7 September 2017

Some people argue that the Nordic Model does not fully decriminalise prostituted women in Sweden, because the police pursue them for sharing flats under laws prohibiting procuring. This article, based on information from legal scholar, Gunilla S. Ekberg,[1] explains why this line of argument is erroneous.

The overarching aim of the prostitution law in Sweden is to discourage all forms of prostitution-related activities, while not pursuing individuals who are prostituted.

Procuring is an offence under the Swedish Penal Code, and applies to all prostitution-related activities, such as brothels and ‘outcall’ services. The offence is defined in Chapter 6: Sexual crimes, section 12, of the Swedish Penal Code:

A person who promotes or improperly financially exploits the casual sexual relations for payment of another person shall be sentenced for procuring to imprisonment for at most four years.

A person who, holding the right to the use of premises, grants the right to use them to another in the knowledge that the premises are wholly or to a substantial extent used for casual sexual relations for payment and omits to do what can reasonably be expected 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 sentenced pursuant to the first paragraph.

If the crime referred to in the first or second paragraphs is considered gross, the person shall be convicted of gross procuring and sentenced to imprisonment of at least two and at most eight years.

When assessing whether the crime is gross, special consideration shall be given to whether the crime involved an activity, which was pursued on a larger scale, resulted in significant gains, or involved ruthless exploitation of another. (Law 2005:90)

The second paragraph (in italics) has been used in combination with other legal interventions to close down apartments that have been let or sub-let to criminal gangs, and where women have been exploited in prostitution. It is therefore an important tool in the fight against human trafficking for sexual purposes.

It does make it illegal for two prostituted women to operate from the same premises, because the owners, if they are aware, would be committing a crime. However, this needs to be understood within the context that prostituted persons are not pursued.

If the police receive information that two women are active in prostitution in an apartment that belongs to one of them, or to someone else, the primary rental contract holder / owner of the apartment building is approached with information about the procuring offence and requested to ensure that the apartment is no longer used for these purposes.

Provided none of the prostituted persons are under 18, the police would only proceed with an investigation into procuring after informing the primary contract holder/ owner about the law and giving her or him time to cease the activity. However, in practice, the Swedish police do not actively pursue these kind of cases. The Swedish national police authorities, upon contact, note that they are not aware of anyone engaged in prostitution losing their rental contract in this way.

The argument that under the Nordic Model, prostituted women are prosecuted for sharing premises therefore does not stand up to scrutiny – at least not in Sweden.

Every country that has implemented the Nordic Model has done so in a slightly different way, and how the legislation and policies are drafted and implemented vary.

The Nordic Model involves a profound paradigm shift that challenges men’s historic entitlement to sexual access to women and girls and many people, particularly men, resist the changes involved. As men retain disproportionate power within most of the public institutions (police, public prosecutions, legal system, treasury, etc.) even in countries that have passed Nordic Model-based legislation, there are many opportunities for the spirit and implementation of the approach to be sabotaged – on a national, regional and local level.

For example, police might simply fail to arrest punters, as happened in the first year of operation in Northern Ireland, or they might use other legislation to pursue prostituted women, or authorities may fail to provide funding for exiting services, public information programmes, and training for the police and public officials. These factors need to be taken into consideration in any evaluation of the approach.

Further reading

[1] Former special advisor on prostitution and trafficking in human beings, Sweden.