Reducing the Incidence of Sex Trafficking: A Review of the Viability of the Swedish Model, or Variations Thereof, in Pennsylvania

Written by Hannah L. Cornell

In 2017, the International Labour Organization reported that there are an estimated 4.8 million victims of commercial sexual exploitation worldwide (p. 4). Ninety-nine percent of these victims were identified as being female, and one million of these victims were children (International Labour Organization, 2017). In the United States, there is no official estimate of the number of human trafficking victims; however, it is broadly estimated that there are “hundreds of thousands” of minor and adult victims of human trafficking (Polaris Project, 2018).  In Pennsylvania, the National Human Trafficking Hotline reported identifying 621 victims of human trafficking, as well as 215 traffickers, in 2018 alone. More specifically, of the 275 trafficking cases that were reported to the hotline, 213 were sex trafficking cases (Polaris Project, n.d.a). It is important to note that these numbers cannot provide an accurate picture of the severity of the problem. There is significant underreporting to the hotline, as many people generally lack awareness about human trafficking, while others may be unaware that such a national hotline exists (Polaris Project, n.d.a).

Unfortunately, sex trafficking is a lucrative industry for traffickers and therefore the problem continues to grow in all corners of the world. Globally, 99 billion dollars in profit is generated from forced sexual exploitation of victims (de Cock & Woode, 2014). Deshpande and Nour (2013) explain that sexual exploitation is incredibly profitable for exploiters as, “…women and girls sold into sex trafficking earn profits for their pimps and traffickers over a great number of years, unlike the profits earned from drugs and narcotics that are sold and used only once” (p. 25). Human trafficking is now “…the fastest growing area of organized crime and the third largest income revenue for organized crime after narcotics and arms sales” (Deshpande & Nour, 2013).

It is an irrefutable fact that sex trafficking exists and must be addressed, be it at a global, national, and state level. There have been many competing theories proposed by experts on how to reduce the incidence of sex trafficking, and there is currently great debate among many in the field in regard to which option will be the most effective. One model that has been proposed is the Swedish Model, also known as the Nordic Model or Equality Model (Stahl, 2015). This paper will review the effectiveness of the Swedish Model at reducing the incidence of sex trafficking and will make recommendations regarding the viability of implementing such a model in the state of Pennsylvania.

Understanding the Dynamics of Sex Trafficking

Sex trafficking is a multifaceted issue; therefore, in order to assess the effectiveness of the Swedish Model in responding to the problem, a basic understanding of the complex dynamics that underlie trafficking must be outlined. As aforementioned, those most vulnerable to become trafficked are women and children (International Labour Organization, 2017). While the average age of entry into sex trafficking cannot be officially determined due to a lack of data, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center claims that the average age of entry into sex trafficking is nineteen, whereas other studies estimate the average age of entry to be around fifteen years of age (Smith, Vardaman, & Snow, 2009).

Research reveals that people with “…previous experiences of psychological trauma, histories of family violence or child sex abuse, drug dependency, homelessness, and social isolation…” are more likely to become victimized by trafficking (The Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 2017). Individuals with few economic opportunities also have an increased likelihood of being trafficked. Traffickers commonly exploit those who lack basic resources by guaranteeing individuals “…work, shelter, food, and support” (The Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 2017). Traffickers are able to easily identify the most marginalized in society, capitalize on their perceived vulnerabilities, and then exploit these individuals for their own economic gain.

While each case of trafficking is uniquely different, many victim-survivors report being involved in a romantic relationship with their trafficker. It is not uncommon for individuals to be married to, or share children with, the person selling them for profit (Polaris Project, n.d.c, p. 8). Another common relationship between a trafficker and victim is familial. A pronounced number of survivors, particularly those who were trafficked as a minor, name a parent or other family member as their exploiter (Polaris Project, n.d.c, p. 8). Many victims “…feel love or a sense of loyalty to their controller due to their familial or romantic ties or because their controller had supported them financially” (Polaris Project, n.d.c., p. 6). Therefore, a powerful emotional bond connects the trafficker and the victim. These types of complex relationships between traffickers and victims exacerbate the difficulties faced by many who try to leave their situation and seek support (Polaris Project, n.d.c).

Traffickers utilize a number of different methods to gain total control of their victims. In general, traffickers seek to “…break down their victims’ psyche and develop control over them through a combination of intense manipulation, feigned affection, brutal violence, isolation, and/or emotional abuse” (Polaris Project, n.d.c, p. 6). In specific reference to the recruitment and control of minor victims, Shared Hope International explains that traffickers, “…make it their business to understand the psychology of youth and to practice and hone their tactics of manipulation. The trafficker’s goal is to exploit and create vulnerabilities and remove the credibility the minor holds in the eyes of their families, the public, and law enforcement” (Smith, Vardaman, & Snow, p. 37). Traffickers also rely upon this type of intense manipulation to control adult victims.

Violence or threats of violence, whether physical or sexual, are often reported by survivors as a tactic used against them. Economic control is another technique employed by exploiters to make a victim completely dependent upon him or her to provide basic needs and services (Polaris Project, n.d.c). Traffickers may also confiscate identification documents and financial resources in order to make it nearly impossible for victims to leave. Methods of communication with family, friends, or the community are often closely monitored or restricted as a way to inhibit an individual from seeking outside support. Survivors recurrently report that a trafficker had gained control over them by exploiting an existing substance abuse disorder, or the trafficker had helped to facilitate a dependency on substances, and then maintained control over their access to the addictive substances. While a trafficker controlling a victim’s illegal substances is common, “…some survivors who had serious medical and mental health issues reported that their controller confiscated their prescription medications to use as leverage” (Polaris Project, n.d.c, p. 6).

The Costs of Sex Trafficking

Sex trafficking is a growing epidemic in the United States, and it has long-reaching effects on, and substantial costs to, survivors and society. In 2012, President Barack Obama passionately expressed that trafficking, “…ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric.  It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets.  It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime…” (The White House).  As the problem of sex trafficking continues to grow, so do the costs to survivors and society. The costs incurred by survivors and society prove how imperative it is that sex trafficking be actively combatted and the root cause of the issue be targeted.

The Impact of Trafficking on the Survivor

The cost of trafficking borne by a survivor is immeasurable. The lasting effects of trafficking permeate a survivor’s entire physiological, psychological, and economic wellbeing. One study found that, on average, survivors reported being sexually exploited by sex buyers thirteen times a day; however, survivors described being sold for sex anywhere from thirty to fifty times on a “typical” day (Lederer & Wetzel, 2014). The physical toll that this rate of forced sexual contact takes upon survivors is tremendous. Lederer and Wetzel (2014) conducted several focus groups of female survivors of sex trafficking to learn more about their experiences and the effects that trafficking has had on their overall health. Lederer and Wetzel’s (2014) study revealed that of the 107 women interviewed, ages ranging from fourteen to sixty (p. 66), 68 percent reported being forced to have unprotected sex (p. 75) and nearly 67 percent had contracted “…some form of sexually-transmitted disease or infection” (p. 71). Moreover, of the 66 women who responded to the question, approximately 71 percent of women reported having one pregnancy while being trafficked and 21.2 percent of women reported having five or more pregnancies while being trafficked (p. 72). Many of these women reported having one, or multiple, abortions (Lederer & Wetzel, 2014).

