In late 2011, Justice Minister Beatrice Ask raised the red flag about the lenient sentencing doled out in Swedish courts to Swedes convicted of buying sex.
In July 2012, the law was rewritten, allowing courts to send offenders to jail for a maximum of one year, rather than the six months behind bars that had previously been the strictest sentencing available to the Swedish justice system.
Yet the rewrite has had little effect, noted Johan Linander, Centre Party MP and vice-chairman of Riksdag Committee on Justice (Justitieutskottet).
“The courts make limited use of the range of sentencing available to them,” Linander told The Local.
A review of sentencing in the past few years by the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper revealed on Monday that no one has been sentenced to prison for buying sex from an adult – neither before nor after the reform.
“We see that the courts use the lower quarter of punishments with little variation, which is true for most crimes, not just sex purchases,” said Linander, who has long argued that the punishments needed to be stricter.
Social Democrat MEP Anna Hedh, who put together the EU directive on fighting human trafficking, said she was hesitant toward filling Swedish prisons up with one-time offenders.
“But if you are a repeat offender, you should of course end up in jail,” Hedh told The Local.
“The law is important because it sent out a strong message that buying sex is not OK. Even the Moderates, who voted against the law originally, now support it.”
That message has not reached all Swedes, however, In April, a Swedish sex crimes prosecutor was found guilty of buying sex in a case that shocked the justice system. He was ordered by the court to pay 2,000 kronor ($300) in fines and lost his job.
“We cannot dictate how the courts work, but we can split the offense into categories,” MP Linander said, explaining that he would like Sweden to introduce a classification of “particularly grievous sex purchase” into the law, which would give the courts yet another option for sentencing.
“In cases of trafficking, for example, where the sex buyer cannot have failed to understand that they are involved in forced prostitution,” he said.
Anna Hedh agreed with him.
“It is important to differentiate between people who buy sex from a prostitute and people who buy sex from victims of human trafficking. We can’t only fine people who trade in human beings, it’s organized crime,” she said.
Hedh added that tackling demand was the only way forward, and said many of her European colleagues had come to this realization also. Iceland and Norway have already followed Sweden’s 1998 lead criminalizing sex purchases, with some lawmakers in France and the Labour opposition in the UK also taking an interest.
The link between prostitution and organized crime had helped convert even liberal European countries into viewing the sex trade with suspicion, Centre Party MP Linander said.
“We have seen interest in our (sex purchase) law even from countries that have previously been very liberal in the question of prostitution,” Linander said, adding that politicians in Amsterdam, long regarded as a prostitution-tolerant haven, had signalled concern about the presence of criminal elements in the city’s red light district.
“We’ve realized this is no longer about small-scale entrepreneurs, but that big crime organizations are involved here in trafficking women, drugs, killings and other criminal activities”, then mayor Job Cohen told The New York Times back in 2008.
“There are those who say that as long as prostitution is legalized and regulated, there will be peace and quiet,” Linander said.
“But we have seen that is not true.”