Swedish Liberal MP Supports Ending Sex Purchase Ban, Backing Brothels
In an interview with the regional newspaper Borlänge Tidning, Swedish Liberal MP Camilla Lindberg has sharply criticized the Swedish ban on the purchase of sexual services as ineffective, and has proposed that a system of legalized brothels be introduced in its place.
According to Lindberg, the current ban has failed to reduce prostitution, as well as having had little impact on the psychological well-being of women involved in sex work. She suggests that the ban be scrapped and replaced by a number of measures, including brothels with doormen, doctor-issued certificates of health for sex workers, and economic measures to facilitate the integration of sex workers into Swedish society, such as access to unemployment insurance and the ability to accrue pension funds.
So, what makes this story of interest? After all, isn’t this simply the case of a single MP in rural Sweden speaking to a small newspaper about a proposal that is likely to be ignored?
Well, yes and no.
While the comments are simply those of one MP, it should be recalled that Lindberg held the top place on Dalarna’s Liberal Party election ballot in 2006 and will do so again in 2010. This is not to argue that her views represent those of Liberals throughout Dalarna, or that she has any significant backing among Liberal MPs elsewhere in Sweden. However, it will be interesting to see — given her prominent placement on the ballot — whether national Liberal spokespeople feel compelled to distance the party from her remarks. Indeed, her stance appears to be sharply at odds with one of the most prominent Liberal Party figures, Cecilia Malmström, the current European Commissioner for Home Affairs, who has championed the Swedish legislation as a crucial instrument for targeting trafficking in human beings for sexual purposes. Moreover, the story has now been picked up by the national media, with an account being published in the tabloid Aftonbladet.
In a debate where prostitution has generally been framed as men’s violence against women, Lindberg maintains that the most common form of prostitution involves “men selling sex to men”, and pointedly calls into question the “story of the tragic woman who is exploited” as one that is not entirely true. To that end, Lindberg is challenging what is sometimes considered to be a hegemonic discourse that has underpinned the popular Swedish understanding of prostitution by highlighting the comparatively under-analyzed phenomenon of gay male prostitution. Similarly, Lindberg calls into question the aim of the Swedish legislation, suggesting that it is not prostitution more narrowly that is the ultimate target, but rather combating trafficking. While key proponents of the legislation would certainly disagree, Lindberg’s argument implicitly rests on making a distinction between the voluntary sale of sexual services (that she terms as prostitution) and trafficking (exemplified by kidnapping). Claiming that this distinction can be made, even implicitly, raises questions as the degree to which those who sell sexual services can be regarded as having exercised choice, or whether they have been forced to do so, either by specific individuals or by broader structural circumstances.
Whether Lindberg’s comments generate sustained debate remains to be seen. Yet, there remains little question that the impact of the legislation will be a hot topic in the Swedish media this June, when Chancellor of Justice Anna Skarhed will publish her evaluation of the ban on the purchase of sexual services. Recall, though, that proposals such as Lindberg’s will not be considered, as the instructions from the Swedish Department of Justice have specified that the evaluation may not propose repealing the legislation.