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Scots & Irish jump on Swedish moral bandwagon

by on July 8, 2010

DAYS following the publication of the report praising Sweden’s anti-punter law, prohibitionists have been making use of it in Scotland and the Irish Republic to stir up hatred against sex workers’ clients.

Meanwhile, the quoted rise in Danish street sex workers – used by the report to help justify the Swedish measure – has been discovered to be based on false statistics provided by a Danish NGO.

In Scotland, Marlyn Glen (pictured) – an MSP for North East Scotland – has posted (quaintly in the third person) on her blog, bemoaning the fact the report came out three days after her proposals to criminalise the purchasers of sex was emphatically rejected by the Scottish Parliament. The vote was supported by Glen’s 43 Labour colleagues but opposed by the SNP, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives and her amendments rejected by 78 votes to 44.

However, fellow Labour MSP Trish Godman has promised more repressive legislation in Autumn and is already consulting on plans.

Glen seems unperturbed by the fact that her North East Scotland constituency includes Scotland’s oil capital of Aberdeen, where adoption of Westminster-style kerb crawling laws in February, 2007 caused major problems resulting from abandonment of its six year dockside toleration zone.

Quay Services, who had provided shelter and support for the Aberdeen women, was reduced to using text messages to try to re-establish contact with at least some of them after they dispersed, causing increased danger to the women and complaints throughout the city.

In Edinburgh, the kerb crawling law resulted in Scot-Pep reporting that attacks on sex workers for the first nine months of 2007 were 44% higher than for the whole of 2006 and comprised two abductions, 40 assaults, one attempted murder, seven rapes, nine robberies, seven sexual assaults, and 29 ‘other’ incidents (including verbal abuse, harassment, intimidation and non-payment). Many of the assailants were not clients but “groups of male and female youths in cars shouting abuse and throwing missiles such as eggs and bottles” and other passers-by.

These increased violence levels are, of course, something street workers in England and Wales have had to put up with since kerb crawling law was first perpetrated here in 1985.

In her blog posting, Glen describes the vote as an “embarrassing decision” which was “a vote against what has been shown to work in a country such as Sweden with a long-standing progressive reputation on women’s rights.” Not quite so long-standing as Glen thinks, it seems. As recently as 1976, the Swedes were sterilising women – often forcibly – who were considered unfit to be mothers under a eugenics law dating back to 1934, and the leading Social Democrat Party was refusing compensation as late as 1996.

All of which prompts a cold chill when Anna Skarhed says in her report: “Further research is needed…on who purchases sexual services, and suitable treatment methods.” (Italics mine).


Meanwhile in the Irish Republic, the Irish Immigrant Council has also cited the Swedish evaluation for similar purposes.

This Daily Mirror report, typical of many in the UK media, vastly inflates the drug addiction figure for sex workers by taking results from survival street sex worker surveys, bumping them up, and applying them to all sex workers, the vast majority of which are off-street.

As both the Republic and Scotland already have repressive kerb crawling laws, and as the main result claimed for the Swedish legislation has been to reduce street sex workers, it is difficult to see how either could gain much in reductions of sex work from yet further repression against clients.


Danish figures for street sex workers are much relied upon by the Swedes for comparison purposes, along with Norway’s. Heavy increases in Danish and Norwegian street survival sex workers have not been matched in Sweden, says their report.

However, doubt has been cast on the Danish figures by SIO (Sexarbejdernes Interesse Organisation), the Danish ‘Sexworkers Interests Organisation. In a Press Statement, SIO criticises Reden (Nest), the Copenhagen NGO, for its figures which, it says

  • accumulate over the years rather than begin again (and are therefore merely a total of those who have used the service over time)

  • includes hundreds of duplicate entries, counted multiple times, and

  • includes visitors to their service who are not sex workers

A translation of the Press statement is available on Laura Agustin’s Border Thinking blog.

Meanwhile, in Norway there are claims that the street worker population has increased as a result of brothel raids following its adoption of the Swedish anti-punter law, turning women onto the streets.

