Evidence assessment of the impacts of the criminalisation of the purchase of sex: a review

Review of evidence on the impact of the criminalisation of the purchase of sex.

Criminalising The Purchase Of Sex: International Context

Increasing attention has been focused upon the demand for prostitution, both in the UK and internationally (Harcourt and Donovan, 2004; Brooks et al, 2014) although as Kelly et al. (2014) note, the most common position reported across the European Union is that those who pay for sex are rarely addressed in law. In a minority of countries the purchase of sex is always illegal and in a slightly higher number of countries, it is criminalised in certain locations or circumstances (see also Sanders and Campbell, 2014). The relationship between prostitution, commercial sexual exploitation and human trafficking has recently been highlighted (Ekberg, 2004; Di Nicola et al, 2009; Kelly et al, 2013; Schulze et al, 2014) with a number of studies suggesting a relationship between levels of human trafficking and models of prostitution (e.g. levels were higher in countries where prostitution was decriminalised-see Kelly et al, 2013 although this relationship has also been disputed (Weitzer, 2010) and existing evidence bases are problematic.

Calls for the abolition of prostitution as a way to address human trafficking have been supported with reference to Human Rights obligations and international treaties (e.g. 1949 Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others; European Parliament resolution on Prostitution and Sexual Exploitation and its impact on gender equality, 2014 [20] ). At the same time, criticisms of approaches which aim to tackle the demand for prostitution have been challenged by claims that harm-reduction approaches are more effective in securing human rights and complying with international law (e.g. World Health Organisation, 2004; Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, 2011; UNAIDS Advisory Group, 2012).

Debates surrounding the legal context of prostitution have tended to polarise between two ideologically-driven policy positions - one where prostitution is 'managed' i.e. the 'regulationist' approach adopted in the Netherlands, which claims sex work is a 'profession', which should be removed from criminal justice and where men who buy sex are 'purchasers'. The other approach is prohibitionist/abolitionist (or neo-abolitionist) for example, Sweden. In practice, most models are hybrid to some degree (Bindel and Kelly, 2003; Kelly et al., 2014; Barnett and Casavant, 2014).

For many countries prostitution is also a social and economic issue requiring public policy and other social intervention measures to address the needs of those involved in prostitution and their communities. Furthermore, there are overlaps between positions; notably in relation to the rights and/or protection of individuals (predominantly women) involved in prostitution. Where countries have criminalised the purchase of sex, as St Denny notes, (2014) the underlying policy bases for doing so have differed. Norway introduced similar legislation to Sweden in 2009, criminalising the purchase of sex, and extending this legislation to Norwegian citizens who are prohibited from purchasing sex abroad. According to Rasmussen et al. (2014) the main impetus for criminalising the purchase of sex in Norway in 2009 was to prevent and reduce human trafficking. In Norway, the introduction of legislation was aimed at changing attitudes, reducing the size of the Norwegian sex market by constraining supply and demand and taking a preventative approach to entry to prostitution (Rasmussen et al, 2014).

Iceland introduced legislation which criminalised the purchase of sex in 2009, although until 2007 Iceland had also criminalised the exchange of sexual services for money. Canada followed in 2014 and Northern Ireland in 2015, while France introduced legislation to criminalise the purchase of sex in 2016 [21] . In Finland, a partial sex purchase ban was enacted in 2006 which prohibits the purchasing of sex from a victim of human trafficking or procuring (Niemi and Aaltonen, 2014). The Finnish Public Order Act 2003 also prohibits the purchasing of sexual services or offering sexual services against payment in a public place. In Finland and Northern Ireland, concerns about the relationship between prostitution and human trafficking for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation, prompted legislative developments - setting attempts to meet United Nations and Council of Europe conventions and the European Union Directive to address demand. All Nordic countries have criminalised human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation in line with international law (notably the Trafficking Protocol), although Denmark, for example, has a more liberal approach to prostitution.

Sweden was the first country to decriminalise the sale of sex while criminalising the purchase of sex. Emerging from concerns surrounding gender equality and taken forward by feminist activists, commissions on prostitution and also on violence against women took place during the 1990s. In Sweden, prostitution was viewed as being in direct contradiction to gender equality with the origins of the Sex Purchase Act 1999 rooted in gender equality ( SOU, 2010). Laid out in the 1998 Government Bill on Violence against Women, Kvinnofrid, (Women's Peace/Peace for Women), selling sex was decriminalised while a welfare-oriented approach was emphasised with the intention of supporting women to exit prostitution. Central to this Bill was violence against women and the Bill proposed a variety of measures, in different social sectors, to 'combat violence against women, prostitution and sexual harassment in working life' ( SOU, 2010, p. 30). The ban on the purchase of sex was introduced as a separate law (introduced in 1999) and transferred to the Penal Code (2005) after minor amendments. Those apprehended for purchasing sex are typically fined and face a maximum penalty of imprisonment, raised from six months to one year in 2011 (Florin, 2012).

Since the introduction of the 1999 legislation, which prohibited purchasing sexual services, pimping, procuring and operating a brothel, with purchasers criminalised under the Swedish Penal Code 2005, additional developments have been put in place. In 2011 amendments to the 1999 Act included an increase in the maximum sentence from six months to one year in prison; a 2013 amendment to the 1999 Act allowing prosecution in Sweden of someone, resident in Sweden, who purchases a sexual act from a child less than 18 years of age in a country where this conduct is not prohibited; and in 2014, a government commitment was made to criminalise the purchase of sexual services outside Sweden by a Swedish resident (see Ekberg, 2015).

The legislation also allows for individuals involved in prostitution to exit through outreach programmes (Niemi, 2010 cited in Aronowitz, 2014) in some contrast to other countries which adopt a harm-reduction approach; and the introduction of the law was accompanied by a campaign to target potential purchasers (Ekberg, 2004; Florin, 2012). The legislation was promoted at high-profile events through a nationwide poster campaign aimed at raising public awareness of prostitution and trafficking with a focus on the purchasers of sex. According to a study of the poster campaign by a media analysis company (Clear Channel, 2002 cited in Ekberg, 2004: 14) the campaign was noticed by more than one million people. The Government Bill mandated the National Board of Health and Welfare ( NBHW) to monitor the extent and nature of changes in prostitution in Sweden publishing three reports ( Prostitution in Sweden 1998-1999, 2003 and 2007) discussed further below .


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