Trafficking, Prostitution and the Sex Industry: The Nordic Legal Model

There is no doubt that the Nordic countries lead the world on most indicators of gender equality. Gender equality experts and advocates have long pointed out that in economics, politics and social services, the Nordic countries top the charts. A less noticed equality indicator is that the Nordic countries outpace others in legal action to stem the sex trade by addressing its unnoticed perpetrators — the mainly male purchasers of women and children in prostitution.

In 1999, with the approval of over 70% of its surveyed population, Sweden passed groundbreaking legislation that criminalized the buyer of sexual services. Part of a larger Violence Against Women bill, the legislation was based on the foundation that the system of prostitution is a violation of gender equality. Sweden’s legislation officially recognizes that it is unacceptable for men to purchase women for sexual exploitation, whether masked as sexual pleasure or “sex work.” Equally important, its law acknowledges that a country cannot resolve its human trafficking problem without addressing the demand for prostitution. The law does not target the persons in prostitution.

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