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Finnish sex law impotent ?

The Council of Gender Equality (TaNe) on November 5 arranged a seminar on buying sex in Finland. The seminar was held in the Parliament Annex building in the center of Helsinki and was attended by some 115 people, 80 % of which were women. The general idea was to look at how the recently passed law against buying sex has affected the sex service business and what the situation is now. When the law, criminalizing the buyer of sex services only if the seller is controlled by a pimp or is a victim of sexual exploitation or trafficking, was passed in 2006, it was criticized as being too soft.

In the opening address of the seminar, Tuija Brax, minister of justice, defended the law. According to her the fact that extremely few buyers have been prosecuted and sentenced so far does not necessarily mean that the law is bad. In 2006 seven men were sentenced for buying sex via a pimp, in 2007 seven as well and in 2008 one only. For buying sex from victims of sexual exploitation or trafficking one man was sentenced in 2006, no-one in 2007 and one in 2008. Based on intra-Nordic statistics 10-15% of all Nordic men say they have bought sex at least once, as compared to 0-1% of all Nordic women.

But minister Brax suggested to compare the 2006 law with the legislation against corruption and not with the corresponding Swedish law from 1999 (in Sweden public opinion today clearly supports the 1999 law that criminalizes the buying of sex unconditionally; 79 % of women and 60 % of men support full and unconditional prohibition of buying sex, which is actually more than those supporting the prohibition of selling sex, 66 % and 49 %, respectively). Minister Brax finished by admitting that the law may have to be modified towards Swedish or Norwegian legislation.

The rest of the speakers of the seminar represented legislation and law enforcement as well as the sex workers and the research communities. The entire and detailed material can be obtained from TaNe, below a few notes.

Prosecution complains that it is very difficult to prove that a sex buyer was indeed aware that the prostitute he was buying sex services from was working with a pimp. The prosecuted man is faced with two contradicting roles; that of a person accused of a crime and that of a witness – and as he cannot be forced to give evidence against himself, he will insist that he bought the sex service directly from the prostitute, which is not illegal.

Law enforcement agrees; it is difficult to prove. Barely half the cases brought to the police result in prosecution. The prostitutes protect their clients. The law has not caused criminal prostitution to decrease, it has only driven it underground. It has acted only as a moral norm, but an ineffective one.

Two organizations representing the sex business voiced opinions on the 2006 law. According to an enquiry among sex workers, done by 'Pro-tukipiste', an organization advocating and supporting the human rights of sex workers, the 2006 law was experienced as strange and inappropriate and only making the work environment of the sex workers less secure. With many clients now booking via internet, the personal contacts in bars or restaurants, during which potentially dangerous men could be avoided, are being lost.

And according to ‘Exit - pois prostitutiosta’, a recently founded organization helping women out of prostitution, the only effect of the 2006 law is that those men that have been using the services of immigrant or transient prostitutes have turned to Finnish prostitutes, to avoid the risk of being charged for using victims of trafficking.

The Ministry of Justice, however, seems to be intentionally blind on the impotence of the 2006 law. A representative of the Ministry of Justice summarized his review of the preparation of the law by stating that the fact that the law cannot be applied does not necessarily imply that it is bad !