While sexual violence is inherently a part of sex trafficking, general physical violence perpetrated against victims occurs at incredibly high rates, as well. Lederer and Wetzel’s (2014) study revealed that, of the 103 women who responded to their question regarding forms of violence experienced during trafficking, 73.8 percent of women reported being punched, 68.9 percent reported being beaten, 66 percent stated they were threatened with a weapon, and 54.4 described being strangled (p. 75). As a result of their victimization, survivors in this study experienced a marked number of general, negative health outcomes. A majority of the women interviewed experienced dental complications, gastrointestinal issues, and respiratory problems; furthermore, while being trafficked, many women described experiencing neurological problems and many endured malnutrition (Lederer & Wetzel, 2014, p. 69).  These severe health consequences do not simply vanish after a victim leaves a trafficking situation. Survivors of trafficking experience higher than average mortality rates, and many of the negative health outcomes “…persist years beyond escape from trafficking” (Miller, Decker, Silverman, & Raj, 2007, p. 490).

The sexual and physical violence endured by victims of trafficking has far-reaching ramifications on the psychological health of victims. It is common for traffickers to target individuals with pre-existing mental health issues. Consequently, these prevailing issues become exacerbated in victims by the complex, traumatic experiences endured while being trafficked. Many other survivors without pre-existing mental health issues report that their trafficking experience was a catalyst for pervasive mental health disorders (Lederer & Wetzel, 2014, p. 70). Individuals who have been trafficked often experience, “…substance abuse concerns, high rates of posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety and suicidal ideation” (Miller et al., 2007, p. 489). Lederer & Wetzel (2014) reported that 41.5 percent of the female survivors interviewed had attempted suicide, and that ultimately, “…[t]he picture painted by these surveys and the personal interviews that accompanied many of them is one of complete mental devastation” (p. 70). Hodge (2008) goes so far to claim that, “It is not uncommon to encounter victims in their early 30s who are physically and emotionally disabled…” (p. 147) by their experiences of being commercially sexually exploited.

Upon escaping their trafficking situation, survivors often face economic instability. Many victims enter into sex trafficking at a young age, and thus many lack a high school diploma and were unable to complete other major academic milestones. Additionally, years spent being trafficked result in survivors having little “legal work experience” (p. 3) and a brief resume which creates difficulties in obtaining a job, particularly one that provides a livable wage (The Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 2017). Furthermore, the negative physiological and psychological symptoms experienced by survivors make it extremely difficult to search for, as well as maintain, employment. M’Cormack (2011) explains the overall economic consequences of trafficking cannot be fully realized, but that the issue “…represents a loss in productive capacity of a generation of individuals who would have otherwise gained from increased education and improved health” (M’Cormack, 2011, p. 3).

The Impact of Trafficking on Society

Sex trafficking is fundamentally a violation of human rights, and as such, it undermines the values promoted by global society. Trafficking foremost deprives its victims of their inherent “…rights to life, liberty and freedom from slavery. Trafficked children are deprived of the right to grow up in a protective environment, and to be free from sexual exploitation and abuse. Less considered are the rights to adequate healthcare, education, a decent work environment, and freedom from discrimination…” (M’Cormack, 2011, p. 4). Trafficking also promotes gender inequality, as traffickers predominately exploit women and girls, which ultimately “…reinforces women’s secondary status in society” (M’Cormack, 2011, p. 4).

It can also be argued that trafficking poses a threat to national security. Human trafficking is the “fastest growing area of organized crime” (Deshpande & Nour, 2013) and creates a tremendous profit for traffickers, particularly in developed countries like the United States (International Labour Organization, 2017). Trafficking has been identified as a magnet for other crimes, as the profits generated from trafficking often go to fund other illegal trades such as drug trafficking (M’Cormack, 2011, p. 4). The rates at which trafficking occurs in the United States serves to, “…undermine government efforts to exert authority over its territory, threatening the security of vulnerable populations” (M’Cormack, 2011, p. 4).

While the aforementioned costs to society are somewhat difficult to measure monetarily, this in no way diminishes how profoundly these costs impact society. Due to a lack of data, research has not yet been conducted on the cost of care for a survivor in the state of Pennsylvania. However, a study in Texas was conducted by Busch-Armendariz et al. in 2016 with the aim of “…quantifying the costs to provide care to victims and survivors of human trafficking, including costs related to law enforcement, prosecution, and social services” (p. 16). Busch-Armendariz et al. (2016) estimates that the “cost of care born by society” for a minor victim of sex trafficking over the course of a lifetime equates to $83,125 (p. 59). In the state of Texas alone, it was estimated that there are 78,996 minor victims of sex trafficking; therefore, the lifetime cost paid by society for minor sex trafficking victims is estimated to be $6,566,529,071 (Busch-Armendariz et al., 2016, p. 59). Despite a lack of extensive research on this matter, it remains evident that the cost of trafficking borne by victim-survivors each day, as well as by society as a whole, requires that an improved response be developed to combat sex trafficking.

The Problem with Defining Sex Trafficking

One of the major problems in working to reduce the incidence of sex trafficking is that many in the field are not in agreement in regard to the definition of sex trafficking. In 2000, the United Nations adopted the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. In this protocol, trafficking in persons is defined as, “…the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation” (The United Nations, 2000). The protocol therefore requires that three core “elements” be identified in order for trafficking in persons to exist: an act, a means, and an “exploitative purpose” (Aronowitz, Theuermann, & Tyurykanova, 2010, p. 17). Furthermore, the protocol states that a minor is considered to have been trafficked regardless if there are identifiable means (The United Nations, 2000). While the United Nation’s Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children was ratified by 167 countries, there was a great deal of conflict prior to approval of the protocol (Herber, 2018).

Much of the debate surrounding the approval of the definition of trafficking in persons was related to the distinction between sex trafficking and prostitution (Chuang, 2010). The primary conflict regarding the proposed definition of trafficking in persons was whether or not it should, “…include an explicit force/fraud/coercion requirement, and … whether the end purposes of trafficking listed in the definition of ‘trafficking’ should include voluntary prostitution” (Chuang, 2010). This issue was hotly contested, but a division between “voluntary” prostitution and sex trafficking was ultimately maintained. The United Nation’s Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children states that trafficking can only constitute “…prostitution where coerced, forced, or induced by fraud” (Chuang, 2010).

While the definition of trafficking in persons was both, “…codified in international and U.S. law in 2000…,” the issue remains widely debated globally and among citizens of the United States (Chuang, 2010). Chuang (2010) articulately explains the controversy surrounding the issue, stating, “Despite shared moral outrage over the plight of trafficked persons, debates over whether trafficking encompasses voluntary prostitution continue to rend the anti-trafficking advocacy community—and are as intractable as debates over abortion and other similarly contentious social issues” (p. 1656). Many people believe that prostitution is a conscious choice to sell one’s own body for profit and thus perceive the prostituted person as a willing party in the act. Conversely, others claim that, at its core, prostitution is coercive and it is therefore a form of sex trafficking- making the prostituted person a victim of a crime (Chuang, 2010, p. 1657). It is because of these profound differences in opinion that the response formulated to decrease the rates of sex trafficking varies widely across the world.

