Purchase of sexual services

English summary of report 2022:3

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.

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About the study

Brå was commissioned by the Swedish government to follow up how the criminal justice system applies the prohibition on the purchase of sexual services (Chapter 6, Section 11 of the Swedish Criminal Code). The commission includes shedding light on several aspects of how the criminal justice system handles sex purchase crimes from police report to verdict and how the criminal justice system and social services cooperate. Brå's commission also encompasses analysing the possible effects of routinely giving injured party status to the seller of sexual acts. In the follow-up, we have reviewed 292 cases of reported sex purchase crimes (preliminary investigations and verdicts), interviewed several representatives of the criminal justice system and social services, conducted participant observation of police work and analysed documents, literature and crime statistics.

The prohibition on the purchase of sexual services was introduced in 1999 and currently reads:

§1. A person who, in cases other than those previously referred to in this Chapter, obtains casual sexual relations in return for payment, is guilty of purchase of sexual services and is sentenced to a fine or imprisonment for at most one year.

§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 the purchase of sexual services from a fine to imprisonment. The stricter penalty is proposed to enter into force on 1 August 2022 (government bill 2021/22:231).

Brå’s assessment

Based on the fact that the prohibition on the purchase of sexual services is to help to curtail human trafficking and other organised prostitution activities, the police focus on escort sites is reasonable. This method of targeting escort sites also makes it possible to relatively quickly and easily discover, investigate and prosecute a large number of sex purchase crimes. At the same time, in many places the work is characterised by sporadic efforts and certain arenas fall completely outside the work of the police.

To act as a broader deterrent and create the right conditions for protecting and supporting more groups of vulnerable sellers, the work needs to be more ongoing and widened to encompass more arenas. This is work that benefits from being conducted at local police district level. Police plans for more locally based work to curtail the purchase of sexual services should therefore be implemented. Brå's material includes good examples of how local ongoing efforts involving cooperation between the police and social services have acted as a powerful deterrent against sex purchase crime.

Furthermore, the pursuit of resource- and time-efficient legal proceedings in police work methods must not hamper the investigation of aggravating circumstances or other crimes against the seller when there are grounds for such investigation. In such situations, there is already the possibility to give injured party status to the seller of sexual acts. Brå's assessment is that improved investigations of aggravating circumstances and injured party status for sellers in such cases is better than routinely giving injured party status to sellers of sexual acts. This needs to be combined with generally improved support for people in prostitution through increased cooperation between the police and social services and increased knowledge within social services of the situation faced by sellers and the help they need.

Publication facts

Author: Lina Fjelkegård, Kristin Franke Björkman and Emma Patel

© Brottsförebyggande rådet 2022

urn:nbn:se:bra-1058

Report 2022:3

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