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Britain eyes Swedish law on sex workers

Government minister Vernon Coaker arrives Thursday in Stockholm, where the number of street prostitutes has declined by one-third since 1999.

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Britain is seriously considering adopting a controversial approach to prostitution pioneered in Sweden that targets the customer instead of the sex worker, making it a crime to buy – but not to sell – sex.

A government minister, Vernon Coaker, is heading to Stockholm Thursday to discuss the impact of the Swedish reform. Officials in Stockholm claim the 1999 law has dramatically reduced the street trade and spared Sweden the attention of traffickers who ship unfortunate, vulnerable women around Europe in the thousands.

But sex workers argue that the law has made life more dangerous and precarious for them. Swedish prostitutes say that rather than reducing prostitution it has merely driven it underground; their British counterparts say importing the law would be disastrous.

"The [Swedish] government claims that prostitution has been cut, but where have the women gone?" asks Sarah Walker of the English Collective of Prostitutes. "Everything has been driven underground."

Ana Lopez, founder of the International Union of Sex Workers, says the move would force the trade into the shadows.

"It may seem like a good idea because it shifts the blame from the sex worker onto the client, but it still creates a lot of trouble," says Ms. Lopez, adding that clients nervous of breaking the law will be more capricious, more hasty, giving the sex workers less time to assess the danger level. "What we have been learning from Sweden is that sex workers are not better off with this model.... Whether you criminalize the client or the sex worker, it's the same result."

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