When Sweden’s Social Democratic government introduced its zero-tolerance policy for buyers of sex in 1999, it became the first country in the world to prohibit the purchase of sexual services.
It was swimming upstream domestically, as well as against the tide of its European neighbours who were legalizing prostitution.
The other seven political parties opposed it. Close to 70 per cent of Swedes opposed it. So did the police, including a young graduate from the police academy named Simon Haggstrom.
The feminist-led government viewed prostitution as violence against women and a clear sign of inequality. It rejected legalization based on its conviction that the majority of prostitutes do not choose prostitution — but are in it because of poverty, addiction, abuse, exploitation or coercion.
There were dire predictions about what would happen when purchasing sexual services became illegal, alongside offering any assistance to prostitutes, whether providing transport, renting rooms, or buying meals, clothes or even condoms for them.
But 17 years later, attitudes have changed. And that young recruit? Haggstrom personally has arrested more than 1,000 sex buyers and is now the detective inspector in charge of Stockholm’s six-person prostitution unit.
He’s become an international face of what’s known as the Swedish or Nordic model and was in Vancouver this week countering the myths about it.