The Current Response to Sex Trafficking in the United States

Federal Law

In the same year that the United States signed the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, the United States also passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). This bipartisan legislation was designed as a way to begin implementing the United Nation’s protocol, as well as to improve the federal law that was in place at the time regarding trafficking (The Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking, 2016). While the TVPA does not specifically define trafficking in persons, unlike the United Nation’s protocol, it does define “severe forms of trafficking in persons” (Siskin & Wyler, 2013, p. 2) as “…sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age” (Chuang, 2010, p. 1679).

The TVPA can be described as having “…established the framework for the ‘3 P’s’ of the fight against human trafficking: protection, prevention, and prosecution” (The United States Department of Justice, 2017). Undocumented persons victimized by human trafficking are now offered greater protections under the TVPA, and they may be eligible for protection from deportation through the creation of special visas (The United States Department of Justice, 2017). Prevention efforts were also increased through the TVPA’s development of federal entities responsible for the response to trafficking. The Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons was established in the State Department, and the Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking was formed by “cabinet-level officers” to analyze the progress of the United States, as well as other countries, in responding to the issue of human trafficking (The United States Department of Justice, 2017). Lastly, the TVPA improved federal prosecutors’ ability to pursue charges against traffickers. The TVPA created, “…new criminal provisions prohibiting…sex trafficking of children or by force, fraud, or coercion…,” and also requires that traffickers provide compensation to those they victimized. The TVPA additionally made it illegal to “attempt to engage” in trafficking activities (The United States Department of Justice, 2017).

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act was reauthorized in 2003, 2005, 2008, and 2013 (The United States Department of Justice, 2017). In 2014, the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act was established with the specific intention to decrease the rates of sex trafficking among minors. The act required that child welfare systems across the nation improve their identification of, and services provided to, minors who have been trafficked, or are at high-risk to become trafficked (Polaris Project, 2016). Furthermore, in 2015, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act was passed. This act notably increased “…the criminal liability of buyers of commercial sex from victims of trafficking…,” and furthermore enhanced the support services accessible to victim-survivors of trafficking (Polaris Project, 2016).

Pennsylvania State Law

The federal government passed a number of pivotal pieces of legislation in the past two decades, but it was not until 2014 that the state of Pennsylvania “…enacted its first comprehensive anti-trafficking statute…,” known as Act 105 (Rhodes, n.d.). Act 105 significantly improved the statewide definition of human trafficking by including “sexual servitude” as a form of human trafficking. Prior to the passage of Act 105, only “forced labor and services” had constituted the definition of human trafficking (Rhodes, n.d.). Act 105 made the definition of trafficking in Pennsylvania align with the federal definition which was created by the TVPA fourteen years prior (Rhodes, n.d.). Consistent with the TVPA, Pennsylvania’s definition of trafficking includes that fraud, force, or coercion does not need to be proven for a minor to be considered a victim of sex trafficking when it is found that the minor has been involved in a commercial sex act (Rhodes, n.d.).

Pennsylvania’s Act 105 also created several pivotal protections for survivors of trafficking. Survivors of trafficking are now able to, “…sue any person that ‘participated’ in their trafficking….” as well as “…anyone who profited from their victimization or anyone who knowingly published an ad recruiting them to the sex trade” (Rhodes, n.d.). Thus, hotels and motels utilized by traffickers, as well as websites used to advertise the sexual services of trafficked individuals, can be held liable for their role in promoting trafficking (Rhodes, n.d.). Another major accomplishment of Act 105 is that survivors of trafficking were granted the ability to vacate certain criminal charges that were obtained as a “…direct result of their victimization,” such as prostitution charges (Rhodes, n.d.).

In 2018, the state passed further legislation to specifically provide protections to minor victims of sex trafficking. Act 130, also known as the “Safe Harbor law,” was passed in December 2018. Act 130 protects “…sexually exploited children from criminal prosecution for the crimes of prostitution and obstruction of the highway. This means a child cannot be arrested, charged, or adjudicated delinquent for either of those crimes in the Commonwealth” (Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law, n.d.). Previously in the state of Pennsylvania, a minor could face charges for prostitution, which was a common practice given that most victims of sex trafficking do not self-identify as such. Act 105 requires that a “trauma-informed alternative to delinquency” be provided to minors who are facing charges related to their victimization (Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law, n.d.). The Safe Harbor law additionally requires that advanced trainings be provided to law enforcement officers regarding how to identify, and best respond to, minor victims of sex trafficking. Lastly, the act increased the fines that purchasers of sex and traffickers can incur and developed a fund with these monies that survivors can access for specialized services related to their victimization (Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law, n.d.).

The Criminalization of Prostitution in the United States

In the United States, on a federal level, as well as at a statewide level in Pennsylvania, prostitution is a criminal act. The seller of a commercial sex act, as well as the buyer of commercial sex, can face criminal charges. As aforementioned, since the passage of the Safe Harbor law in 2018, minors can no longer face prostitution charges. Pennsylvania law now dictates that any minor found to have been involved in a commercial sex act is considered to be a victim of sex trafficking (Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law, n.d.). However, upon reaching 18 years of age, a person can face prostitution charges for the same acts that would have rendered them a victim prior to their turning 18 years of age. If an adult is to be considered a victim of sex trafficking, then he, she, or they must have been involved in a commercial sex act that was proven to be induced by “fraud, force, or coercion” (Chuang, 2010, p. 1679).

It is well-established that victims of sex trafficking do not identify as such. Many victims of sex trafficking do not, “…self-identify because of complex dependency relationships with their exploiter(s) or out of fear of police repercussions” (Farell et al., 2019, p. 652). Furthermore, research has found that law enforcement officers are less likely to perceive an individual as a victim of crime if that individual has also engaged in some other illegal activity, such as prostitution or the possession of controlled substances (Farrel et al., 2019). For many trained officers, it becomes difficult to identity victims of sex trafficking when they do not “…fit the stereotype of an iconic human trafficking victim, particularly when victims do not express gratitude about being ‘rescued’ by the police or are not young, White, and U.S. citizens” (Farrel et al.., 2019, p. 659).

One study found that, of the law enforcement officers interviewed, 91 percent reported concern that “…some sex trafficking victims were misclassified as ‘prostitutes’ or as ‘prostitution offenders.’ This was particularly acute in the case of adult sex trafficking, where detectives explained that officers both inside and outside specialized units had to change their perceptions about prostitution” (Farrel et al., 2019, p. 659). For several aforementioned reasons, such as the complex nature of the relationship with their trafficker, fear of their trafficker, or fear of law enforcement, victims do not often disclose the details of their victimization to law enforcement. This further complicates officers’ ability to successfully identify adult victims, as law enforcement relies heavily on the statements of the individual to determine the presence of fraud, force, or coercion (Farrel et al., 2019).