  1. The Sex law is a counterproductive repressive and moralistic law, but that’s not the biggest problem here. That actually pales to nothing next to the self-rightous, self-congratulatory and dishonest refusal to evaluate the consequences of the law.

  2. Orwell permalink

    Have you seen this? from the Swedish ministry of propaganda

  3. Orwell, I just watched it, and I am simply appalled that Ask and Skarhed present the law as a success after a review based on false numbers and wishful thinking.

  4. Eric permalink

    It all reminds me of the DDR or North Korea…

  5. Xena permalink

    Orwell, I wonder what they’re proposing with this call to treat sex workers as ‘injured parties’ in these ‘crimes’. I highly doubt they’re considering even bigger payouts for the exchange that’s left sex workers so ‘victimized’.

    Sounds like forced psychiatric intervention to me. So much for only jailing the buyers. At least a prison sentence ends when the judge says so. Psychiatrists can soak court mandated ‘therapy’ sessions for years.

  6. Orwell permalink

    Xena, this:

    “The Johns shall pay damages to prostituted persons”

    Politicians to the right and left agree how the payingforsex law should be redefined.


    The law against paying for sexual services was adopted to acknowledge that sexbuyers exploits and damages the prostituted.
    To give those victims of sex discrimination the right to seek damages under civil rights law is in line with that acknowledgement, writes 9 Swedish MPs* and American feminist/lawyer Catherine A.Mackinnon**
    Giving lots of references to Melissa Farley’s research, the article argues that a civil remedy for prostituted persons to claim damages from sex buyers, would empower those who need empowerment.
    The amendment would define prostitution as a civil rights violation against women, and allow women who claimed harm from prostitution to sue the sexbuyers for damages in civil court .

    *including lawyer and former Ombudsman of equality Claes Borgström

  7. Now let me just get this right. Men and women have sex, no money changes hands, fine.

    BUT a man has sex with (normally) a woman and gives her some money, and he then has to pay her compensation for giving it her…? Hmmm…

    Well, I guess he could have thrown it at her in the form of loose change, which possibly could have caused her an injury, but short of that I really can’t think what this is trying to achieve.

    Surely the effect of this is to infantilise women as creatures incapable of rational decision taking?

    If it wasn’t for Helena I would think all Swedes are nuts.

    And to have to descend to Farley’s research is truley slumming it. She’s the one who came out with lots of sex workers suffering post traumatic stress disorder from a study with nobody working for it qualified to diagnose PTSD.

    Anyone still impressed with Farley et al’s “research” should have a read though:

  8. Xena permalink

    FOR REAL?!?
    I’m catching the next flight to Sweden! I could get paid 2 or 3x for flashing my titties at perverts as long as I tell the Dolores Umbridge lady with the dog that I actually had sex with the creepy blond man. Oh, and he forced me to take his nasty money. I want the courts to make him give me some clean money to–uh–show he’s sorry. Can’t forget that part…
    WHOO HOO!!

  9. Xena permalink

    Ok, I shouldn’t joke like that when men’s lives and careers are being ruined over this nonsense. But these women need a serious reality check.

    I can’t believe I’m saying this after all my years of going off on enablers of whatever stupid male behaviours, but for the first time in history it looks like these women REALLY are the ones exploiting the dumb men. Somebody pinch me.

    Ladies(Mackinnon and crew): Beware the backlash from measures like these. FORMER Ombudsman of equality? That sounds like a Green Goblin story waiting to happen. And comic book vengeance aside, if the guy was any good at his job (I don’t know if he was–I don’t follow Swedish politics much) by firing him for anything less than crack addiction, consorting with genocidal dictators, causing environmental disaster, or robbing the public purse of 10’s of thousands of euros, you all are doing the public a disservice.

    With great power comes great responsibility, Peter Parker. I mean, really. After all we’ve fought for, other women don’t want to hear a bunch of men saying I Told You So. See What Happens When We Let Women…

    You people are supposed to be lawyers. Go back to your first principles of justice. Put your blindfolds on and get your fingers off your scales.

