Saturday, July 17, 2010

On July 14th , if you read New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s column Seduction, Slavery and Sex, you were quickly be led to not one but two Only in Sweden phenomena of interest to columnist Kristof.

His opening line? “Against all odds, this year’s publishing sensation is a trio of thrillers by a dead Swede relating tangentially to human trafficking and sexual abuse. ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ series tops the best-seller lists (in the USA)”

You do not know what and who he is referring to?

Here is some help. Walk into your nearest Borders Bookstore and here is what you may see (what I saw in June in Borders in Burlington, Vermont). THE TRIO!

And, if you have not met the heroine of the novels and the films then here she is, Lisbeth Salander in the (Swedish) films, Noomi Rapace as actress and Swedish citizen.


He continues by noting that “ A trio of best-selling Swedish novels, along with legislation, are shining a light on human trafficking and prostitution”. He neglects to mention that trafficking in Sweden was first put in the spotlight by the Lucas Moodyson (also Swedish citizen) film Lilja 4-ever. But what about the legislation?

The legislation to which he calls our attention is the “sexkoepslagen” The law dealing with payment for sexual services. Since he realizes that few women who have been trafficked have the resources and the will to deal with abusers as Lisbeth Salander does, he recommends that legislators in the USA and elsewhere consider adopting the Swedish law as a step toward decreasing trafficking.

Many of the 162 readers agree with him and express in their comments their strong support for taking such action. As one of the 162, and as far as I can tell the only one writing from Sweden, I support his goal but suggest that much more careful examination of the effects of the law are needed before taking such action.
The law says that it is a criminal offense to pay for sexual services. This in contrast with an older view that it is a criminal offense to sell such services. The law has been in effect since 1999. The question is the same as with all well intentioned laws – has it significantly decreased prostitution or more specifically trafficking? Kristof says that it has but cites no sources.

A counter view is widely held, one that says that the law simply motivated sellers and buyers to move even more quickly from the street to the internet. I cannot provide sources at this writing providing data, but I take this opportunity to call attention to a serious study of the larger subject, prostitution in Sweden, a study that undoubtedly bears upon the law against the selling of sex and on trafficking.

First the study, then a closing note on a current court case.

The study is a Ph.D. dissertation with title (in translation from the Swedish) “Is sex work? Swedish and German Prostitution Politics Since the 1970s.” The author is German-born Susanne Dodillet who now holds a Ph. D. from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden after successfully defending her dissertation in 2009.

As I understand from the extensive coverage of her dissertation, she is convinced that her research shows that the German policy of legalizing prostitution is the better approach to dealing with both trafficking and the abuse of women who sell sexual services.

(She has kindly provided me with an eBook of her dissertation, which is some 600 plus pages long, so I eventually can correct the simple assertion above.) Since her dissertation is in Swedish, anyone interested in learning more must turn to possible future publications in the peer reviewed English language literature or contact her directly.

The goal of this post is in principle to note that Kristof and readers seem to have an overly optimistic view of the beneficial effects of the Swedish sex law. In my experience, especially before I moved to Sweden in 1996, I all too often held such optimistic views about human behavior in Sweden.

There is at this time a case that went to trial on July 5th in Sundsvall, Sweden, that is already shaping renewed discussion of the sex for pay law. A man has been held for managing the sale of sexual services provided by five women for at least 400 men, all via the internet. Here are 400 men each of whom potentially could have been charged under the law but who, of course, were not. What conclusions might be drawn about the effectiveness of the law from this case? We shall see.


  1. Great post, thanks for writing about this. I think that the boom in the escort/internet sector is exactly a reason why countries should NOT legalize prostitution if they are serious about combating sex trafficking (as summarized in my review of Sheila Jeffreys article at Legal brothels can perhaps be regulated, but the escort sector cannot, making legalization an out-of-date response to trafficking. I do think that abolitionists over-glorify Sweden's policy on trafficking...from what I have heard, exit programs are not as effective as they should be. This is such a great and important topic to discuss, thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Agreed entirely with @Sex Trafficking Must End. I grew fascinated by the organization Love146, and I have promoted it through school. If we have have resources for convenience that are constantly updated, why do we re-use out of date ideas for issues that can be helped?

    One of the most important things is bringing about awareness and actualization; following that is action.

    As issues become less taboo and appear more in popular culture, if given the correct response, the open dialogues can result in reasonable answers.