Selling Sex in Sweden: An Analysis of Discourses about Sex Workers and their Human Rights

University essay from Göteborgs universitet/Institutionen för socialt arbete

Abstract: Sweden was the first country in the world to criminalise the purchase of sex whilstkeeping its sale legal. This approach to prostitution is highly controversial: someherald it as an effective way to tackle the oppressive, exploitative nature ofprostitution, whereas others claim that it worsens working conditions and denies sexworkers’ agency. This thesis, an analysis of discourses of two central figures in theprostitution debate in Sweden, the Swedish government and the NSWP, investigatedhow sex work and sex workers are socially constructed and how these constructionsimpact notions of sex workers’ human rights entitlements. Research questions were asfollows: How are sex work and sex workers constructed in the discourses of theSwedish government report and the NSWP toolkit? What aspect(s) of the sale of sexare presented as problematic in each discourse? How do these problematizations fitinto the Swedish context? What do these constructions imply in terms of sex workers’human rights? The analysis found that the whether or not prostitution is consideredconsensual is key. The Swedish government constructs sex workers as exploitedvictims and prostitution as antithetical to gender equality: protective rights arenecessary to shield prostitutes. The NSWP, on the other hand, builds an image ofautonomous sex workers who are disempowered by Swedish legislation and areentitled to human rights on the same basis as any other citizen: they call forempowerment.

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