Earlier this month, Amnesty International adopted a new resolution that called for the decriminalization of all consensual sex work all around the world. By legalizing prostitution, the organization argued, the human rights of those working in the industry would be protected. “Sex workers are one of the most marginalized groups in the world who in most instances face constant risk of discrimination, violence and abuse," Salil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International, said in a statement.
Amnesty's move earned support all around the world: D.C. Council member David Grosso announced he was considering introducing similar legislation, and the Economist wrote in support of Amnesty's position. Yet the move also has serious critics – perhaps most notably the Swedish government.
On Thursday, Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom told Agence France-Presse that she was inviting Amnesty officials to study the Swedish policy on prostitution. "They've lost a lot and not gained very much by [promoting decriminalization]. There are a lot of people who have left Amnesty," Wallstrom said. "We think there is good reason for Amnesty to come here and look at our system."
The "Swedish model" is one of the best known alternatives to full prohibition of prostitution. Rather than criminalizing the sale of sexual activity, it criminalizes the purchase of it and makes it punishable with prison sentences. The idea is that rather than going after the supply, it can cut out the demand, and in doing so support the weak over the powerful. As The Post's Charles Lane put it in 2013, under the Swedish system "the burden of law enforcement falls on customers [mostly men], not prostitutes [mostly women]."
Sweden introduced its policy in 1999. It has since been emulated in countries including Norway and Iceland and considered by a number of others. Earlier this year it was declared a potential model for all of Europe by the European Parliament. One recent report released by a Swedish government agency found that street prostitution was down by around half since 1995, a move it suggested may have been influenced by the policy. Another report from 2010 found that trafficking had been reduced and attitudes to buying sex changed by the law.
Sweden's international supporters see its model as a persuasive alternative to full legalization as suggested by Amnesty. In a letter arguing against Amnesty's new resolution, the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women pointed towards a rise in human trafficking linked to the "explosive growth of legal brothels in Germany," where prostitution has been almost entirely legal since 2001.
However, if Amnesty experts did travel to Sweden to investigate its model, it's unclear what they would find. Some experts say that the decline in Swedish street prostitution is more a reflection of the rise of technology and that prostitution has only been pushed deeper underground. co-founder of the Rose Alliance, a Swedish sex workers’ organization, told the Nation Magazine last year. “And stigma affects absolutely everything.”“The Swedish model really ups the stigma,” Pye Jakobsson, the
And while investigating its proposed policy, Amnesty's researchers did visit Norway, one country that follows the "Swedish model." There, sex workers told them that they faced discrimination and marginalization. “I hope in many years they will respect us like other people," one told Amnesty.
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