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The sex shops and strip clubs are notable by their absence, the small number of mainly middle-aged women hanging out on the anonymous urban street do not draw attention to themselves and there are rarely more than a few cars at the kerbside. Until it was legal both to buy and sell sex in Sweden, although brothels were banned, as were profiting from the sexual labour of others and advertising sexual services. These restrictions remain in place today, but they were joined in by a new law which criminalized men who pay for sex.
Casting prostitutes as the victims of the sex trade, the idea of the law is that it shifts the blame onto men who pay for sex. This is now being held up in Britain and elsewhere as a good example of how to reduce prostitution. Supporters of the law, which leads to about 50 convictions per year, say it is all about handling supply and demand. This is one way, at least, to control demand," says Jenny Sonesson, secretary of the Liberal Party's women's movement. The law is widely credited with a fall in the number of street prostitutes.
Official estimates put the number in Stockholm at in , compared with before the ban. The number was even lower immediately after the ban, but has since crept back up. Opponents, including many prostitutes themselves, say the fall is not what it seems - they say the trade has merely gone underground and online, putting sex workers in greater danger. There is little doubt that many prostitutes in Sweden, as elsewhere, have simply migrated onto the internet.
She believes there is more prostitution now than in Lund - not her real name - says the law, combined with the stigma attached to prostitution, makes it impossible to put accurate figures on the number of people in the sex trade:. And since it's very easy to have steady clients, prostitutes have no real need to advertise their services," she says. She is backed up by a new report from the National Board of Health and Welfare, which admits that it can't say whether the law has reduced the number of prostitutes:.
In theory, the Swedish law protects women and punishes men. But for Lund, punishing clients is tantamount to punishing prostitutes themselves and serves to push women further underground. Prostitutes are hardly likely to cooperate with authorities when to do so could result in their clients' being arrested, she says.