Finnish legislation on the purchase of sexual services: potential revisions?
The purchase of sexual services from victims of human trafficking and pandering is, since October 2006, a criminal act in the Finnish Penal Code. Five years later, there are several signs suggesting that the law, disliked by so many, could be revised by the current parliament. The most important of these are recent comments by the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of the Interior, who both would like to see a change towards a wider criminalization of the customers of sexual services.
That prostitution has re-emerging onto the political agenda in Finland is hardly a surprise. Both policymakers and the public in general have much criticized the current ban for its inefficiency to prosecute human traffickers, panderers and customers of sexual services and its incapacity to protect victims. Law enforcement officials have claimed that they lack sufficient resources to deal with prostitution, a crime that a significant part of the population still does not consider a crime at all, but a private agreement between two consenting adults that the society has no right to intrude on. Still, differences in attitudes towards commercial sex exists also within the police, illustrated by that at least the police in Helsinki has recently stepped up their control on public prostitution that’s considered disturbing, criminalized in the Public Order Act from 2003. Others have proposed a wider criminalization of the customers of sexual services as a measure to lessen the demand for prostitution, and to make the line between criminal and non-criminal buying of sex clearer.
The suggestion to expand the criminalization of customers is fairly expected considering the context where the current, limited ban to purchase sexual services was negotiated in the spring 2006. Facing the widespread opposition to the government bill that proposed a criminalization of sex customers in every situation, the majority of the MPs advocating the ban felt compelled to compromise to a limited criminalization of customers. This action was taken in order to guarantee that the government bill would not be entirely rejected, and, thus, sending a message that the purchase of sexual services is never exploitation and acceptable in every occasion. The compromise ban was viewed as a first step in legislation, ensuring, if later deemed necessary, a gradual advancement to a potential “Swedish style” full-blown criminalization of the johns in every situation.
In the face of it, the 2006 compromise ban appeared as just as good as the Swedish ban for some of its supporters. The main drafter of the compromise ban, Greens MP Tuija Brax who chaired the Legal Affairs Committee in 2006 was one of them. By 2006, the Swedish ban had been enforced for close to seven years, and all the verdicts based on the ban had come from cases that would also be criminal accordingly to the Finnish, limited criminalization, that is, in cases of pandering and human trafficking. Therefor, for the proponents of the compromise ban, the criticism towards the criminalization has rather been focused on the problems enforcing the ban and prosecuting customers, as the courts have interpreted the evidence criteria very strictly.
Consequently, those interested in prostitution politics have for some time now waited patiently on a coming Supreme Court decision which is to decide if the evidence criteria as stated in the law is sufficient. Meanwhile, central political actors have this year taken stances within the debate on the legislations, implying a possible shift in prostitution policy. The new Ministry of Justice Anna-Maja Henriksson (Swedish People’s Party) has recently acknowledged that the current legislation on prostitution simply does not work. In an interview in the beginning of October, Henriksson suggests that her preferred revision would ban the purchase of sex entirely. Not such a surprising opinion, given that Henriksson has a Party Congress decision from 2000 backing her opinion. The parliamentary group of the Swedish People’s Party has also criticized the current compromise ban, claiming that a general criminalization of the purchase of sexual services would have passed the vote in 2006.
Earlier this fall, Minister of the Interior Päivi Räsänen from Christian Democrats made a statement where she called for a general criminalization of the customers of sexual services. Räsänen is the first Minister of the Interior supporting the criminalization of customers and is also in an important position to do so, given that she should be able to influence the law enforcement units. Prostitution has been a chosen topic for Räsänen for close to two decades already. In the 1990s, she made several initiatives to restrict and control commercial sex industry and protect minors, and, in 2000s, she proposed a general criminalization of those both selling and buying sexual services.
Additionally, as a carryover from the previous parliament, the Legal Affairs Committee remains charged with evaluating the respective Finnish and Swedish legislation regarding the purchase of sexual services. Thus, there are again several reasons to believe that prostitution policy will rise to the political agenda. Yet, one can ask whether there will be any new substance in the debate. Jaana Kauppinen, director of Pro-Tukipiste does not appear to think so. On a seminar in Nordic Network on Prostitution in September this year, she summarized that prostitution is raised to the public debate from time to time, but the arguments are the same.
The battle over criminalizing prostitution in 2006 has, somewhat misleadingly, been perceived as one between radical feminists on one side, and Finnish sex workers, their aid organizations and men defending the(ir?) right to purchase sexual services. Today, many of the feminists supporting the wider ban in 2006 are still in prominent places within Finnish politics, while several of those male MPs that were most vocal in opposing the ban have left the parliament. Also, Finnish Sex Workers’ Association Salli that was founded in 2002 to oppose the criminalization of sex customers and to bring forth the opinions of sex workers is now defunct. However, the rights of sex workers will not be left undefended as the former vice president of Salli, Left Alliance MP and prostitution researcher Anna Kontula holds a seat in the Finnish Parliament. Additionally, one should not forget that the well-regarded civic organization Pro-Tukipiste that gave the most objective and convincing argument against a general criminalization in 2006 is still very active. Their arguments that a criminalization of the customers would only worsen the situation of those engaged in prostitution was difficult to trump.
