Treating the sex trade with compassion.

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Sweden's prostitution solution
By Jerry Brownstein
In recent years Sweden has dramatically reduced the number of women involved in the sex trade. In the capital Stockholm and other major cities, street prostitution has been reduced by two thirds, and the number of male clients soliciting sex has gone down by 80%. As a result, the trafficking of foreign women into Sweden for prostitution has almost completely stopped. Since the 1970’s Sweden had been renowned for its legal brothels and massage parlors, but that trade has also been greatly reduced. The reason for all of these drastic changes was a groundbreaking law that reversed the way prostitution was looked at.

Traditionally it has been the selling of sex by the prostitute which has been considered illegal. After years of research and study, Sweden passed legislation that simply turned that around by: 1) criminalizing the buying of sex, and 2) decriminalizing the selling of sex. Another essential element of Sweden's prostitution legislation provides for ample and comprehensive social services aimed at helping any prostitute who wants to get out, and additional funds to educate the public.

Sweden's unique strategy is to treat prostitution as a form of violence against women in which the men who exploit by them are the ones who are breaking the law. Conversely, the mostly female prostitutes are treated as victims who need to be protected and helped. In addition, the public and the police must be educated in order to counteract the historical male bias on these matters. In fact, it took a while for the Swedish police to understand and adapt to their new role, but with time and training they came around and things began to change quickly. Sweden's law enforcement has found that the prostitution legislation benefits them in dealing with all types of sex crimes, and it has enabled them to virtually wipe out the organized crime element that plagues prostitution when it is merely legalized or regulated.  

Sweden’s strategy has been so successful that other countries are starting to emulate it. Norway and Iceland recently adopted similar legislation, and Canada has proposed a version of it as well. The key is for governments to see prostitutes as victims of male coercion and violence. This means switching from the male point of view to the female point of view. Most countries still have a long way to go in this regard… but Sweden’s example shows that things are changing.


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