Vice Squad
Sunday, March 14, 2004
Estonia Mulls Making the Purchase of Sex Illegal

Friends of Vice Squad are relentless in their lobbying for more stories from the web-editions of Finnish newspapers. So today we pass along word that Estonia, a destination site for sex tourists -- especially from Finland and Sweden -- is considering making the purchase of sex illegal. It appears that Estonia currently operates under rules like those in Britain and Canada, where purchase and sale of sex is not illegal, though related activities such as brothel-keeping or "living off the proceeds" are proscribed.

The suggestion to make the purchase of sex illegal would not criminalize the sale of sex. (See this earlier Vice Squad post on "one-sided enforcement.") This is the symmetric twin of a more common anti-prostitution strategy, where selling sex is illegal but buying sex is either legal or punished comparatively lightly. Indeed, in most vice enforcement, sellers tend to face a stricter regime than do buyers. (During alcohol Prohibition in the US, sales were illegal, but purchases were legal.) For the last few years, however, Sweden has adopted the "sales legal, purchases illegal" approach to prostitution control. (Here's a quite negative view on the Swedish experience; a much more sympathetic take (from 1999) appears here. Finally, here is another view of the Swedish experience by a group that hopes to export the Swedish model to New Zealand.) Finland has considered but rejected the Swedish model in the past. Vice Squad previously has noted the split among feminist groups concerning prostitution policy, especially between groups that favor the Swedish approach and those that support broad decriminalization of prostitution.

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