Page last updated at 16:34 GMT, Thursday, 8 February 2007

How Sweden tackles prostitution

In 1999, the Swedish government brought in legislation to criminalise the buying of sex, while decriminalising its sale.

A prostitute receiving money
Laws regarding prostitution are different in Sweden

The idea behind the move was that prostitution should be regarded as an aspect of male violence against women and children and therefore tackled.

BBC correspondent Claire Marshall travelled to Sweden with former prostitute Alison Marie Fenton, 35.

Ms Fenton stopped working the streets after the birth of her third child and wants to improve the lives of English prostitutes.

Here in her diary, Ms Fenton assesses whether the Swedish approach has worked.


When we arrived in Stockholm, we talked to a taxi driver about prostitution in Sweden.

He said he believed that all men who visited prostitutes were guilty of abuse. I wondered whether this man knew enough about the country and its policies.

We went on to meet a lady called Marianne Eriksson. She had helped to bring about the legalisation of prostitution and the criminalisation of paying for sex.

She was a lovely woman who had obviously fought a long battle to stop sex trafficking in Sweden through parlours and brothels. We saw no sign of either while walking around, unlike most European countries.

That night, we went to the only remaining street in the red light area where we were told that we would find working women.

Former prostitute Alison Marie Fenton
Former British prostitute Alison Marie Fenton travelled to Sweden

We met five women working as prostitutes. All were Swedish. Two of them had drug habits.

But they said they had not been offered any help getting off the game. One was still waiting after six months for a drug prescription.

She said that because there wasn't supposed to be prostitution, there were no drop-in centres for health checks, and no-one handing out condoms or needles.

Only one of the five had anything positive to say about the legislation.

Eve, 60, who has been working as a prostitute for 40 years, said that the men think twice before they rob or try to beat the women they have paid for, as they are aware that they can be reported to the police.

But, according to another woman, Pia, who had worked the streets since 1979, nothing had really changed.


We met a police officer called Jonas Trolle.

He said that working women were victims of the state, pimps and society and that he thinks it is not human to buy another person.

But he admitted that there wasn't enough help for prostitutes.

However, the 1999 law has helped them to break gangs of organised crime from other countries that had infiltrated Sweden and its sex industry.

I was very impressed that the politicians, the police, and society as a whole have made a clear point of sticking to their guns

At the end of an investigation, each bust results in between 15 to 20 arrests. Unlike in this country, the women are free to go, and they get directed towards support agencies.

I was very impressed that the politicians, the police, and society as a whole have made a clear point of sticking to their guns.

The clients are to blame for buying the services of the women, and that the women are not to pay the price for their circumstances.


We met Louise Eek, who has had experience of working in the sex industry.

She was a remarkable, intelligent woman who, against the odds, had tried to make a life for herself.

She has spoken out in a society that condemns and looks down on her past.

The only way that any policy can change is if we shout loudly enough

She also believes that the 1999 law is a good one but she says it will take many years for it to be accepted and to change the view of the up-and-coming generation.

But, Louise believes that the system, while a good one, does fail the "victims" on many levels. For example, there is often not enough support for those who try to leave prostitution.

We also visited a women's project which provides health checks. It has over 2,000 visits each year.

They have counselling sessions and a gynaecologist but doesn't have a needle exchange.

One amazing thing is that they have a phone line for anyone who has a sex problem - including men.

The project counsels men who need help with how they should feel about women.


My trip was both interesting and enlightening. The law in Sweden has pitfalls and successes.

I have not been to a country where prostitution is legal, as in Holland, but the fact that Sweden has taken huge, bold strides against any form of exploitation of women cannot be bad.

At least if it was implemented in Britain, then many women I know wouldn't be dragged off time and time again by the police.

It could stop the huge influx of foreign criminals bringing in women, some against their will, to fill our country's ever-growing number of massage parlours.

These are issues that up to a week ago I knew little or nothing about.

Now I feel angry for not doing something about it before.

The only way that any policy can change is if we shout loudly enough.

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