LGBTI equality and human rights in Europe and Central Asia

A Swedish perspective on the “Swedish model”

sex work
LGBTI sex workers

Cal Orre, RFSL and Nicklas Dennermalm, RFSL Stockholm

RFSL (the Swedish Federation for LGBTQ Rights) have been critical of the “Swedish model” for many years. RFSL do not believe that criminalising people buying sex (Lag (1998:408) om förbud mot köp av sexuella tjänster), or people involved in sex work is of benefit to sex workers. RFSL want the Swedish government to revise the law to protect sex workers.

In Sweden, we find it problematic, firstly, that the opinions of sex workers are often not taken into account and, secondly, that organisations for sex workers are stigmatised and face resistance on many levels. As a result, RFSL want increased support for sex workers organisations and that the voices of sex workers are heard in the debate around criminalisation and support for people selling sex.

RFSL have carried out several pieces of research on the experiences of LGBTQ people selling sex in Sweden, for example, resulting in the “Invisible, visible actors” report, together with RFSL Ungdom in in 2011.

Some of the regional branches of RFSL have also worked on sex workers’ health and rights.

RFSL Stockholm has been involved in sex workers’ health since 2009 when they arranged a workshop focusing on the health needs of sex workers together with sex workers. The workshop resulted in a project which today consists of five parts: 

1.     A health and safer sex website in Swedish and English It includes several aspects of sex worker’s health including HIV/STI and drug use. The website is based on in-depth interviews with sex workers and is reviewed by clinical staff and sex workers. (The process is described in a peer-reviewed article in Digital Health and Culture by Nicklas Dennermalm.

2.     Distribution of “Dialog” -  a handbook on how to address health issues with sex workers within a HIV/STI testing context. This book was reviewed by clinical staff, social workers and sex workers. 

3.     Giving lectures on sex workers’ health in the Stockholm county. Special focus has been given to the gay men’s health clinic (Venhälsan) in Stockholm but other clinics are offered these lectures. As part of the lectures, we are offering a discussion on the screening process in order to enable a dialogue with sex workers. 

4.     Offering an HIV/STI testing reminder service via text message. 

5.     Providing politicians and other key actors with expertise on the ‘prostitution’ legislation. 

RFSL Stockholm are also providing other health services for MSM and transgender communities which also could benefit sex workers such as a general sexual health website (, community based HIV testing ( and legal advice for LGBTQI migrants, among other things.

RFSL have played a major important role in broadening the perspectives on sex work in Sweden when it comes to sexual orientation and gender identity issues, and intend to continue playing a crucial part within the field of sex work, making sure the LGBTQ perspective and experiences are included.