A Swedish model for Australia?

In the last few days two articles caught my attention: one about a raid on a presumed illegal brothel and one about a Sydney city council using private detectives to gather evidence against presumed illegal brothels (as an aside, private agents employed by government agencies/branches should be bound by the rules of evidence as if police). These articles reminded me of the recent ‘Ipswich murders’, or more specifically, of this line from The Economist (traditionally, I believe, an advocate of legalisation):

Some advocate the Swedish model. In 1998 the government declared prostitution a form of “male violence” and changed policies. Men who buy sex are charged with committing a criminal offence. The public has been made more aware of trafficking. And the government finances schemes to help women get out of prostitution, which has now declined.

For the life of me I can’t see prostitution as a desirable career path for anyone, nor can I find merit in the ‘imagine if there were no prostitutes for all those desperate dateless young men’ argument in fact I have always thought it was produced by a sort of alliterative dyslexia and ‘prostitutes‘ was originally ‘prisons‘ or ‘psychiatric hospitals’. I can believe that there are women for whom it is an acceptable or even attractive way of earning more than they otherwise could, and I accept that the State ought to generally have as little say as possible in the sexual affairs of consenting adults. But states do regulate commerce, indeed outside of (attractive) libertarian thought-experiments the state is a necessary actor in a sophisticated commercial and consumer society. Also, prostitution seems increasingly linked to human trafficking, which in turn is one of the main drivers of contemporary organised crime. Not to mention that The Economist article also featured this tidbit (admittedly, sourced from the Poppy Project, an anti-prostitution organisation):

in two places where prostitution was legalised¢â¬âthe Netherlands and the state of Victoria in Australia¢â¬âthere is now a greater connection between crime and sex work than before. One nasty manifestation is a sharp increase in the numbers of women (and children) who are trafficked¢â¬âie, effectively kidnapped and forced into prostitution.

Now I may be just an out-of-touch conservative, but I think this is one Swedish model worth copying.

This entry was posted in Life, Politics - national, Society. Bookmark the permalink.

34 Responses to A Swedish model for Australia?

  1. vivy says:

    I agree.

  2. Geoff Honnor says:

    It’s important to note that it’s not illegal to sell sexual services in Sweden, just to buy – or offer to buy – them. It sounds like a recipe for contravention and black marketeering to me and there are decidedly mixed reviews on how it’s working. One of the claims in the linked article is that up to a third of all punters in totally legal Danish brothels are Swedes……

    http://fb.provocation.net/www.flashback.net/~butte/English/

    I wonder whether part of the problem here isn’t the centering of the debate in the proposition that selling sex is inherently wrong, in and of itself, from a mix of moral, socio-political and feminist perspectives. As with pornography, prostitution provides a bully pulpit for a confluence of traditionally ideologically opposed views to come together.

    The Swedish law seems to stem from the belief that sex between men and women is inherently unequal with predatory men oppressing and exploiting weak and desperate women. The notion that a woman could actually operate from an empowered position of choice in sex work is clearly an anathema.

    That trafficking and drug use do feature in the prostitution mix is unarguable but its equally the case that these are part of the mix – not the whole story. I’d suggest that one way to ensure that they do become dominant features is to drive the whole industry underground. Chuck HIV and STI ‘s into that mix as well.

    Finally, to claim that criminal involvement has soared since legalisation in Australia is to be totally blinkered as to what went on in the pre-legislation era when prostitution was basically run by crooks, corrupt state police officers and politicians.

  3. Patrick says:

    It sounds like a recipe for contravention and black marketeering to me and there are decidedly mixed reviews on how it’s working

    Same applies to financial regulation (apart maybe the black marketeering) – should we give up?

    One of the claims in the linked article is that up to a third of all punters in totally legal Danish brothels are Swedes”

  4. Sacha says:

    Patrick, I read the same article in the Economist and thought that it sounded like an interesting approach – why not give it a go?

    One of the claims in the linked article is that up to a third of all punters in totally legal Danish brothels are Swedes”

  5. Geoff Honnor says:

    “It would be very costly for Australians to visit another country to buy sexual services.”

