“Sweden’s innovative sex-trade laws criminalise clients, not prostitutes. The result: a 70 per cent drop in business. Joan Smith jumps in a squad car with local police to find out how it works – and whether Britain could follow suit”
I am sitting in the back of an unmarked police car on the small island of Skeppsholmen, to the east of Stockholm’s picturesque old town. Above us is the city’s modern art museum but it’s a dark February night and we’re not here to appreciate culture. “They park up there,” says the detective in the front passenger seat, pointing to a car park at the top of the hill. “We wait a few minutes and then we leap out, run up the hill and pull open the doors.”
What happens next is a textbook example of the way Sweden’s law banning the purchase of sex works in practice. The driver of the car, who’s brought a prostituted woman to the island to have sex, is arrested on the spot. He’s given a choice: admit the offence and pay a fine, based on income, or go to court and risk publicity. The woman, who hasn’t broken any law, is offered help from social services if she wants to leave prostitution. Otherwise, she’s allowed to go.
“Buying sex is one of the most shameful crimes you can be arrested for,” explains the detective, Simon Haggstrom. He’s young, black, and his appearance – shaved head, baggy jeans – suggests a music industry executive rather than a cop. But he’s in charge of the prostitution unit of Stockholm county police and he’s proud of the fact that he’s arrested more than 600 men under the Swedish law: “We’ve arrested everyone from drug addicts to politicians. Once I arrested a priest and he told me I’d ruined his life. I told him, ‘I haven’t ruined your life, you have.'”
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