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Empty and quiet at nearly 10 p. The nearly half-mile long Malmskillnadsgatan Street begins at the bay that rings Sweden's parliament building, crosses over a glowing shopping plaza, and ends at a cluster of high-rise offices and a subway stop.
There, two middle-aged women with short skirts, long blonde hair, and light puffer jackets emerge and stroll slowly toward the water. When they run into a young man, they light cigarettes and chat him up. An hour later, they're still talking. In Sweden, all that chatting could make the young man a criminal. In the fight to stamp out transactional sex, the Swedes have flipped the prostitution paradigm on its head.
Here, prostitution is perfectly legal. Women or men, for that matter can sell all the sex they want. It's only illegal for a man — and it's almost always a man — to pay for it. Persson believes this arrangement protects women, challenges gender stereotypes, and puts society on a path toward reducing violence against women. Supporters of the law say it has reduced street prostitution, helped curb sex trafficking, and shifted the social shame that has always stigmatized transactional sex away from women and on to men.
The year-old law has been copied in Norway and Iceland; Finland and the United Kingdom have adopted a modified version. But this year, the approach now known as the "Nordic model" has seen its influence skyrocket. The European Parliament — where just four years ago "people were actually laughing about the Swedish legislation," said Persson — endorsed the model in February. A French Senate committee this week is considering a bill based on Sweden's law, after the lower house approved it in December.
Ireland has been considering the Nordic model as well, and this week Canada is holding hearings into whether it should jump on the Swedish ship. But not everyone — not even every Swedish feminist — agrees the Nordic model is the answer. Inside Sweden, differing opinions on the legislation divide progressive groups that are often otherwise allies, and critics of the legislation say they are under pressure to conform to a rigid sense of political correctness.