    My point is that the Swedish legislation hasn’t solved the supposed “problem”. It simply moves it to contiguous jurisdictions. Without the safety valve of the proximity of the rest of Europe, Sweden would presumably have the sort of underground industry that Australia did – and would – have in not dissimilar circumstances. Large numbers of Swedes still obviously want to purchase sex. I’m not convinced that they’re necessarily wicked/sexist/depraved for so doing.

    I obviously believe that there’s nothing inherently “immoral” about two adults freely entering into a contract for the provision of sexual services.

    I wonder how the Swedes deal with male prostitution?

  6. Patrick says:

    MenWomen who buy sex are charged with committing a criminal offence. … And the government finances schemes to help women get out of prostitution, which has now declined.

  7. Geoff Honnor says:

    An interesting assumption, Patrick. In most jurisdictions, male sex workers are predominantly selling services to other men.

  8. Patrick says:

    I imagine you are right Geoff! My understanding is that the law is actually drafted in gender-neutral terms, and I foolishly got a step ahead of myself changing the first ‘men’ from my quote in a foolish attempt to illustrate that point.

    This should do a better job:

    Section 11

    A person who, otherwise than as previously provided in this Chapter, obtains a casual sexual relation in return for payment,
    shall be sentenced for purchase of sexual service to a fine or imprisonment for at most six months.

    The provision of the first paragraph also apply if the payment was promised or given by another person.

    Section 12

    A person who promotes or improperly financially exploits a person’s engagement in casual sexual relations in return for
    payment shall be sentenced for procuring to imprisonment for at most four years.

    If a person who, holding the right to the use of premises, has granted the right to use them to another, subsequently learns
    that the premises are wholly or to a substantial extent used for casual sexual relations in return for payment and omits to do
    what can reasonably be requested to terminate the granted right, he or she shall, if the activity continues or is resumed at
    the premises, be considered to have promoted the activity and shall be held criminally responsible in accordance with the
    first paragraph.

    If a crime provided for in the first or second paragraph is considered gross, imprisonment for at least two and at most eight
    years shall be imposed for gross procuring. In assessing whether the crime is gross, special consideration shall be given to
    whether the crime has concerned a large-scale activity, brought significant financial gain or involved ruthless exploitation
    of another person.

    Appallingly, the maximum penalty for serious rape is only 10 years!

  9. spog says:

    Please go and live in Sweden, and take your appalling perspective with you.

  10. Jacques Chester says:

    A bit silly, this idea. As a classies person I deal with prozzies at the front counter all the time. They generally seem to be fairly cheerful working women. Now I can’t myself understand how they can do it either; but likewise I can’t understand why people would want to be toilet cleaners. Different people have different valuations.

    Generally I am in favour of well-regulated prostitution, largely because it is a risky industry. In the NT there is a good system of registration and police are kept up to date with goings on. There is, so far as I know, no large criminal element in Darwin’s sex industry, just a few brothels and lots of indies.

  11. Six months for buying sexual services! Seems a bit extreme to me. I’m afraid my liberal instincts have triumphed so far on this subject – but thanks for raising it (as it were). I was unaware of this Swedish model.

  12. Tom N. says:

    What spog said … plus …

    Patrick said: “nor can I find merit in the ‘imagine if there were no prostitutes for all those desperate dateless young men’ argument”.

    Why not? Why does the wellbeing of desperate and dateless young men not seem to have a place in your social welfare function? Why should men who are ugly and/or devoid or charisma, oral skills, sex appeal or other qualities that can facilitate horizontal integration with the tender gender be denied an opportunity to meet their desire for sex? Desperate and dateless men are people too.

  13. Patrick says:

    That is not the normal form of the argument. It generally runs along the lines that ‘we need prostitutes because otherwise there would be all this unexpressed sexual tension that would spill over into rape and pillage.’

    And in any case, there is both a) their two hands, and b) women equally ‘ugly and/or devoid o[f] charisma, oral skills, sex appeal or other qualities‘.

    I admit that, particularly when the maximum for ‘gross’ (ie violent) rape is 10 years, six months seems extraordinary. I would have thought prison rather excessive full stop, in fact.

  14. in two places where prostitution was legalised–

  15. Jason Soon says:

    As Yobbo can no doubt tell you and as you can tell by browsing the Daily Telegraph classifieds, there is no shortage on the supply side in the form of foreign students or “students” on working holidays. This idea that we should ban prostitution on the grounds that there is such a supply problem that pimps would resort to kidnapping people is ridiculous.