Prostitution in the United States is fully criminalized, yet data reveals that the sellers of sex are more often penalized than the buyers of sex. In 2018, in the state of Pennsylvania, a total of 859 cases involving both the criminalization of selling sex and the criminalization of buying sex were “…brought in the Municipal Court of Philadelphia, Magisterial District Courts, and the county Courts of Common Pleas” (The Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation, 2019). Six hundred seventy-eight of these cases were for the selling of sex, whereas 181 cases were for the purchasing of sex; therefore, “…79% of the charges brought under this statute are against prostituted persons, not sex buyers” (The Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation, 2019). Considering the data from 2014 to 2018 regarding the number of charges for selling and purchasing sex, it was found that, “…On average, prostituted people are arrested at three times the rate as sex buyers are – despite the fact that these two offenses are legally equivalent on their faces” (The Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation, 2019).

In the past two decades, United States Policy has been broadened to now include anti-sex trafficking legislation. The state of Pennsylvania specifically, has made great strides in combatting the issue through Acts 105 and 130; however, many victims of trafficking are not being identified as such, and thus many adult victims are being arrested for prostitution. The number of trafficking cases reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline continues to grow each year (Polaris Project, 2018) and sex trafficking is recognized as the “fastest growing area of organized crime” (Deshpande & Nour, 2013). Notwithstanding the legislative progress of recent years, a different course of action must be taken by the United States to reduce the rates of sex trafficking. In order to reduce the incidence of sex trafficking, other countries who signed the United Nation’s Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children have implemented legislation which varies significantly from the United States. The Swedish Model is one particular example of an innovative legislative approach used to decrease the rates of sex trafficking and prostitution as it acknowledges that both of these issues are interrelated.

An Overview of the Swedish Model

In Sweden, during the 1970s and 1980s, there was a prominent women’s movement which was led by feminists to address and rectify gender inequality in society. At this time in Sweden, neither the sale of a commercial sex act or the purchase of a commercial sex act was illegal (Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Australia, 2017). The women leading this feminist movement, as well as female survivors of prostitution, recognized prostitution as, “…another patriarchal tool of oppression that has deleterious effects on the women and girls who are induced and kept in prostitution, as well as an extreme form of male violence used to control female human beings as a class” (Ekberg, 2004, p. 1191). Continued attempts were made by feminist leaders throughout the 1980s and 1990s to criminalize sex buyers, and eventually this issue became an agenda item for the Swedish Parliament in 1992, 1994, and 1995 (Waltman, 2011, p. 138). During the latter half of the 1990s, the political agenda in Sweden became particularly focused on addressing gender discrimination and violence perpetrated against women, and as such, support was more easily garnered for a law which criminalizes the purchase of sex and recognizes the seller of sex as a victim (Ekberg, 2004, p. 1191).

The Swedish Law that Prohibits the Purchase of Sexual Services, herein referred to as the Swedish Law, was promoted by members of varying political parties and was approved by Parliament as a part of the Act on Violence Against Women on January 1, 1999 (Ekberg, 2004). The Swedish Law has three major components: it criminalizes the purchase of a sex act, it decriminalizes the sale of a sex act, and it provides comprehensive services to individuals to assist them in exiting the commercial sex industry (The Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation, 2019, p. 12).

The purpose of the Swedish Model is to ultimately reduce the incidence of prostitution and sex trafficking by targeting the demand for commercial sex. Ekberg (2013) explains, “One of the cornerstones of Swedish policies against prostitution and trafficking in human beings is the focus on the root cause, the recognition that without men’s demand for and use of women and girls for sexual exploitation, the global prostitution industry would not be able flourish and expand” (Ekberg, 2004, p. 1189). In Sweden, prostitution and sex trafficking are seen as being inherently interconnected issues that “cannot, and should not, be separated” (Ekberg, 2004, p. 1189). Considering the problem through an economic lens, as the demand for commercialized sex continues to grow around the world, so too does the desire of those in positions of power in the sex industry to maximize their profits (Stahl, 2015). Thus, “As employers of sex workers pursue an economic advantage over their competitors, the demand for a cheap, easily subdued workforce sustains the demand for controlling labor in the sex trade, and is accomplished by sex trafficking” (Stahl, 2015). As the demand for commercial sex continues to increase, the demand is most easily met, and tremendous profit can most easily be gained, by repeatedly exploiting the vulnerable in society, often women and children, with little or no pay afforded to them.

In order to target the demand, and therefore to reduce the incidence of prostitution and sex trafficking, penalties for the purchase of sex were increased to deter people from buying. Macleod, Farley, Anderson, and Golding (2008) conducted interviews with 110 men who purchased commercial sex and found that 28 percent admitted to having “…used a woman in prostitution whom they know was under control of a pimp,” while “42% said that they had observed a prostituted woman who had a pimp….” (p. 11). Furthermore, 73 percent of men stated that women who sold sex did so solely out of “economic necessity,” and 85 percent reported that the women “did not enjoy the sex of prostitution” (p. 21). Interviewers asked the 110 men what measures would deter them from purchasing sex in the future, and the overwhelming majority of men stated that increased penalties would significantly deter their desire to purchase sex.  Specifically, 69 to 79 percent of the interviewees explained that they would be deterred by “…a greater monetary fine, having a car impounded, or jail time” (Macleod et al., 2008, p.28). While it was acknowledged by those who were interviewed that the purchase of sex is illegal, many expressed that existing penalties were not being enforced and therefore they had little fear of any negative legal repercussions (Macleod et al., 2008).

The Swedish Law acknowledges that the criminalization of sex buyers must be increased in order to reduce the demand which fuels prostitution and sex trafficking. The criminalization of buyers as outlined by the law is as follows: “A person who obtains casual sexual relations in exchange for payment shall be sentenced…for the purchase of sexual services to a fine or imprisonment for at most six months” (Ekberg, 2004, p. 1192). The purchase of sexual services encompasses all “…forms of sexual services, whether they are purchases in the street, in brothels, or in other circumstances” (Ekberg, 2013, p. 2). In July 2018, the maximum sentence that a person could earn for “aggravated procuring” was increased to ten years (Ekberg, 2019, p. 13), and it should be noted that the maximum sentence which can be served in Sweden for “any individual criminal offense” is 10 years (Ekberg, 2004, p. 1192). Moreover, an individual need only attempt to procure a commercial sex act to face criminal charges (Ekberg, 2019).

The Swedish Law furthermore acknowledges that the sellers of sex are victims of a crime, whether prostitution or sex trafficking, and therefore should not face criminal charges. Ekberg (2004) explains that, in Sweden, “…prostituted women and children are seen as victims of male violence who do not risk legal penalties. Instead, they have a right to assistance to escape prostitution. Pimps, traffickers, and prostitution buyers knowingly exploit the vulnerability of the victims caused by high rates of poverty, unemployment, discriminatory labor practices, gender inequalities, and male violence against women and children. … Sweden recognizes that to succeed in the campaign against sexual exploitation, the political, social, and economic conditions under which women and girls live must be ameliorated by introducing development measures of, for example, poverty reduction, sustainable development, and social programs focusing specifically on women” (p. 1190). It is for these reasons outlined above that the Swedish Law includes comprehensive support services to assist women in exiting prostitution and sex trafficking.

