Risky business

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Street prostitution in Sweden has decreased dramatically since laws banning the purchasing of sexual services were introduced five years ago. But a survey released on Monday by the Welfare Board indicated that rather than protecting women the new laws have simply driven prostitutes to ply their trade more discreetly - and have led to more dangerous customers.


According to Expressen, Stockholm police say that 'open prostitution' has fallen by 90%, while the social services prostitution group reckons that the number of women on the streets every night has roughly halved.

Quite where these women have gone nobody can say for sure, but many of the women interviewed for the survey now use restaurants, hotels, solariums and massage clinics as meeting points. Police believe there are now up to 250 women in Sweden selling their services over the internet, although this is thought to be for the same reason everyone else uses the internet rather than specifically to get around the laws.

The survey also looked into women's reasons for turning to prostitution. In Stockholm and Malmö the majority of street prostitutes have serious drug problems, whereas in Gothenburg a number of women say they turned to the oldest profession because they were lonely.

But the oddest trend uncovered was the 'bingo prostitutes'. Described as "kind old ladies who could just as well be selling eggs in the square", these women sell themselves to finance their gambling habit - and do so in increasing numbers.

Monday's Dagens Nyheter said that "prostitutes themselves now consider their situation to be more risky". Since the 1999 laws have put off many of the 'regular' customers, a higher proportion are dangerous, with "strange demands" and an "unwillingness to wear condoms".

Indeed, after a winter and spring where every week has brought new stories of attacks on women across the country, readers of Sunday's DN were somewhat disheartened to see summer described as the 'high season for outdoors rape'.

Of course, summer is the high season for outdoors everything, but after analysing police figures, DN found that there were 78 reports of rape or attempted rape in the Stockholm district alone between May and August last year.

"The warmer the summer, the higher the number of reported rapes," said Anders Östlund, a police statistician.

Östlund has identified the most frequent times and places for attacks in Stockholm. The centre of the city - in particular the Stureplan area - and the southern suburbs are the main danger points. But while the majority of attempted rapes take place after closing-time in built-up areas in the vicinity of bars and restaurants, most 'successful' rapes are carried out in more isolated areas, such as parks and playgrounds.

DN pointed out that given the number of bars and people in the area, it is no surprise that Stureplan is at the top of the list. But the fact that it is joined there by the southern suburbs was considered "startling".

"The suburbs in the south of Stockholm are high-pressure environments," explained Östlund. "This isn't just an unusual peak - if you look at the number of reported attacks each year, they're always up there."

Part of the reason for the general increase in reports of rape, Östlund believes, is that victims are more willing to go to the police when they have been attacked thanks to a breaking down of the old taboos against talking about such things. Nevertheless, he is quick to point out that the actual number of attacks is still rising, and this he puts down to increased alcohol consumption.

"Over the last ten years our drinking and partying has moved to bars. Before we sat at home and drank," he told DN.

Meanwhile, Saturday's Svenska Dagbladet warned of a new threat to the fight against HIV: complacency. Venhälsan, a clinic at Söder Hospital specialising in the treatment of HIV, has already dealt with 20 new cases this year, compared to 23 in the whole of last year.

Anders Karlsson, a consultant at the clinic, said that this is the beginning of a wider trend.

"It's not just us who are seeing increasing numbers," he told SvD. "It's the same at other clinics in the city."

More and more people are having unprotected sex, a fact which Karlsson blames on the increasing 'anonymity' of HIV.

"The most important factor that made people have safe sex and avoid infection used to be that they knew someone who had AIDS or HIV, and they could see the consequences - that you got sick, you died, and there were death notices in the papers."

There are 3,200 people in Sweden with HIV, of whom 2,400 are homosexual men. 379 new cases were reported last year and Venhälsan has seen more young men being infected than usual. Karlsson's solution is to give 'the new HIV' a higher profile.

"Even if people don't die, this isn't a disease you want - needing medicine for the rest of your life, the worry and the changes in sex life that it means."


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