Sweden, prostitution, tax

Following on from the discussions raised by the Poppy Project’s report on prostitution, and the ongoing debates over whether the UK should adopt the “Swedish model” – in which buying sex is outlawed, but selling sex is not – comes this interesting story from The Local.

Apparently there has been an increase in the number of prostitutes in Sweden seeking to pay taxes – and thus tap into the country’s welfare system and other benefits.

“So far this year I’ve spoken with several women who want to make things right,” said Pia Blank Thörnroos, a legal expert with Sweden’s Tax Authority, to the Göteborgs-Posten (GP) newspaper.

While it remains against the law to purchase sex in Sweden, selling sex is perfectly legal according to Sweden’s unique prostitution law, which came into force in 1999.

Moreover, prostitution has been considered a business activity in Sweden since 1982 and as a result proceeds from the sale of sex subject to taxation just like any other form of income.

“You have to keep track of all your income and expenses; all compensation should be accounted for,” explained Blank Thörnroos.

“One should really have accounting records. And in actuality [customers] should write out a receipt, because the transaction is considered a private operation which is subject to value added tax. But customers’ names need not be on the receipt.”

Income recorded on prostitutes’ tax returns gives them the right to sick-leave pay, parental leave benefits, and a pension.

“It’s important to pay taxes if you want to live a normal life,” said ‘Lisa’, a prostitute who spoke with the newspaper.

This is interesting, because one of the arguments I’ve heard against the Swedish model is that it does not grant the same path to benefits and social protections as legalisation.

I’m not completely bought on the idea that it’s ethical for the Swedish government to accept tax from what they’ve pinpointed as exploitation of women. However, on the other hand having access to pensions, parental leave, sick pay and the host of other advantages that being part of the tax system provides, i.e. being a full citizen, it does seem like a good thing. Perhaps there could be some system rigged up to set tax at zero for earnings from prostitution? But undoubtedly that would have its own problems…

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