The Swedish government designated monies for women who are victims of male violence, which includes women who are victims of prostitution and trafficking, through the Act on Violence Against Women of which the Swedish Law is a part. Therefore, “…the state, to a certain extent, is responsible for … providing women with access to shelters, counseling, education, and job training. The direct responsibility for the provision of services to victims of prostitution and trafficking in human beings, according to law, remains with the Swedish municipalities” (Ekberg, 2004, p.1192). The various “municipal support and assistance services for victims” operate in the major cities across Sweden, and extensive outreach for women engaged in the commercial sex industry is conducted by staff at these agencies; moreover, these programs provide victim-survivors with access to mental and physical health care (Ekberg, 2013).

Apart from the money designated to victim services as part of the Act on Violence Against Women, the costs associated with the Swedish Law were largely for police enforcement of the new legislation. When the Swedish Law was enacted, SEK$7 million, which is approximately US$1 million, was designated to the police to enforce the new policies. In 2003, the Swedish government designated another US$4.1 million for three years “…to the National Board of Police, specifically earmarked for measures to combat prostitution and trafficking in human beings” (Ekberg, 2004, p. 1193).

The Effectiveness of the Swedish Model

A Decrease in the Rates of Prostitution and Trafficking

Research suggests that the Swedish Model has been effective in reducing the incidence of prostitution and sex trafficking. Ekberg reports that from 1999 until 2004, it is estimated that “…the number of women involved in street prostitution has decreased by at least 30% to 50%, and the recruitment of new women has come almost to a halt” (2004, p. 1193). Furthermore, in 2010, an evaluation of the Swedish Law was conducted for the years 1999 to 2008. The evaluation revealed that, “Since the introduction of the ban on the purchase of sexual services, street prostitution in Sweden has been halved” (Skarhead, 2010, p. 34). In the socioeconomically comparable countries of Denmark and Norway, where the purchase of sexual services had not been banned at the time of data collection, the rates of prostitution were found to be three times greater than in Sweden. As the rates of prostitution among all three countries were similar prior to the passage of the Swedish Law, it can be purported that the striking decrease in rates of prostitution in Sweden was a result of the criminalization of the purchase of sex. This theory gained support when Norway passed legislation in 2009 to criminalize the purchase of sex, and an “…immediate, dramatic reduction of street prostitution occurred there” (Skarhead, 2010, p. 35).

The Swedish government’s evaluation of the policy also asserts that while street prostitution has diminished tremendously, there is no indication that prostituted people have moved to indoor markets as a result of the law (Skarhead, 2010). The evaluation explained that, “Online prostitution has increased in accordance with all other sold services since 1999 but not to the extent it can be said that street prostitution has simply migrated” (Skarhead, 2010). The official evaluation produced by the Swedish government acknowledges that it is difficult to obtain accurate data on the rates of sex trafficking; however, in Sweden, the rates of sex trafficking are “…considered to be substantially smaller in scale than in other comparable countries” (Skarhead, 2010, p. 37).

The Diminishment of the Sex Market in Sweden

Sweden’s National Criminal Investigation Department was alerted by various national police forces across Europe, as well as by Europol, that it is no longer an appealing market for sex trafficking due to the heightened penalties for the purchase of sexual services (Ekberg, 2004, p. 1200). The information gained through investigations, as well as from women who were victimized by sex trafficking, reveals that traffickers are deterred from conducting their business in Sweden because it is no longer cost-effective to do so. By analyzing the information shared from law enforcement agencies and victims of trafficking, it was determined that traffickers in Sweden are forced to accompany their victims to and from rendezvous with the buyer, therefore “…giving less time to fewer buyers, and gaining less revenue for pimps than if women had been in street prostitution” (Ekberg, 2004, p. 1200). Traffickers reported that purchasers of sex show increased fear of the penalties, and traffickers are thus forced to implement expensive methods to ensure privacy and discretion for the buyers. Survivors of sex trafficking reported that their traffickers preferred to operate in other European countries “…where the operating conditions are more attractive, where the buyers are not criminalized and where certain prostitution activities are either tolerated or legalized” (Ekberg, 2004, p. 1200). The Swedish Model reduced the demand for the purchase of sexual services, and as a result, succeeded in making the country less appealing for traffickers.

The Normative Function of the Swedish Law

Ekberg (2004) asserts that one of the primary functions of the Swedish Model is “normative” (p. 1205). She expounds on this by stating that the Swedish Law is, “…a concrete and tangible expression of the belief that in Sweden women and children are not for sale. It effectively dispels men’s self-assumed right to buy women and children for prostitution purposes and questions the idea that men should be able to express their sexuality in any form and at any time” (p. 1205). The effectiveness of the Swedish Model should not be solely measured through the reported decrease in rates of sex trafficking and prostitution. The model’s effectiveness should also be assessed by measuring the public’s change in perception regarding the purchase and sale of sexual services following the passage of the law.

The Swedish government conducted several surveys in order to measure public opinion both prior to and following the passage of the Swedish Law. It was determined that following the passage of the law, there was a significant change in attitude regarding the purchase of sexual services, with 70 percent of respondents indicating they possessed a “positive view” of criminalization for sex buyers. Specifically, the greatest support was identified among “young people” (Skarhead, 2010, p. 37). These surveys indicate that the public’s opinion regarding the commercial sexual exploitation of persons is notably shifting, with the purchase of sex being recognized as a serious crime.

Replication of the Swedish Model

A testament to the effectiveness of the Swedish Model is that it has provoked far-reaching, global conversation about sex trafficking and its interconnectedness to prostitution. Many other countries that had fully legalized or fully decriminalized prostitution embraced the innovative model upon learning of its success in reducing rates of sex trafficking and prostitution. South Korea adopted the Swedish Model in 2004, while Norway and Iceland followed in 2009. Northern Ireland adopted the approach in 2012, with Canada ensuing in 2014 and France in 2016. More recently, the Republic of Ireland implemented the model in 2017 and Israel embraced the model in 2019. Spain is currently in the process of adopting the legislation. Other nations including Finland, Italy, and Luxembourg have adopted legislation to reduce the rates of commercial sexual exploitation which is similar in many facets to the Swedish Model (The Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation, 2019, p. 12).

Criticism of the Swedish Model

            While there is a great deal of public support internationally for the Swedish Model, there are also many who oppose the model. One argument of those in opposition of the approach is that sex trafficking is not a legitimate issue in Sweden, and that the public outrage over sex trafficking can be “…categorized as a moral panic” (Heber, 2018, p. 17). It has been suggested that there are few cases of “serious sex trafficking” in the nation, yet there is a marked amount of resources being dedicated by the government to combat the issue (Herber, 2018, p. 16). Those who believe that sex trafficking is not a serious problem in Sweden cite data which shows that there are a small number of sex trafficking cases being reported to law enforcement officials and only a minority of these cases are being prosecuted. Those who reject the Swedish Model remark that there is little accurate data surrounding the issue of sex trafficking, and that this makes it both difficult to quantify the issue, as well as measure the effectiveness of the model.

