law. Sexworkers usually therefore put another business model or completely refrain from paying taxes.

This means that sexworkers risk being overtaxed, which causes huge financial difficulties, especially for those who don’t earn much, those who don’t know how to appeal a decision of overtaxing or those who don’t want to do so. A sexworker that was going to leave the business was forced to continue her sexual activities so she could pay the over taxation.

Isabella Lund, sexworker in Sweden
June the 6th 2007


  • Swedish sexworkers own experiences
  • Master’s degree paper: The sin ideologies – Modern Swedish prostitution policy as a maker of safety and identity (swe) by Petra Östergren

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by Ossian Grahn,
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