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Penalties for Buyers

Drafters should be aware that while sex trafficking laws do not typically include criminal penalties for buyers, such penalties must be present in the existing criminal code in order to address the demand for the sale of women and girls for sex, which fuels sex trafficking. Penalties should be sufficiently severe so as to deter repeat offences.

The UN Trafficking Protocol recognizes the importance of a focus on the demand for the sale of women and girls for sexual purposes in Article 9.5, stating that “States Parties shall adopt or strengthen legislative or other measures, such as educational, social or cultural measures, including through bilateral and multilateral cooperation, to discourage the demand that fosters all forms of exploitation of persons, especially women and children, that leads to trafficking.” (See: Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, United Nations, 2000) 

Efforts to reduce demand should include a number of interventions, including, at a minimum, strong criminal punishments for buyers.

USAID’s 2011 report, Tackling the Demand that Fosters Human Trafficking, cites three different studies that asked buyers about their decisions to purchase sex and what, if anything, would serve as a deterrent. In each of the three studies cited, conducted in the United Kingdom, Scotland and Chicago, the top three deterrents were, jail/prison, sex offender registry and picture or name in the newspaper or inform family. (See: Tackling the Demand that Fosters Human Trafficking, USAID, 15, 2011) 

 

CASE STUDY: In 1999, Sweden became the first country in the world to introduce and pass legislation criminalizing the purchase and not the sale of sexual services, and Norway became the second country in 2009. The approach of these Nordic countries recognizes that prostitution is a form of violence against women and girls, sexual exploitation, and gender inequality. Now, more than 10 years after the ban was instated, the Swedish government has released the report, SOU 2010:49, providing a substantive review on the ban of the purchase of sexual services from 1999-2008 in Sweden.

The findings from this report show that a legislative focus on demand and the criminalization of the purchase of sexual services can have a positive impact on the ultimate goal of reducing prostitution and sex trafficking. 

The report finds that since the introduction of the ban, street prostitution in Sweden has halved. This dramatic decrease in the prevalence of street prostitution is considered to be a direct result of the criminalization of the purchase of sexual services. Further supporting the success of the ban, before 1999 the prevalence of street prostitution was roughly the same in the capital cities of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. However, in 2008 the number of individuals in street prostitution in Norway and Denmark was estimated to be three times higher than the number of individuals in street prostitution in Sweden.

Further, the Swedish government found that while internet prostitution has indeed increased in the past five years, there is nothing to indicate a greater increase in Sweden as compared to Norway or Denmark, further indicating that the ban has not simply shifted from street prostitution to internet prostitution. Additionally, advocates working in the field identified that they have not seen an increase in prostitution since the ban was instated.

Surveys of buyers and women also suggest that the ban has had a direct effect on the demand and that men are deterred both by the penalties imposed, as well as the social stigma now associated with the purchase of women and girls for sex in Sweden.

(See: Selected Abstracts from the Swedish Government Report SOU 2010:49, “The Ban against the Purchase of Sexual Services. An evaluation 1999-2088”, Swedish Institute, 2010; Tackling the Demand the Fosters Human Trafficking: Final Report, USAID, 2011)

Human rights practitioners suggest additional research on strategies to reduce the demand is needed because prevention efforts that focus on education, communication, and information alone have not led to a significant decline in the numbers of sex trafficking victims. An approach shifting the focus to countries where men consume the sexual services of trafficked women is needed. (See: Trafficking in Human Beings and Sexual Exploitation: Preliminary Research on the Reduction of Demand, Human Rights without Frontiers, 2010)