Moreover, critics suggest that the Swedish Model promotes a harmful rescuer mentality because it operates on the assumption that all people who sell sex are victims (Heber, 2018). First responders and professionals focus on “…searching for and rescuing victims… regardless of whether or not the victims themselves want to be rescued” (p. 6). Individuals who may not self-identify as victims may have to experience “…involuntary participation in a criminal justice process or repatriation” (Heber, 2018, p. 6). This type of response may diminish a person’s sense of agency and could also be perceived as reminiscent of the unhealthy power dynamics utilized by exploiters. Critics suggest that those with lived experiences of prostitution or sex trafficking need to have a more prominent role in shaping future policies related to these issues (Heber, 2018).

Other Approaches for Reducing the Incidence of Sex Trafficking

It is important to briefly addresses that there are other approaches, apart from the Swedish Model, which have been implemented to protect prostituted persons and reduce rates of trafficking. The legalization of prostitution is one such approach. The legalization of prostitution makes both the sale and purchase of sex legal, while also creating a “…legal mechanism to regulate the commercial sex industry” (The Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation, 2019, p. 12). Regulation of the industry is done through the establishment of rules under which “sex work” can take place (Stahl, 2015). For example, individuals can be penalized if found selling sex “outside the regulated industry” (Stahl, 2015, p. 27). This approach has been adopted in countries such as the Netherlands and Germany. Those countries that have legalized prostitution tend to “…experience a larger reported incidence of trafficking inflows” (Cho, Dreher, & Neumayer, 2013, p. 25). It could also be argued that, “State-sponsored prostitution endangers all women and children in that acts of sexual predation are normalized” (Farley, 2004, p. 1116).

Another approach employed by countries is the full decriminalization of prostitution. This approach decriminalizes both the sale and purchase of sex; however, unlike the legalization approach, it does not “…impose a legal mechanism to regulate the commercial sex industry” (The Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation, 2019, p. 12).  Moreover, full decriminalization of prostitution removes all “criminal liability” not just for the seller and buyer of sex, but also for those “…facilitating or promoting the sale of sex” (The Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation, 2019, p. 23). New Zealand, as well as New South Wales, Australia, practices full decriminalization. Decriminalization of prostitution creates an increased demand for commercial sex, which results in increased rates of individuals being trafficked to meet this demand. Studies have found that “…the presence of a thriving adult sex industry in a community” resulted in significantly increased rates of child sex trafficking (Farley, 2004, p. 1116). Moreover, substantial evidence has been found which suggests, no matter the “legal status” of prostitution, physical and sexual violence is a “normative” experience for prostituted or trafficked persons (Farley, 2004, p. 1094).

One of the other major responses to prostitution is the prohibitionist approach, which is the method that is utilized in America by all states but Nevada. The prohibitionist approach criminalizes both the seller and the buyer of commercial sex. The prohibitionist approach does not “recognize prostitution as a form of labor” (Stahl, 2015 p. 27). As previously discussed, those buying sex are less likely to be arrested than those who are selling sex, and the result of this approach is that sex trafficking victims are often criminalized. When the laws that are in place to criminalize the buyers of sex are not being adequately enforced, the demand for commercial sex continues to flourish.

The Swedish Model in the State of Pennsylvania

The prohibitionist approach to prostitution could be legally maintained in Pennsylvania, as could the legalization and decriminalization approaches to prostitution be adopted; however, the selection of any of these alternatives would result in the continuation, or increase, of gender-based violence and sex trafficking. In order to most effectively reduce the rates of sex trafficking in Pennsylvania, the demand for commercial sex must be targeted. Therefore, it is my recommendation that the state of Pennsylvania adopt the Swedish Model. If the Swedish Law were to be adopted in Pennsylvania, and sellers of sex were to be decriminalized while the buyers of sex were criminalized, the rates of sex trafficking in the state would decrease over time. As documented in Sweden following the passage of the law, I believe the market in Pennsylvania for commercial sex would diminish. Moreover, within the state, and across the country, the law would have a significant normative effect whereby the public would come to recognize the purchase of sex as a form of violence that is unacceptable in a society that promotes equality.

Challenges in Implementing the Swedish Model in Pennsylvania

Passing and implementing this type of law in Pennsylvania would be difficult for a number of reasons. Firstly, adequate research has been not conducted on sex trafficking in the state of Pennsylvania. As aforementioned, there is no official estimate of the number of people who are victimized by sex trafficking in the United States; moreover, there is not an official estimate for the rate of sex trafficking occurring in Pennsylvania. In order to truly understand the scope of the problem as pertaining to Pennsylvania, data must be collected. This data would be utilized to educate policymakers, as well as the public. Furthermore, in order to measure the effectiveness of the Swedish Model, rates of sex trafficking need to be determined both prior to, and following, the implementation of the legislation.

A second challenge of implementing the Swedish Model in Pennsylvania is that sex trafficking is not chiefly positioned on the state’s political agenda. Within the past decade, the amount of attention and funding dedicated to the issue of sex trafficking has improved, but it is evident that the issue does not take precedence over other items on legislators’ agendas. There have been several triggering events which have sparked national attention and dialogue surrounding the issue, such as Robert Kraft being charged for the purchase of sex and charges related to sex trafficking being made against Jeffrey Epstein. However, it seems that these events did not have a lasting impact on those in positions of political power as no major legislative action was taken in response to these events. It will be a formidable task to aggregate enough interest regarding the issue of sex trafficking, and it will continue to be a challenge to gain support for the Swedish Model to become the specific method used to reduce the rates of trafficking.

The prohibitionist approach to prostitution is widely accepted in America. I predict that it will not be as difficult to gather public support for the increase of penalties to sex buyers as it will be to raise support for the decriminalization of sex sellers. Prostituted people are perceived as freely making a choice to partake in illegal activity and therefore many believe that they deserve punishment for their actions. This is proven by data which indicates that the sellers of sex are arrested at a rate three times as high as that of sex buyers (The Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation, 2019). A major challenge of implementing the Swedish Model in Pennsylvania is that the general public may not fully understand the interconnectedness of sex trafficking and prostitution. For example, it was not until 2018 that the state ruled there was no such thing as a “child prostitute,” and that all children involved in commercial sex acts are victims of sex trafficking (Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law, n.d.).

Furthermore, in recent years there has been an increase in the number who support the legalization of prostitution. An argument has been made by certain activists that individuals should have the right to choose whether or not to sell their bodies for profit. Those who support the end of the prohibitionist approach to prostitution may be divided on which approach would be most successful in improving the lives of prostituted persons and decreasing sex trafficking.

Changes Trending in the Direction of the Swedish Model

While there will be difficulties in getting the sex trafficking and the Swedish Model on the political agenda, as well as shifting the perspective of the public regarding prostitution, there have been some recent developments across the state which suggest that demand reduction is being considered by political actors and law enforcement.

