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Few things have aroused such conflicting feelings and heated discussions over the millennia as the sale of sexual services. Swedish prostitutes are regarded as victims and are protected by the Sex Purchase Act. In Germany persons who sell sex are seen as professionals and they can operate in legal brothels. Just in time for this year's tenth anniversary of the Swedish Sex Purchase Act, historian of ideas Susanne Dodillet explains how it is possible for these two similar societies to have such radically different ways of dealing with this activity.
Purchasing sex has been forbidden in Sweden since The Sex Purchase Act was passed in order to show that prostitution is a practice that is not acceptable in Sweden. Two years later the Bundestag, the German parliament, approved a law with the aim of integrating sex sellers into society.
Since then prostitutes in Germany have been entitled to unemployment benefit, sickness benefit and pensions in the same way as all other skilled workers. Furthermore, running a brothel has been made legal. The change in the law was intended to reduce the stigmatisation and discrimination of those who sell sex. The Sex Purchase Act in Sweden was introduced as a way of influencing society's view of gender equality.
Prostitution was described as an unacceptable expression of society's genderised power structures. According to the author of the thesis, a normative law such as the Sex Purchase Act is made possible partly due to the comparatively high level of trust that Swedish people have in the state. She considers that Germans, on the other hand, tend rather to question the state's responsibility for setting norms.
Swedes have had a positive experience of their welfare state, but both the National Socialist dictatorship during the Third Reich and the socialist GDR highlight the fact that states can abuse their normative power.