Since the introduction of the offence, the number of reported sex purchase
crimes has increased steadily, especially over the past two years.
In recent years, efforts by the police to curtail sex purchase crimes have been given a higher priority. At the same time, the extent to which the police work with such initiatives varies greatly across the country. In some places hardly any such work is conducted, while in other places such work is characterized by resources, commitment and structure.
The Swedish government has commissioned Brå to follow up and analyse the application of the prohibition on the exploitation of a child through the purchase of a sexual act (Chapter 6, Section 9 of the Swedish Criminal Code). The commission includes shedding light on several aspects of how the criminal justice system handles sex purchase crimes against children from police report to verdict as well as the cooperation between the criminal justice system and social services.
In the follow-up, Brå has reviewed documents from 69 cases of reported purchases of a sexual act from a child (preliminary investigations and verdicts) from 2019, conducted multiple interviews with representatives of the criminal justice system and social services, conducted participant observation of police work and studied documents, literature and crime statistics.
The prohibition on the purchase of a sexual act from a child was introduced in 2005 and in 2020 was given the current classification of exploitation of a child through the purchase of a sexual act. The penal provision is regulated in Chapter 6, Section 9 of the Swedish Criminal Code and reads as follows:
§1. A person who, in cases other than those previously referred to in this Chapter, induces a child under eighteen years of age to undertake or submit to a sexual act in return for payment, is guilty of exploitation of a child through the purchase of a sexual act and is sentenced to imprisonment for at most four years.
§2. The provision in the first paragraph also applies if the payment was promised or made by another person.
At the time of publication of this report, the Swedish government has submitted a bill proposing to increase the minimum penalty for exploitation of a child through the purchase of a sexual act to imprisonment for six months. The proposition also includes a special range of punishments of imprisonment for at most one year for the exploitation of a child through the purchase of a sexual act that is less serious. The stricter penalty is proposed to enter into force on 1 August 2022 (government bill 2021/22:231).
Exploitation of a child through the purchase of a sexual act is a serious crime and the number of unreported cases is assumed to be high. Brå's assessment is that together the police and social services need to ensure that proactive efforts are conducted. If the police are unable to use the methodology they have already developed, then they need to develop new work methods for discovering and preventing crimes. Moreover, social services need to take greater responsibility for protecting children from sexual assault through outreach work. The cooperation between the police and social services can, as is the case in Stockholm, be formalised both at an overarching strategic level and in concrete activities within day-to-day operations. To ensure that this type of crime does not fall through the cracks, as well as to create the right conditions for follow-ups and methodological development, the work should be organised in a more uniform manner, both between and within police regions.
At the time of publication of this report, the Swedish government has submitted a bill proposing a further increase in the minimum penalty for the exploitation of a child through the purchase of a sexual act to imprisonment for six months (government bill 2021/22:231). In its response to the concerned government inquiry (SOU 2021:43), Brå does not state its position on the proposal for stricter penalties with reference to the knowledge that the present report is intended to contribute. Based on Brå's review of cases and verdicts, we can conclude that there are often aggravating circumstances and circumstances that bring into question whether the injured parties engaged in the concerned sexual acts voluntarily. Despite this, custodial sentences remain uncommon when exploitation of a child through the purchase of a sexual act is the main offence. It is also uncommon for the rape legislation to be tested when children are exploited by means of sexual acts in return for payment. Accordingly, Brå's assessment is that the proposed stricter penalties are justified.
Author: Lina Fjelkegård, Kristin Franke Björkman and Emma Patel
© Brottsförebyggande rådet 2023