Prostitution stings were at one time more routinely conducted by law enforcement departments, and in some localities, they continue to be regularly conducted. In a prostitution sting, an officer arranges to meet with a prostituted person for sexual services, and upon meeting, the prostituted person is arrested by the officer. However, recently, the number of reverse stings being conducted by law enforcement has increased. A reverse sting is a tactic used specifically to target the buyers and the demand for sex. A reverse sting is an operation conducted by law enforcement officers whereby a female officer poses as a “…as a prostituted person to await being approached by those attempting to purchase sex. Men who offer or agree to exchange money for sex can be arrested or cited for soliciting” (Shively, Kliorys, Wheeler, & Hunt, 2012, p. 1). Law enforcement officers may also create false advertisements for sexual services on the internet and, once contacted by a potential buyer, a time and location are arranged to meet. Upon arrival at the location, the buyer is met by law enforcement and “…charged with patronizing a prostitute, which is a third-degree misdemeanor, punishable of up to six months in jail” (Hessler, 2019). In Pennsylvania, the State Police have, “…developed the capacity to assist any community in the state in conducting reverse stings by contributing decoys and support officers” (Shively, Kliorys, Wheeler, & Hunt, 2012, p. 11).

In Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, recent reverse stings yielded the arrests of nine men who had attempted to purchase sex from “women they believed were prostitutes” (Hessler, 2019). The District Attorney of Montgomery County, Kevin Steele, commented on the operation, stating, “By highlighting the fact that men are arrested for buying sex … and then have to answer charges of patronizing a prostitute within the criminal justice system, we are trying to discourage and decrease the demand side of the prostitution equation as well as spotlight the issue of human trafficking…If there was no one willing to pay for sex, we would not have this problem in Montgomery County or anywhere else” (Hessler, 2019). Moreover, in February 2018, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office established a “…new charging protocol which decriminalizes some individuals who could otherwise be charged with prostitution” (The Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation, 2019, p. 15). A shift towards targeting the demand can be observed among a number of law enforcement officers, as well as prosecutors, across the state.

Additionally, legislation is being promoted, such as the Buyer Beware Act, that is reflective of the Swedish Model. The purpose of the Buyer Beware Act is, “…to shift the focus of state law from punishing the victims of trafficking to punishing those who traffic individuals and those who would buy sex from them” (Phillips-Hill, 2018). The legislation increases the amount of time that a person “…may serve for trafficking or patronizing a victim of trafficking. Currently these crimes are 2nd degree felony charges carrying a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison. The bill upgrades these to a 1st degree felony, carrying a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison” (Phillips-Hill, 2018). Penalties for patronizing a trafficking victim were also increased, while simultaneously the escalating penalties were removed for prostituted persons. Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill, in a memorandum for The Buyer Beware Act addressed to the Senate, recognized the interconnectedness between prostitution and sex trafficking (Phillips-Hill, 2018). The Buyer Beware Act is currently in the House and was referred to the Judiciary on November 22, 2019.

Steps to be Taken Prior to Implementation of the Swedish Model

            It is evident that those in positions to effect change are beginning to shift their focus toward targeting the demand side of prostitution in order to reduce the rate of sex trafficking. While it is my recommendation that the Swedish Model be implemented in the state of Pennsylvania, I believe there are number of pivotal steps which need to be taken in order for the model to be implemented successfully.

As aforementioned, prior to the changes that need to be made to existing state law regarding prostitution and sex trafficking, data needs to be gathered regarding the prevalence of prostitution and, more specifically, sex trafficking. Sex trafficking can manifest itself differently depending upon the location it is occurring. In order to gain a more comprehensive understanding of how the problem has manifested itself in Pennsylvania, and to improve the response to victim-survivors, data needs to be collected. Chiefly, the number of individuals involved in prostitution and sex trafficking should be officially estimated so that, following the implementation of the Swedish Model, the effectiveness of the policy can be measured by comparing the change in rates over time.

Additionally, prior to the passage of the Swedish Law in the state of Pennsylvania, an education and awareness campaign should be launched for the general public. There are still many people who believe sex trafficking is a problem which occurs primarily overseas or only in urban areas. A majority of the public may find it challenging to comprehend that trafficking is occurring within their own communities and neighborhoods. Education needs to be provided to the general public simply concerning the fact that sex trafficking is occurring in Pennsylvania at high rates. This type of campaign would certainly benefit from having available data to reference on the prevalence of sex trafficking across the state. Education should also be provided to the public regarding the basic dynamics of sex trafficking, as there are several prevalent misconceptions regarding how individuals are trafficked. It is a common misconception that people are kidnapped by traffickers and predominately forced through violence to stay “in the life.” While this may be the experience of some victim-survivors, a large number of individuals report that their vulnerabilities were exploited by traffickers and through coercion, as well as a lack of exit options, they continued to be exploited.

The public furthermore needs to be informed of the interconnectedness of sex trafficking and prostitution. Many may perceive these issues as being distinctly different, with a prostituted person possessing a clear choice to engage in illegal activity and a trafficked person being the clear victim of a crime.  Education needs to be provided around the inherent interrelatedness between these two issues and around how targeting the demand for commercial sex can reduce the rates of sex trafficking and prostitution. An awareness campaign should be generated on the concept of the Swedish Model prior to its implementation. In Sweden, prior to the passage of the law, there was a general consensus that the legislation was necessary and beneficial. More than 80 percent of the public supported the law, as well as “…the principles behind its development” (Ekberg, 2004, p. 1204). Without a cultivated understanding of the complexities and dynamics at work in both trafficking and prostitution, the general public may not support a measure which, in part, decriminalizes prostitution. However, if the interconnectedness of sex trafficking and prostitution is clearly presented to the public, there is a greater likelihood that there would be substantial support for a measure that protects the most vulnerable in society and holds those fueling the demand for commercial sex culpable for their actions.

Successful Implementation of the Swedish Model in Pennsylvania

Foremost, Pennsylvania state law regarding prostitution must be changed. The selling of sexual services should be decriminalized, while the penalties for purchasing sexual services should be increased. Additionally, the penalties for individuals and businesses who profit from sex trafficking must be increased. Currently, the state law recognizes buying sex as a crime against morals. The law in Pennsylvania, “…should be classified as an offense against another person rather than an offense against morals. To classify this as an offense against morals ignores the fact that purchasing sex is a crime which involves a victim who is being exploited by a buyer, and possibly even being sold by a trafficker” (The Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation, 2019, p. 10).  The language of the law must also be changed to reflect that a minor can no longer be prostituted, as these changes to language have yet to made to the law following Act 130.

As previously discussed, the delivery of education regarding demand reduction is pivotal to the success of the Swedish Model. Specifically, following the adoption of the Swedish Model, law enforcement and prosecutors must receive substantial training. Ekberg (2004) explains that the enforcement of the Swedish Law was imperative for the law to be effective. She furthermore addressed that Swedish law enforcement initially expressed concern about the difficulty of enforcing the new policies. Ekberg (2004) cites that it was through comprehensive trainings on the issues of sex trafficking and prostitution that officers now possess a “…better understanding of the reasons behind the legislation, …[and] deeper comprehension of the conditions that make women vulnerable to becoming victims of prostitution and trafficking” (p. 1196) which ultimately served to increase arrests for buyers of sex by 300 percent.