On the other hand, a change in prostitution politics is not written in the government programme and it is unlikely that a majority of the MPs in the current Legal Affairs Committee favor a tightening of the sex purchase ban. Previous Minister of the Interior and National Coalition Party MP Anne Holmlund who chairs the current committee has a reputation of not placing the chase of customers of sexual services high on her list of priorities. The house of parliament is also filled with new MPs, whose opinion on the purchase of sex is unknown. Except for one new MP whose stance on commercial sex is well known. Left Alliance MP Anna Kontula, who wrote her PhD dissertation on commercial sex in Finland was already in 2006 a much referred to expert in the Finnish parliament on sex work in Finland. As an MP she is currently in prominent place to affect the debate on prostitution policy, if she chooses to.
Apart from the wishes of a few political heavyweights, has anything changed in the Finnish political climate since 2006 that would suggest a possible change in prostitution politics? Yes and no. For one thing, the Swedish ban has been enacted long enough to provide information on whether the ban has resulted in its desired effects: a lessening of the demand for prostitution. Additionally, the ban is no longer a Swedish oddity, as both Norway and Iceland have adopted similar legislation, keeping in mind a possible turn in Danish prostitution policy after the recent parliamentary election. Yet, the criminalization of customers of sexual services is first and foremost a legislation based on values and attitudes, which appear to have become harsher in Finland in the last year. The economic crisis within the Euro area and a possible forthcoming recession is the main subject of debate in the Finnish parliament at the moment, which might also influence the prostitution policy. Commercial sex industry blossomed in the early 1990s harsh economical recession in Finland, apparently increasing both the customers and the sellers. Yet, what is most important, a shift in prostitution policy was not debated during the parliamentary elections this spring and the large political parties still do not have an official stance in the question, making it risky for any political actor to push forward a change in the current policy on the purchase of sexual services.
 Hufvudstadsbladet 31.5.2006, ‘Sexköpslagens öde fortfarande oklart’, Elina Aaltio, Vapaaksi marginaalista – marginaalista vapautta : naisliikkeen ja prostituoitujen etuliikkeen kamppailu seksin oston kriminalisoinnista 2002-2006.
 Interview with Janina Andersson 16.6.2011, former MP of the Greens.
 Interview with Greens MP Tuija Brax 16.9.2011.
 Venla Roth, Defining Human Trafficking, Identifying its Victims (Turku 2010)
 MTV3 Uutiset 7.10.2011, ‘Oikeusministeri vauhdittaisi seksin oston kieltämistä’, http://www.mtv3.fi/uutiset/kotimaa.shtml/2011/10/1404616/oikeusministeri-vauhdittaisi-seksin-oston-kieltamista.
 Hufvudstadsbladet 13.6.2006, ‘Intervju: Sfp:s kvinnobas saknar radikalism i partiet “Man ska göra som det sägs för att få vara med“’.
 Swedish People’s Party MP and parliamentary group leader in 2006, Christina Gestrin on plenum 20.6.2006, PTK 75/2006 vp http://www.eduskunta.fi/faktatmp/utatmp/akxtmp/puh_75_2006_vp_2_22_22_p.shtml.
 Helsingin Sanomat 30.8.2011, ‘Ministeri Räsänen väläyttää seksinostokieltoa Ruotsin malliin’ http://www.hs.fi/politiikka/artikkeli/Ministeri+R%C3%A4s%C3%A4nen+v%C3%A4l%C3%A4ytt%C3%A4%C3%A4+seksinostokieltoa+Ruotsin+malliin/1135268943600.
 TA 26/1995 vp, KVN 45/1995 vp, SKT 127/1995 vp, LA 16/1996 vp, KK 616/1996 vp, KVN 50/1997, KVN 63/1997, TA 149/1997 vp, TA 201/1999 vp, KK 299/1999 vp,
 SKT 251/2000 vp, LA 46/2002 vp , LA 52/2004 vp, LaVM 10/2006 vp, KK 50/2007 vp
 Interview with Janina Andersson 16.6.2011, former MP of the Greens and chair of the Legal Affairs Committee 11.9.2009–19.4.2011.
 Anna Kontula, Punainen eksodus: Tutkimus seksityöstä Suomessa (Helsinki 2008)
- The impact of Finnish parliamentary election results on prostitution policy
- Swedish attitudes towards the purchase of sexual services
- Evaluating the Swedish Ban on the Purchase of Sexual Services: The Anna Skarhed Report
- The sale of sexual services in Norway: legal, but still illegal?
- Norway bans the purchase of sexual services