  16. Tom N. says:

    How very generous of you, Patrick, giving your approval for ‘loser’ men to masturbate or to bed ‘loser’ women, but not to bed ‘winner’ women. And even then its not clear how a man and a woman who are both ugly and lacking in social graces etc readily get together anyway – or would want to.

    Once again, desperate and dateless men (and women, for that matter) are people too, and I suggest that the satisfaction of their sexual preferences, and the wellbeing that derives therefrom, deserves no less consideration in a social welfare function than does the pleasure Patrick derives from having sex with his wife, or from eating candy.

  17. Patrick says:

    FXH:
    from an Australian Institute of Criminology Study published in Working girls : prostitutes, their life and social control :

    according to Victorian Police only 500 or about a quarter of prostitutes in the state are working in the legal brothels

    and

    Police also claim that crime and drug dealing in brothels have increased since their presence in legal brothels has been disallowed.

    I don’t know what weight to give those claims. Also there is an academic called Sheila Jeffreys who argues that legalisation does not reduce trafficking, eg here, and this article from Project Respect in the Age claims that trafficked women have been found in legal brothels.

    Jason: that is more anecdotal than even I am willing to rely on. I do know that around the world human trafficking is burgeoning. The Europol rate it their greatest challenge. That is despite literally millions of desperately poor eastern Europeans – despite everything, they still seem to need false inducements and threats to convince them of prostitution’s riches.

  18. Geoff Honnor says:

    “Police also claim that crime and drug dealing in brothels have increased since their presence in legal brothels has been disallowed”

    A statement so redolent with unintended irony that it’s positively dripping.

    Sheila Jeffreys Wikipedia entry runs as follows:

    “Sheila Jeffreys (born 1948) is a well-known and controversial radical lesbian feminist. She is Associate Professor in Political Science at the University of Melbourne in Australia. Before moving to Australia in the early 1990s, she lived most of her life in the United Kingdom.

    Some of her positions include:

    * the transsexual/transgender rights movement is a reactionary movement serving patriarchy and homophobia
    * lesbian culture has been corrupted by the negative influence of gay men
    * women’s clothing, hairstyles and fashions are a form of submission to patriarchal sadism
    * cosmetic surgery, body piercing, transsexualism and self-harm are all forms of patriarchal sexual violence against the body”

    You and Sheila, Patrick, may well represent the best example of quite different ideological perspectives merging around this issue that I could envisage :)

  19. steve munn says:

    “Some advocate the Swedish model. In 1998 the government declared prostitution a form of “male violence”

  20. Yobbo says:

    “It would be very costly for Australians to visit another country to buy sexual services.”

  21. Yobbo says:

    By the way, there is a very good reason why a lot of prostitutes don’t work in brothels: Brothels take half their bloody earnings. They can do basically whatever they want because the legislation (meant to protect sex workers) actually functions as a de facto protection racket.

    Prostitution should be fully legalised. Constraining it to brothels is an unfair imposition on sex workers.

    There is absolutely no practical reason why buying sexual services should be a crime. It is a purely religion-based objection based on outdated notions of sexuality left over from the Victorian era.

    Every culture on Earth has had prostitution in some form since humans walked the Earth. And there is simply nothing at all wrong with men who use the services of prostitutes. Men need sex. Some simply don’t have time to meet or attract women. Some work 100 hours a week and have more money than time. Some are simply not interested in a relationship at the current stage of their lives.

    The only difference between men and women is that men who crave sex have to pay for it. Women can just ask the first man they see and get a positive response.

  22. patrick – if the VicPlod says 2,000 less 500 girls and boys are working on the game illegally I’d be inclined to ask WTF they are doing about it.

    and again – a statement from VicPlod on drugs and illegal brothels usually causes a severe case of involuntary raised eyebrows down here in Melbourne.

    Don’t mention Paul Mullett and the Vic Police Association – defenders of straight police and fearless on helping rid the force of corruption and the brotherhood.

  23. I’m familiar with Sheila Jeffreys’ position on most things genderish, and I will admit to the occassional nodded head here in the boarding house common room as I read her papers. But as Honnor said:

    Before moving to Australia in the early 1990s, she lived most of her life in the United Kingdom.

