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Crime and Justice

ARTICLE: Is There a Nordic Prostitution Regime?


Crime and Justice

40 Crime & Just. 479


May-Len Skilbrei and Charlotta Holmstrom


When the Icelandic Parliament criminalized the purchase of sex 1 in the midst of an economic recession in the spring of 2009, it became evident that the question whether the Nordic countries' prostitution policies are beginning to form a common regime is a valid one. Sweden made it illegal to purchase sex 10 years earlier, even though selling sex continued to be legal. Finland introduced a partial ban on purchasing sex in 2006. Norway introduced full criminalization of buying sex in 2009. These legal reforms occurred at different times and were influenced by different national and international discourses on prostitution, gender, sexuality, social work, criminal justice, human trafficking, immigration, and the role of the welfare state, but they are also connected to one other. The Nordic countries are social democratic welfare states with a strong emphasis on equality (Kautto and Kvist 2002) and there is also a strong tradition of regional cooperation, particularly on the issue of prostitution (Holmstrom and Skilbrei 2008). To understand policy development in one country it is necessary to contextualize that development within a Nordic context.

In this essay we explore development of prostitution policies in the Nordic countries. We focus on Sweden as it has for the longest time had--by traditional standards--the radical model of criminalizing only buyers of sexual services, not sellers. The Swedish case has drawn considerable international attention and been heralded by radical feminists internationally (Raymond 2004). Politicians, journalists, and activists in the other Nordic countries ...
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