Sweden, prostitution, tax

// 12 September 2008

Following on from the discussions raised by the Poppy Project’s report on prostitution, and the ongoing debates over whether the UK should adopt the “Swedish model” – in which buying sex is outlawed, but selling sex is not – comes this interesting story from The Local.

Apparently there has been an increase in the number of prostitutes in Sweden seeking to pay taxes – and thus tap into the country’s welfare system and other benefits.

“So far this year I’ve spoken with several women who want to make things right,” said Pia Blank Thörnroos, a legal expert with Sweden’s Tax Authority, to the Göteborgs-Posten (GP) newspaper.

While it remains against the law to purchase sex in Sweden, selling sex is perfectly legal according to Sweden’s unique prostitution law, which came into force in 1999.

Moreover, prostitution has been considered a business activity in Sweden since 1982 and as a result proceeds from the sale of sex subject to taxation just like any other form of income.

“You have to keep track of all your income and expenses; all compensation should be accounted for,” explained Blank Thörnroos.

“One should really have accounting records. And in actuality [customers] should write out a receipt, because the transaction is considered a private operation which is subject to value added tax. But customers’ names need not be on the receipt.”

Income recorded on prostitutes’ tax returns gives them the right to sick-leave pay, parental leave benefits, and a pension.

“It’s important to pay taxes if you want to live a normal life,” said ‘Lisa’, a prostitute who spoke with the newspaper.

This is interesting, because one of the arguments I’ve heard against the Swedish model is that it does not grant the same path to benefits and social protections as legalisation.

I’m not completely bought on the idea that it’s ethical for the Swedish government to accept tax from what they’ve pinpointed as exploitation of women. However, on the other hand having access to pensions, parental leave, sick pay and the host of other advantages that being part of the tax system provides, i.e. being a full citizen, it does seem like a good thing. Perhaps there could be some system rigged up to set tax at zero for earnings from prostitution? But undoubtedly that would have its own problems…

Comments From You

Aimee // Posted 13 September 2008 at 6:21 pm

Personally, I think this is brilliant! I am of the opinion that the sex trade is exploitative because the women involved are not recognised as ‘real’ employees and therefore are not protected by the law and do not have the rights afforded to most employees. I think that your opinion of prostitution derives from your opinions about sex. Personally, I don’t believe that sex is something sacred and special and should be accompanied by romantic music and butterflies and fireworks etc. and I think that by bringing prostitution in league with other forms of work, they are reducing the exploitative nature of the work itself.

Jess McCabe // Posted 13 September 2008 at 6:59 pm

Well, I don’t think that sex should be “something sacred and special and should be accompanied by romantic music and butterflies and fireworks etc” either – although, y’know, sometimes that’s good :-)

The only way that my views of sex play into my views on prostitution is that I think sex should be something that all parties enthusiastically consent to, while men who use prostitutes are buying the right to have sex with someone regardless of their feelings on the matter. But that’s got nothing to do with how romantic or whatever sex ‘should be’.

(The recent research by the Poppy Project is illuminating on this.)

But that’s only a side point, as it actually has little to do with why I think the Swedish model is the best way to go in the UK – I suggest checking out the Feminist Coalition Against Prostitution which has ample resources on this.

Tony Moll // Posted 14 September 2008 at 7:49 pm

“I think sex should be something that all parties enthusiastically consent to, while men who use prostitutes are buying the right to have sex with someone regardless of their feelings on the matter”

I have sex so many times without being enthusiastic. This is rather poor reason for being opposed to sex between consenting adults. The women want the money and it’s there choice to make a trade off with their feelings.

Shea // Posted 14 September 2008 at 8:37 pm

@ Tony Moll– it has nothing to do with being enthusiastic. Usually these women have no other option but to work in the sex trade, they are trafficked into it, or forced through a lack of education and any other viable option.

You really are ignorant of what you are talking about. They are not “consenting” in any real meaning of the word. We prohibit the sale of organs because we recognise that poverty invalidates consent, why can we not understand that with regards to sex? If you took away the discrimmination and stigma these women face, made them economically independent, do you really honesty think they would have sex with these men? Because I don’t. That is not consent at all. There is very little “choice” in the matter at all. The criminalisation of prostitution reinforces the lack of choice and makes them yet more vulnerable.

It never fails to amaze me the number of time “choice” is wielded out, in prostitution, in abortion, when in actuality there is virtually no element of choice at all. Only the most ardent capitalistic misogynist could view prostitution as a “choice”. And it isn’t their “feelings” they are trading off.

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 14 September 2008 at 8:57 pm

Yes indeed women involved in prostitution want the money, but so do men who work for employers. I do not see innumerable men selling their bodies in order to earn money.

It is never that simple as claiming it is just a trade-off. We need to consider how male privilege operates and naturalises prostitution.

Sparks // Posted 14 September 2008 at 9:35 pm

Considering that the global average age into prostitution is 13-14 years old – it’s a far cry from “consenting adults”

“Most women enter prostitution because of lack of choice and

many are coerced by pimps or traffickers: it is the men who

buy sex who are exercising free choice. It is well documented

that the vast majority of women in prostitution are poor, homeless,

and have already suffered violence and abuse throughout their life.

70% of those involved in street prostitution have a history of Local

Authority care. Nearly half report a history of childhood sexual abuse.

