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I n , when Sweden passed a law criminalising the buying but not the selling of sex, many outsiders were dubious. Some people still see things this way, but these days the Swedish model has lots of momentum behind it.
Norway adopted it in and Iceland in Earlier this year, the European parliament approved a resolution by the British MEP Mary Honeyball calling for the Swedish model to be adopted throughout the continent. Should a Labour government be elected in the UK, Honeyball says, there could be a serious push for it.
This summer, thanks to a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, I travelled to the Netherlands and Sweden to write about this growing international campaign to criminalise those buying sex. Supporters of the Swedish model say that in countries like the Netherlands, where pimping and brothel-keeping were legalised in , trafficking has increased and the welfare of prostitutes has suffered.
They are right. Opponents of the Swedish model, particularly sex worker advocacy groups, say that the law has increased the stigma on sex workers, with occasionally grave repercussions. They are also right.
Deciding which model works better is as much an ideological as an empirical question, ultimately depending on whether one believes that prostitution can ever be simply a job like any other. One thing, however, is clear: if countries are going to adopt the Swedish model, there are ways to do it that avoid at least some of the most negative consequences for those who choose to be in sex work. For example, Swedish sex workers are tormented by the threat of eviction, because, under current law, landlords are vulnerable to pimping charges if they collect money earned from selling sex.