Swedish law fails to curb prostitution

By Belinda Goldsmith, Reuters, 5 July 1999

STOCKHOLM, July 5 (Reuters)—A new Swedish law making it illegal to buy sex has failed to scare prostitutes or their clients off the streets and is actually protecting pimps, police said on Monday.

Six months after the law came into force, the number of prostitutes and clients was back to normal in the three main cities—Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo.

The law has been toothless. It is almost impossible to charge anyone for buying sex, police spokesman Lars-Gunnar Bakemyr told the TT news agency.

The law was introduced in January to stem an influx of eastern European women coming to Sweden for the sex trade. But so far only two men have been charged with buying sexual services.

One of these, a father of two from Malmo, went to court but was not convicted because both he and the prostitute said they had not entered into any agreement.

It's really frustrating that such an admission can't be made to hold up, said Backemyr, following a report by Sweden's National Criminal Police evaluating the new law.

The second man, from Gothenburg, was fined 12,000 crowns ($1,400). The offence can carry a six-month jail sentence.

Police said at the start of the year there had been a fall in sex trade on the street, probably due to extra police diligence and interest from local and international media.

But prostitution in hotels and restaurants has increased, along with the selling of sex over the Internet.

The National Criminal Police report said Sweden's sex trade was in danger of becoming more violent in the future, as the law in fact encouraged more women to be brought in from overseas.

The report, presented to the government, said the new law made it harder to expose prostitution as clients were not willing to come forward to give evidence against pimps.

Elisabeth Pettersson, a social worker involved in a group working with prostitution in Gothenburg, said about two-thirds of the prostitution in Sweden was already behind closed doors.

Sweden, with a population of 8.9 million, is estimated to have about 2,500 prostitutes but the sex trade is barely visible. Most prostitutes work from massage parlours, escort agencies or private apartments and streetwalking is restricted to a few small areas of cities.