Up to 70% of women enter prostitution before age 18 and the global

average age of entry into prostitution is only 13–14 years old. Tonight

in the UK up to 5000 young people will be exploited in prostitution,

from all backgrounds and all types of families, many groomed and

coerced by pimps (Paying The Price, 2004).”


Fran // Posted 14 September 2008 at 10:35 pm

I’ve supported legalisation for a while, because I’ve felt that women who *do* want to go into prostitution should be able to do so, and that legalisation would help protect these women as well as the vulnerable women who aren’t there by choice.

The Poppy Project’s changed my mind, though. Legalisation in the Netherlands led to a massive increase in the number of *unlicensed* brothels, whereas the Swedish model has led to Sweden having the lowest level of trafficking in the EU. And it’s vulnerable trafficked women whom we need to protect the most.

Tony Moll // Posted 15 September 2008 at 7:00 am

“Yes indeed women involved in prostitution want the money, but so do men who work for employers. I do not see innumerable men selling their bodies in order to earn money”

Well, that is because of differences in sexual behaviour between men and women. It is ot due to privilegd. If women created the demand many poor men would be happy to get involved in prostitution.

There will always be a small number of women who are willing to become prostitutes and there will always be men who are willing to use them.

To deny that the vast majority of prostitutes have a choice is to dehumanize them even more that the prostitution itself.

Tony Moll // Posted 15 September 2008 at 10:44 am


“they are trafficked into it, or forced through a lack of education and any other viable option”

Her lack of education or better job prospects does not take away her ability to choose not to be a prostitute!

I was out last week in a posh bar in Geneva. After a few drinks I was chatting up a girl who turned out to be a prostitute. She tried convincing me to take her up to the hotel upstairs (a few hundred pounds a night).

She must have faced difficulty in her life, but she then made a choice to be a prostitute. I do not judge her for it, but I do not then turn her into a brainless passive victim.

Unless she was actually traficked and forced into prostition she HAD a choice.

Anne Onne // Posted 15 September 2008 at 1:34 pm

”Her lack of education or better job prospects does not take away her ability to choose not to be a prostitute!”

So, pray tell, just what options are open to a homeless woman who may have been abused, with no family to support her (or a family that abused her). She may have a child she is afraid will be taken away from her. She may not speak any English. She might have a habit that needs controlling. She may have mental issues that plague her or a disability, that will make it hard to find a job. The help the government gives many of these people is severely limited. Assuming that there must be options plays into blaming women for not taking other options, as if tehy’re to blame for anyting that happens whilst they are prostitutes. And unless you’ve been in their exact situation (hint: includes being female, too, you’re just not likely to get as tempted/coerced into prostitution as a man), or have worked with these women, and got to know what they have faced, you’re really not qualified to assume that they really have choices.

Even women with many options sometimes go into prostitution because of the positive press that being an escort/upper-class prostitute gets. The myth of the happy hooker, and how well some privileged prostitutes live may well influence some women into going in that direction, though of course they are not aware of the real scope of prostitution.

Let’s also not forget the prostitutes who have lived lives of abuse, who were so completely influenced by the abuse they lived with every day that they couldn’t imagine prostitution could be worse. It was, but in their eyes, as someone ignored by the system who just HAD to escape, what real choices did they have?

The feminist philosophy is to recognise that whatever the choice a woman makes, it is what seems to her, based on her circumstances, to be the best choice. Maybe she sees it as the only choice, because the other choices are too difficult, or feel impossible because of the way the patriarchy has pressured her and impacted her sense of what she can do. These women are not making irrational decisions, but their lives are affected by many things that ours are not, and to go all ‘well, they knew it was going to be like, and they chose to go into that’ is bloody disingenuous.

Most prostitutes are raped. They don’t go in consenting to rape, because there is no such thing as consenting to rape.

Many are coerced, or too young to meaningfully consent to anything. They don’t go knowing just how awful things can be, because it’s not something you can imagine if you haven’t faced it. But the things they face is still wrong, regardless of whether they went into something willingly or not. I make a choice to date a man based on what I know about him. At the back of my mind I know the stats for domestic violence and rape. That does not make me any less of the victim, and him any less of a perpetrator if he decides to abuse or rape me. I did not sign up for abuse when I signed up for a relationship. Prostitutes do not sign up for abuse when they sign up to have sex any more than other women. It’s just that many men think that they can get away with a lot more shit with a prostitute, because she’s not really human, one rung below other women (who are of course a few rungs below men, anyway). The men who choose to do terrible things to prostitutes do so because they know prostitutes have nobody to ask for help, because they know they have the power.

To focus on the idea they might have had choices is to take the focus away from what affects them, and the oppresive situation they are forced into.

Making out that most prostitutes have god knows how much choice is like making out that most women who say they have been raped consented. The things that privileged people view as ‘choice’ or ‘consent’ may not actually be. Saying they had a choice makes the assumption that there are real, viable choices for every single woman, no matter how many problems she has. And that’s an asumption one can’t make.

Assuming that you know everything these women could have had to deal with, and how they made their choices (that there really were lots of opportunities they didn’t take, because prostitution is so much easier!) is much more arrogant and dehumanising than turning them into what you claim is a passive victim.

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