  24. The only difference between men and women is that men who crave sex have to pay for it. Women can just ask the first man they see and get a positive response.

    er Yobbo – Men can ask the first (or second) man they see too and get it free.

  25. Yobbo says:

    That’s great Francis. Except for the teeny problem that 95% of men aren’t homosexual, and propositioning a man on the street would more likely lead to you being bashed than laid.

  26. Nabakov says:

    I think part of the argy bargy here stems from a misreading of the post title. I certainly thought at first it meant “A Swedish Model For Every Australian”. My crest fell after reading on.

    And I’d echo Yobbo’s observation above about completely legalising all forms of sex bisnis that involve consenting adults and that don’t involve arson or nuclear devices.

    Throughout history any attempt to criminalise any victimless vice or consensual sensual practice has ALWAYS done more harm than good. Exhibit A: Prohibition. Exhibit B: this current ludicrous and futile war on drugs.

    “Except for the teeny problem that 95% of men aren’t homosexual, and propositioning a man on the street would more likely lead to you being bashed than laid.”

    But in the showers after cricket practice…? “Mate, you looked real hot out there coming slowly over the wicket.”

  27. wbb says:

    Yobbo’s more of a quickie, I believe.

  28. derrida derider says:

    What utter nonsense. After all, in the ACT has been regulated and tolerated in the ACT for about 30 years now and there are none of these kidnapping/drugs/crime problems. Its been legal in Germany, f’rinstance, much longer with few problems. The Vic police stuff sounds to me like whinging by a notoriously corrupt police force that has been deprived of a source of income.

    And I’m with Jason – I think there are good reasons to be sceptical of most claims of “white slavery”. The economics are against it, especially where prostitution is tolerated. After all, slavery is notoriously less efficient than paid labour. Women who have just been arrested, who are seeking permanent residence, who have fallen out with their employer or who just want a free trip home after having made their money all have an incentive to lie about how they came to be in the game. I’m not saying it never happens – just that it’s rare where prostitution is legal and regulated.

  29. Geoff Honnor says:

    “The economics are against it, especially where prostitution is tolerated. After all, slavery is notoriously less efficient than paid labour. Women who have just been arrested, who are seeking permanent residence, who have fallen out with their employer or who just want a free trip home after having made their money all have an incentive to lie about how they came to be in the game. I’m not saying it never happens – just that it’s rare where prostitution is legal and regulated.”

    That’s pretty much the position of Scarlet Alliance, the Australian sex worker peak. They argue that a lot of “sex trafficking” is actually about discriminatory migration and foreign worker practice.

  30. Sacha Blumen says:

    I don’t know how relevant it is to this discussion, but an article in the Economist recently (in its “predictions for 2007” publication) suggested that slavery over the world, including for prostitution, was an absolutely huge business involving many millions of people.

  31. wbb says:

    Last year someone got 10 years for sex-slavery around the corner here.

    story

  32. jimmythespiv says:

    …….anyone who is not aware of the worldwide problem of women traficked SPECIFICALLY for prostitution (including in Australia), and kept there by addiction, is living on another planet. The economic arguments against “white slavery” put forward by Jason and DD are garbage – there are now a lot of poor whites in the world. Also, Yobbo, while the economics of your Bangkok scenario stack up, I suspect that most visits to providers of sexual services are not planned, but spontaneous – whereas you have to put a bit of effort into planning a weekend in Bangers.

  33. Yobbo says:

    Jimmy well it’s true that a lot of visits to brothels are unplanned, but on the other hand there are a HELL of a lot of fly-in/fly-out workers in WA at present, many of whom have virtually zero interaction with the opposite sex for 2/3rds of their life and precious little time to find any when they are home on their week off. A lot of them schedule time in a brothel when they are home.

  34. derrida derider says:

    jimmy the spiv –
    What planet are you on, mate? I’ve no doubt such trafficking happens in Africa and parts of the ME – but then abductions happen there for all sorts of reasons. People get abducted for non-sexual slavery as well. And kept their by addiction? No one takes drugs against their will, mate – you’ve clearly never actually dealt with addicts, preferring the lurid tabloid view of the world. especially

Comments are closed.