Archives de Tag: Don Kulick

One of the most striking dimensions of the debate that occurred in Sweden in the early 1990s about whether or not to join the EU was the way that prostitution emerged as an argument for staying out of the EU. In the two years leading up to the referen- dum in November 1994, numerous articles were published in Swedish newspapers asserting that Sweden would be overrun with foreign prostitutes if the country entered the EU. I have already mentioned reports like the one that claimed that 100,000 ‘Eastern bloc’ women were gathering like storm clouds on the horizon, waiting to get into Sweden and spread HIV. The same year that that article appeared, the theme of threat was explic- itly enunciated by Karin Starrin, then the President of the Center party’s League of Women. In a public speech, Starrin announced that ‘The biggest threat is the outpour- ing of prostitution from the former communist countries. A Russian woman can earn half a yearly salary from a couple of acts of intercourse in Sweden. There are those who think that it’s OK to come here and sell themselves’ (Expressen, 93–06–18).

Don KULICK, “Sex in the New Europe, The Criminalization of Clients and Swedish Fear of Penetration, Anthropological Theory 2003 3: 199


Police harassment of prostitutes has increased – they can be forced to appear in court to provide testimony against the client (they can refuse to be witnessed, but they are still summoned and sometimes escorted to courtrooms), and whenever they are caught with a client their belongings are searched and they may be frisked. Anything that police think they can use as evidence against clients (such as condoms) is confiscated. This practice clearly has consequences for condom use among sex workers. It provides them with strong incentives to avoid using them. The law has been a catastrophe for non-Swedish sex workers – if the prostitute found with a client is not a citizen or legal resident of Sweden, she is immediately deported; in fact government prosecutors complain that in a number of cases they were unable to gain convictions against clients because the pros- titutes they were found with had been deported before they could even give a statement (BRÅ, 2000:4, p. 44; also Expressen, 01–09–30).8 This fact affects the willingness of non- residents to report on violence. A police chief in the north of Sweden observes that, ‘I don’t think for example that a Russian woman would dare to report a man for violence against her, because then she would risk not being given a visa if she ever wanted to come back to Sweden, because it would have become known that she is a prostitute’ (Tidnin- gen Svensk Polis, 02–04–18).

Don KULICK, “Sex in the New Europe, The Criminalization of Clients and Swedish Fear of Penetration, Anthropological Theory 2003 3: 199

Immediately after the law began to be enforced, police noted a drop in the numbers of street prostitutes (again, we are not talking about massive numbers to begin with – in 1999, reports indicate that there were less than 800 prostitutes in the entire country). This may have something to do with the fact that policemen, who had been allotted 7 million Swedish kronor (US$650,000) to enforce the new law, immediately began making their presence on the streets where sex workers worked very visible. Armed with video cameras, which they ostentatiously pointed at any car that slowed down near a sex worker, they effectively frightened away clients, thus driving the sex workers off the streets. By the middle of 1999, however, it seems that many of the sex workers who initially left the streets were back again. In August of 2002, social workers in Malmö, Sweden’s third largest city, estimated that there were about 200 street prostitutes there, which is the same number that was estimated before the passage of the law in 1999 (Kvällsposten, 02–08–09). Since the law came into effect, three government reports have been commissioned to evaluate it and to recommend how it might be enforced (BRå, 2000: 4; Nord and Rosenberg, 2001; SoS, 2000: 5) None of these reports has concluded that the law has resulted in a significant drop in prostitution in Sweden.
While street prostitution was initially (and, it seems, temporarily) affected (see note 9), researchers report that the passage of the law corresponded to an increase of the number of sex advertisements on the Internet. The number of bordellos – which in practice seems to mean apartments on the periphery of large cities, in which Baltic women work, often, it seems, under oppressive conditions – appears to have increased since the law was passed. Prostitutes interviewed in the mass media report that women with drug problems have been driven to desperation and even suicide by the new law, since they have been unable to put advertisements on the Internet and make up for the clients they lost as a result of the law. Social workers agree that the law has made it more difficult for them to reach prostitutes. Police report that their efforts to prosecute pimps and traffickers has been made more difficult, because clients, who before the passage of the law were sometimes willing to serve as witnesses, are now disinclined to cooperate, since they themselves are guilty of a crime (Nord and Rosenberg, 2001: 4). Social workers and street prostitutes say that the quality of clients has declined, and a recent report commissioned by the National Board of Police has concluded that women are now forced to accept not only more clients (since prices have dropped), but also more unstable and dangerous clients than they would have accepted before the law, when there were more clients and, hence, more choice (e.g. GT/Expressen, 00–04–22; DN, 98–08–02; DN, 99–01–18; Nord and Rosenberg, 2001: 27).

Don KULICK, “Sex in the New Europe, The Criminalization of Clients and Swedish Fear of Penetration, Anthropological Theory 2003 3: 199

It is necessary to make it very clear at the outset that the widespread images that many people have of Sweden as a kind of sexually liberated wonderland are utterly misguided and wrong. Sweden has some of the harshest sex laws in the world. It is the only European country, for example, where during the early years of the AIDS epidemic, a national law was passed abolishing existing gay bathhouses and prohibiting the establishment of new ones. It is also one of the few countries in the world where persons with HIV can still be forcibly incarcerated without a criminal trial, simply because doctors believe that they will not follow instructions to inform their sexual partners that they are HIV+. Sweden is also one of the few countries in Europe – perhaps the only one – where it is impossible to remain anonymous as a person with HIV: if you test positive at any state funded or private clinic, your physician is legally obliged to report your identity to the health authorities, and you are then legally obliged to report to a doctor regularly with information about your sexual encounters and relationships.

Don KULICK, “Sex in the New Europe, The Criminalization of Clients and Swedish Fear of Penetration, Anthropological Theory 2003 3: 199