For anti-prostitution crusaders, Sweden is often held up as the example all other countries should emulate. In a nutshell, since 1999, selling sex is legal in Sweden, but buying it is not. Make no mistake, the goal of the law is to eradicate prostitution, but taking the suppliers off the hook permits prostitution to be outlawed in a way that appears to be compatible with women’s rights. It doesn’t mean they permit the sale of sex. It only means that they are against the prosecution of women for the act. Of course, prosecuting johns and not prostitutes would be on a par with arresting drug buyers, but not drug dealers.
Even aside from the blatant gender discrimination (something women’s rights groups claim to be against), it highlights a key component of all moral crusades and witch hunts which is that the ends justify the means. So how do they rationalize the obvious hypocrisy? Simple, they claim that prostitutes are always victims. Some feminist groups argue that prostitution is, by default, violence by men against women. That being the case, women are clearly faultless when it comes to prostitution and men are always to blame.
Reports abound of how trafficking in Sweden has been dramatically reduced over night. And, you guessed it, the statistics are largely swallowed whole and repeated by the media and advocacy groups as being facts. If you’ve been following this site very long, you are probably already aware of the delusional nature of statistics advanced by anti-prostitution groups.
But, alas, not everyone agrees that Sweden’s laws have been the rip-roaring success that the anti-prostitution crusaders have been claiming. According to Petra Östergren, one dissatisfied group is (surprise!) sex workers. They have been impacted financially because there are now fewer clients, their work is more dangerous because they are forced to take riskier clients, and the list goes on. Furthermore, sex workers in Sweden seem to feel they are the only ones left out of the political process and are simply being “used by politicians, feminists, and the media” (which probably surprises no reader of this website). Additionally, Östergren lists three studies that have less than glowing things to say about Sweden’s anti-prostitution philosophy.
Laura Agustin provides an even more thorough treatment of how the failures of the Swedish law has been downplayed so as to not ruffle the feathers of its supporters.
Several media commentators took the occasion to attack the law itself, since, despite regular government affirmations that the majority of Swedes support the law, opposition is fierce. In the blogosphere and other online forums, liberals, libertarians and non-conforming members of the main parties relentlessly resist a reductionist view of sexuality in which vulnerable women are forever threatened by predatory men.
But most politicians undoubtedly feel little good will come from complaining about legislation now symbolic of Mother Sweden. The Swedish Institute has turned the abolition of prostitution into part of the nation’s brand, what they call a ‘multi-faceted package to make Sweden attractive to the outside world.’ The SI, claiming to represent the most ‘socially liberal’ country on the planet, celebrates gender equality and gay love along with Ingmar Bergman, high technology and pine forests.
In the end, even if the law reduced coerced prostitution or other crime, that does not necessarily constitute an automatic justification for its existence. The ends do not justify the means and there is nothing moral or heroic about rescuing one class of victims if, by doing so, you’re creating another even larger class of victims.