By Beatrice Ask, Special for CNN
Editor's Note: Beatrice Ask is Sweden's Minister for Justice and Home Affairs.
Stockholm, Sweden - In 1999 Sweden became the first country in the world to criminalize the purchase, but not the sale, of sexual services. Over the years the interest from abroad about our legislation has grown, mainly because we can see a clear link between prostitution and human trafficking.
Sweden has had a steady stream of visitors coming to study the Swedish example and the effects we have seen from it. We have welcomed parliamentarians and other politicians, experts and scholars and representatives from interest groups. Norway and Iceland, for example, now have their own criminalization of the purchase of sexual services. I am pleased that more countries are considering following the Swedish example.
The primary factor that maintains prostitution and human trafficking is the demand for these services, ie. that people buy sex. Efforts to counteract demand are therefore of fundamental importance.
The Swedish ban on the purchase of sexual services has recently been subject to an evaluation. According to the findings of the government-appointed evaluator, prostitution in Sweden has not increased since the introduction of the ban and street prostitution has been halved. Although the number of foreign women involved in prostitution in Sweden seems to have increased during the years, the increase is not as big as in neighboring countries.
The evaluator also concluded that prostitution where the first contact is made via the internet is more prevalent in our neighboring countries and that the Swedish ban has not caused street prostitution to move online.
Nor is there any information that suggests that prostitutes formerly exploited on the streets are now involved in indoor prostitution.
The evaluator also noted that prohibiting the purchase of sexual services has had a normative effect and that there is now in Sweden strong support for the ban.
Furthermore, the police, as well as social workers, state that criminal groups that sell women for sexual purposes view Sweden as a poor market. They choose not to establish themselves in Sweden because of our legislation. The few cases that were discovered were of significantly lesser scope than in other countries.
According to the National Criminal Police, it is clear that the ban against the purchase of sexual services acts as a barrier to human traffickers and procurers considering establishing themselves in Sweden.
Human trafficking is, as we are all aware, a growing worldwide problem. No country can solely, through its own national measures, successfully combat human trafficking. International cooperation and sharing best practices is of the utmost importance.
So, after 12 years with a law prohibiting the purchase of sexual services, we can establish that in Sweden the ban is of great value in fighting prostitution and human trafficking. It is certainly not a solution that takes care of all problems at once, but it is one step on the way. Criminalization can never be more than a complement for broader social measures which are necessary to combat and prevent prostitution.
It is my hope that other nations will consider following the path that Sweden has chosen to take on this matter. Every country must find legislation which best suits its legal system - but I hope that more countries will consider making efforts to decrease the demand for sexual services.
If so, then I think we can avoid young girls and boys being exploited by human traffickers.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Beatrice Ask.