Per-Anders Sunesson

Per-Anders Sunesson, who is a lawyer, has been working both in Sweden and internationally for more than 20 years with social and criminal policies, crime victims issues, children’s rights, legislation and welfare systems.

The Swedish government appointed Mr. Sunesson Ambassador at Large for Combating Trafficking in Persons in May 2016. Prior to this assignment he upheld a position as Director General at The Ministry of Health and Social Affairs where he was in charge of the Division for Family and Social Services.

He was between 2009 and 2012 Director for the Department of Supervision of all healthcare institutions, healthcare personnel and social services in Sweden. He has also worked several years at The Ministry of Justice.

“EU Member-States: Presentations on international practices” session

In the late 1960s, and early 1970s, a new public debate took place in Sweden and internationally about sexual relations and power differences between men and women. The debate led to new insights and new initiatives to strengthen and ameliorate the position of women in society, address discrimination of women in all areas of society, and a commitment to counteract male violence against women.

During the 1970s and 1980s, feminists, including women with lived experiences of prostitution, together analyzed women’s position in Swedish society and how men, through the exercise of power using different forms of violence against women, maintained the subordinate position of women, including by those men, who paid for and exploited the most marginalized women and children, mostly girls, for prostitution purposes.

The initiative to criminalize those men, who attempt to and/or purchase sexual acts/services, originated in the feminist political discussions within the Swedish women’s movement in the early 1970’s, and was eventually carried forward, in the late 1990’s, by the women’s associations of most of the political parties.

In 1976, a proposal for new legislation on sexual offences was tabled. In 1977, the Government appointed a Commission of Inquiry, with the objective to investigate the issue of prostitution. During this Inquiry, and building on a feminist analysis, women with experience in prostitution voiced their lived realities, and emphasized the central role of men in prostitution, as procurers, as traffickers, and as prostitution users. The demand as a root cause of prostitution was considered.

The outcomes of this Inquiry were presented in a report in 1981, with the overall conclusion that prostitution is incompatible with gender equality, and with the political ambitions to create a gender equal society in Sweden.

In 1980, Sweden signed and ratified the United Nations Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), thereby making a binding commitment to “take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women.”

Violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women, which have led to domination over and discrimination against women by men and to the prevention of the full advancement of women, and that violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men.

In May 1998, a Government Bill on violence against women was presented to the Swedish Parliament, which, among other actions aimed at addressing male violence against women, proposed the criminalization of the purchase of sexual services. The Bill was the outcomes of two Commissions of Inquiry – the Commission on Prostitution, and the Commission on Violence against Women; both inquiry reports were presented in 1995.

On 1 January 1999, the law that prohibits the purchase of sexual services came into force.
In 2000, the Government made the implementation of the reformed prostitution laws, including the law that criminalized the purchase of sexual services, and the development and implementation of further comprehensive policies and strategies across all policy areas in relation to prostitution and trafficking in human beings for sexual purposes, a political priority.

We have evaluated the law a couple of times from different perspectives. The results show that

  • Street prostitution diminished with more than 50 percent when the law came in to force and prostitution have continued to diminish ever since.
  • The proportion of men reporting that they have paid for sex decreased substantially after the law came into effect; some studies suggest that this fell by almost half.
  • The mindset of people has changed. Surveys were conducted before and after criminalization were introduced. About 50 percent of Swedish population was positive to the law when the law came in to force. Judging by the results of four population-based opinion polls, there has been a change of attitude regarding the purchase of sexual services. In all three surveys conducted since the ban was introduced, almost 80 percent of those asked had a positive view of the ban.
  • Prostitution where the first contact is made via the Internet is more prevalent in Sweden’s neighboring countries. There is nothing to indicate that there has been a greater increase in prostitution via the Internet in Sweden than in these comparable countries. This indicates that the prohibition has not led to street prostitution in Sweden shifting arenas to the Internet.
  • The establishment of trafficking in human beings is substantially less prevalent in Sweden than in other comparable countries. The prohibition of the purchase of sexual services seems to act as a barrier to human traffickers and procurers. According to the Police, criminal groups that sell women for sexual purposes view Sweden as a poor market. They choose not to establish here because of the law. The few cases established were of a significantly lower scope than in other countries.
  • There have been no reports to police about violence against someone in prostitution since the law came in to force.

In short – the ban has helped to

  • strengthen human rights for women – the right to dignity, not be bought and sold.
  • lower oppression/discrimination against women
  • fight men’s violence against women
  • signal that men and women are equals with the same rights.

Some practical steps that can be taken to achieve results is

  1. A clear signal from government that no person can be bought or sold – legislation.
  2. Put the issue of gender equality in the school curriculum.
  3. Educate police, prosecutors, judges, social workers on gender issues and basic values.
  4. Address the issue of Masculine norms in school and in workplaces.
  5. Review social policy’s and supportive work-family policies from a gender perspective.

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