Prosecutors must also receive comprehensive training on the new legislation, as “…Police tend to follow the lead of prosecutors in their enforcement activities, since they don’t want to commit their time to investigating cases that are not carried forward for prosecution, or that result in minimal penalties. Where police know that prosecutors will pursue their cases against men who buy sex, they have incentives to bring those cases to prosecutors” (Shively et al., 2012). It is imperative that prosecutors understand the changes made to the law, for without successful convictions made of sex buyers, the law will fail to be effective at reducing the demand side of the sex industry. In general, all professionals involved in the response to victim-survivors of sex trafficking, such as victim service providers and medical staff, should receive comprehensive training on the new laws.

Educational programming should furthermore be provided to buyers of sex. There are a number of “john schools” in operation around the country and their primary purpose is to decrease recidivism rates for the purchasers of sex. Educating the buyers of sex on the detrimental impacts of their actions is key, and certain programs in the United States have proven to be successful. These programs should not be part of a diversionary program, but should be part of the judge’s sentencing for buyers. A more thorough examination of the implementation of sex buyer education programs in Pennsylvania should conducted; however, such an analysis is outside the scope of this paper.

The Cost of Implementation

The Swedish Model is a cost-effective method of combatting sex trafficking. In order to formulate the legislation, there will be costs associated with the time expended by officials to craft and pass the new law. There will additionally be expenses associated with the creation and promotion of educational and awareness campaigns for the general public, as well as curricula that should be developed for law enforcement and prosecutors to train them on the changes made to the law. First responders to sex trafficking, such as victim service providers and medical professionals, should also receive comprehensive training. A large portion of the costs of implementation will be associated with educating professionals and the public about the Swedish Model.

The money required for the police to effectively enforce the changes to the law would perhaps be the largest expense associated with the adoption of the Swedish Model. Given the underground nature of sex trafficking, these cases are particularly time consuming and complex to investigate, and therefore money would need to be designated for new officers to be hired or overtime hours to be covered for these cases. Equipment to aid in the investigation of these cases, such as portable surveillance equipment, could be purchased as well to aid in the investigation of cases. There would also be substantial costs associated with the increased prosecution of these cases through the court system.

Reflecting upon the costs associated with the provision of care to victim-survivors of the sex industry, as well as the amount of money expended by the court system on prosecuting individuals for the selling of sex, many of the above-mentioned costs could be offset. For example, it was reported that, “…Pennsylvania spends $42,727 to incarcerate an individual for one year. Multiply that number by, say 50 individuals who received a one-year sentence for the crime of prostitution, and the result is $2,136,350” (The Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation, 2019, p. 11). The money saved on the prosecution and incarceration of prostituted people can be redirected to the prosecution and incarceration of the purchasers of sex.


            By maintaining the prohibitionist approach to prostitution, the rates of sex trafficking are rising to unconscionable levels and the demand for commercial sex continues to grow. By adopting the Swedish Model, the rates of sex trafficking in Pennsylvania would decrease and the demand for commercial sex would diminish. As the rates of prostitution and sex trafficking decrease over time, the inestimable trauma experienced by prostituted persons and survivors of sex trafficking will be reduced in future generations. Also, the costs associated with necessary physiological and psychological services for survivors, which are borne by both the survivor and society, will slowly lessen.

Pennsylvania will be making a strong statement to the nation that people cannot be bought and sold for sex and that commercial sex is an inherent form of gender-based violence. An outcome of the passage of the law is that the public perception of the purchase of sex will be seen as unacceptable in a society which touts equality for all people. The adoption of the Swedish Model will further aid in the development of a society that is free of gender-based violence and ultimately more equitable.


            Globally, it was estimated that in 2016 that, “…3.8 million adults were victims of forced sexual exploitation and 1.0 million children were victims of commercial sexual exploitation” (International Labour Organization, 2017, p. 11). While no official estimate exists for the number that are victimized in the United States, or Pennsylvania specifically, there have been 7,859 cases of sex trafficking reported across the country to the National Human Trafficking Hotline in 2018 alone (Polaris Project, n.d.b). Each year, the National Human Trafficking Hotline reports an increase in the number of sex trafficking cases reported to the hotline. It is clear that sex trafficking is an epidemic both globally and nationally, and as one of the most abhorrent violations of human rights, it must be more effectively combatted on a global, federal, and state level.

The individuals being targeted by traffickers are most often women and children, as well as those who are the most vulnerable and marginalized in society (The Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 2017). Traffickers work tirelessly to exploit their victims for their own profit, and the impact of this exploitation on a victim, and on society as a whole, is truly incalculable. While a great deal of legislation has been enacted in the past two decades to improve the United States’ response to sex trafficking, and although this legislation has resulted in tremendous progress being made towards combatting the issue, the demand for commercial sex, the fuel for the fire of sex trafficking, has gone largely unaddressed.

The prohibitionist approach to prostitution in the United States has been maintained, and therefore if fraud, force, or coercion cannot be proven in the exchange of a commercial sex act, those over 18 may face arrest for prostitution charges. In this way, the United States is criminalizing countless individuals who are victims of sex trafficking, as well as those who are victims of the physical and sexual violence that is inherently a part of prostitution. In Pennsylvania alone, data clearly shows that the sellers of sex are three times as likely to be arrested as the purchasers of sex, revealing that there is a discriminatory system in place for how the issue of prostitution is handled (The Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation, 2019). The demand for commercial sex will continue to increase if buyers of sex are not penalized for purchasing sex, and in order to meet the demand for commercial sex and maximize profits, sex trafficking continues to grow.

The adoption of the Swedish Model is Pennsylvania is the most effective way to reduce sex trafficking and to target the demand for commercial sex. It is a cost-effective approach that could be successfully implemented in Pennsylvania. A number of barriers must be overcome in order to gain public support for the Swedish Model, and the issue must be elevated on the political agenda. Yet, currently, many localities across the state of Pennsylvania are laying the groundwork for this change and legislation reflective of the Swedish Model is presently being considered by the House. At this rate, Pennsylvania could be the first state in America to take a stand against commercial sexual exploitation of vulnerable women, men, and children by adopting the Swedish Model. Pennsylvania could have the opportunity to adopt an innovative policy which sets a precedence for the rest of the country that people are not for sale.









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The Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation. (2019). Report on Commercial Sexual Exploitation in PennsylvaniaReport on Commercial Sexual Exploitation in Pennsylvania (pp. 1–33). Villanova, PA: Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law.

The United Nations. (2000). Protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children, supplementing the United Nations convention against transnational organized crime. Vienna: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the Protocols Thereto.

The United States Department of Justice. (2017, January 6). Key Legislation. Retrieved from

The White House. (2012, September 25). Remarks by the President to the Clinton Global Initiative. Retrieved from

Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. (n.d.). Act 130 (2018): PA’s Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children. Villanova, PA.

Waltman, M. (2011). Prohibiting Sex Purchasing and Ending Trafficking: The Swedish Prostitution Law. Michigan Journal of International Law33(133), 133–157.


Welcome to Policy Matters. In our journal, you will find articles from professionals, faculty and students concerning an array of policy issues. We believe that all policy, local or national, matters and deserves a conversation. For more information, or to submit an article for publication, please email us at

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