    Be fair.

  10. Xena permalink

    Oops, missed that part. The asterisk was to show that ombudsman whatsisface signed the legislation, not that he got sued for buying sex.

    Meh. The legislation is still idiotic.

  11. Orwell permalink

    “MacKinnon and Dworkin, however, continued to discuss civil rights litigation as a possible approach to combatting pornography. MacKinnon opposed traditional arguments against pornography based on the idea of morality or sexual innocence, as well as the use of traditional criminal obscenity law to suppress pornography. Instead of condemning pornography for violating “community standards” of sexual decency or modesty, they characterized pornography as a form of sex discrimination, and sought to give women the right to seek damages under civil rights law.”22

    “The law of equality and the law of free speech are on a collision course in this country.” -Catherine A. MacKinnon

    interesting but very long article here

    Catherine A. MacKinnon: The Rise of a Feminist Censor, 1983-1993

  12. Xena permalink

    Dworkin. That explains everything. She’s given us something of value–Take Back the Night–but some of her work is just MESSED UP. You can’t write legislation for everybody based on one woman’s rape issues. Not to knock her for having issues; I’ve had to fight off my share of creeps too, and I’ve had my ass whooped once or twice for having the gall to do so. But Dworkin’s experience is not every (western) woman’s experience.

    Are women&girls exploited sexually? Of course they are. MacKinnon’s work on sexual harassment in the workplace actually looks intriguing. I’ll be looking at it in more depth later, because it looks pretty sound.

    But attempting to stamp out pornography and other types of sex work is just insane, especially when you take MacKinnon’s social class into consideration. I doubt the woman’s ever gone a day with a broken fingernail, let alone gone a day or 3 without food. Sex workers are just stuck at the lowest end of the “glass ceiling” and the only way to curtail sex work is to raise that ceiling.

    I’m surprised that there are actually enough sex workers for the Swedes to get on about like this. I always heard that Sweden was supposed to be this Egalitarian Utopia where women earn 20% more money than men, daycare and post secondary education are free and politicians make shit pay like Canadian teachers.

    I think you bloggers/commenters are absolutely correct. This is all just rhetoric designed to make that nordic bridge more profitable. As for the Irish (?!?) these are the people that banned Monty Python’s Every Sperm Is Sacred scit. AS IF they’re going to double compensate sex workers (in civil suits) for their wares.

    I still suspect that IF the Swedes allow these civil suits for sex workers, there will be some nasty strings attached, like the money will have to be spent on psychiatric treatment. Or, every woman that attempts to make use of this “right” will get the same bureaucratic bullshit as Canadians who attempt to sue cops, or otherwise challenge the Charter. “Of course, we’ll defend you. When you come up with our $10 000 retainer. And be prepared to spend another 100k and wait several years for the ruling.” And the legislation takes away from government’s responsibility to strengthen social safety nets (eg: battered women’s shelters and other crisis centres) by giving them this lawsuit “option” that likely isn’t even a viable option.

    On porn stars and coercion, unless the woman’s being held at gunpoint, she can always demand cash up front for her part in an erotic film. And she can always pitch a 200 degree studio light at any director that demands she get butt-blasted for her pay. This is how Americans approach sex crimes. If American police bureaus on average only look at 1/7 rape cases in evidence lockers, with a conviction rate that’s even more appallingly low, you’d have an easier time convincing me that the earth is flat than convincing me that these laws are helping even 5% of the women harmed by their acting careers.

    Women like MacKinnon scare me more than men that overtly oppress women and more than women who overtly shame sluts. These women protect their interests by being Patriarchy’s watch dogs and disguise their every move to stay on top of the pecking order by pretending to want to “help” other women. And IF anybody makes use of the policies they design, some guy gets pissed and lobbies for a return to medieval values, which leaves poor women in a worse position than ever.

    Like I said, the whole rhetoric trend is fishy. I’m not buying it. I just hope that when Ignatieff ousts Harper and the boys, our politicians don’t jump on that bandwagon too. Full decriminalization is the only move that will work.

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