The perception in the mind of many is of the prostitute as an exploited being. Visions of brutal pimps who force young women (and, on occasions underage children) into the sex trade fill the minds of such individuals. In 1999 the Swedish government acting in accordance with this view introduced a law criminalising those who pay for sex. The law is based on the belief that demand is driving supply, therefore if one can cut off demand by introducing criminal sanctions prostitution and the exploitation which (according to this perception inevitably goes with it) will decline. The selling of sex remains legal due to the belief that it would be wrong to criminalise sex workers who are already being exploited by men. The Swedish government holds that men are the stronger party and, as such should be seen as the exploiter.
Under the law a number of men have been fined for paying for sex although none have (to the best of my knowledge) been imprisoned.
To state the blindingly obvious, the forcing of anyone into prostitution is a dispicable crime and the full force of the criminal law should be used to punish those guilty of such crimes. However much prostitution does not entail the use of force. One can argue that the person who gets into debt and chooses to pay off their debts by entering the world of prostitution has been forced by circumstance to make such a choice. However one can not contend that the client who takes advantage of services which are freely offered is exploiting the sex worker. The client wants a sexual service and, in return for payment the prostitute is prepared to accommodate that want/need/desire (call it what you will). The customer can not in all justice be held responsible for the decision of the prostitute to enter sex work and it is morally wrong to punish him for participating in consensual sexual activity with another adult.
Some will respond that no one freely chooses to enter prostitution. I reply hogwash. Merely because one can not conceive of another person choosing to enter the sex trade it does not follow that people do not make such choices, many do and as free persons one must respect their right to do so.
It is said that no one has the right to buy another human being and that supporters of decriminalisation of prostitution are supporting the idea that prostitutes may be bought and sold. Prostitution is, in this view a form of modern slavery and those who use prostitutes are guilty of perpetuating this modern day slave trade. This is a specious argument. Slavery entails the ownership of one person by a fellow human being and in most of it’s manifestations has entailed the owner having complete power over the slave. Slaves in the American south where treated with unspeakable cruelty by the majority of slave owners and even those masters who showed humanity still accepted the validity of the institution of slavery. In contrast those who freely choose to enter the world of prostitution are selling their body, for a limited time to a customer. The client does not own the sex worker and once the service has been provided customer and sex worker go their separate ways. Unlike slavery the client has no impunity from prosecution if he asaults the prostitute (nor should he)!
In conclusion it can be said that many people do freely choose to enter the world of prostitution. There choices should be respected as should those of those who choose to use the services of a sex worker. Obviously the law should be used to hunt down those who force vunnerable individuals into prostitution. Traffickers are beneath contempt and deserve to be punished with upmost severity but trafficking is wholly distinct (and should not be confused with) consensual sex, in return for payment.