Comrades, Push the Red Button! Prohibiting the Purchase of Sexual Services in Sweden But Not in Finland
In: Negotiating Sex Work: Unintended Consequences of Policy and Activism, edited by Samantha Majic & Carisa R. Showden. University of Minnesota Press, 2014. ISBN: 9780816689583
24 Pages Posted: 6 Jun 2013 Last revised: 14 Jul 2014
Date Written: June 5, 2013
For scholars of sex work, Sweden’s decision to criminalize the purchase, albeit not the sale, of sexual services in 1999 represents a legislative development that has been the subject of considerable analysis.
However, scholars have directed comparatively less effort towards analyzing similar reform processes in neighboring Nordic countries, where prostitution policy reform has also been a subject of great public debate in recent years.
Alongside the Swedish experience, Finland’s 2006 revision of its prostitution policies stands out as particularly intriguing. On the face of it, the Finnish reform represented an expanded use of criminalization as a policy tool, with the ban on purchasing sex from trafficked individuals joining existing legislation prohibiting buying or selling sexual services in public places. Yet, what makes the Finnish case analytically tantalizing is that Finnish legislators rejected the Swedish prostitution model. Such an outcome was far from a given, particularly given strong support for CPSS among Finnish policymakers in the early 2000s.
Against this backdrop, this chapter examines the paths leading to divergent prostitution policy reform in Sweden and Finland in the 1990s and 2000s. Why did Sweden wind up with a CPSS ban, but not Finland? In keeping with the ideational literature in comparative politics, we focus attention on both the ideas that were relevant in each setting, and the extent to which actors were able to draw upon these ideas in pushing for policy reform, or the extent to which competing ideas blocked legislative success.
Our argument is as follows: In the case of Sweden, feminist actors across the political spectrum who supported the ban successfully deployed gender equality ideas as well as causal stories characterizing female prostitutes as having abusive life histories in a number of crucial settings, including party congresses, parliamentary debates, official documents, and statements to the press. Pro-ban actors benefited from the degree to which gender equality ideas were more broadly embedded in Swedish political institutions by the early and mid-1990s, the result of long-term efforts by Swedish feminists. No such pervasive discourse involving gender equality ideas existed in Finnish society or its political institutions. While some feminists there pushed for CPSS from the 1990s onwards, they were confronted with interest groups, epistemic actors and policymakers who successfully mobilized ideas concerning the rights of individuals to make decisions regarding their own body and sphere of economic activity without state interference. Of equal importance, the Finnish reform process took place against the backdrop of specific concerns that trafficking in human beings for sexual purposes to Finland was growing rapidly and required a firm policy response. As such, the legislative outcome became centered on the need to ensure Finnish compliance with the 2000 UN Palermo Protocol on trafficking in human beings.
Keywords: prostitution policy, Finland, Sweden, ideational, criminalization, ideas
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