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Sitting uncomfortably within this national identity, prostitution is illegal in Sweden. In common with many Northern-European countries throughout the 18 th to 20 th century, historical prostitution in Sweden has always been illegal but has been tolerated. The first evidence of a written law banning prostitution can be dated to the Civil Code of which bans both the sale and purchase of sexual services on punishment of forced labour, whipping and imprisonment.
Officials believed that any women without a profession, husband or sponsor to guarantee their income would naturally resort to prostitution to earn a living. As a result of this attitude, many prostitutes and courtesans of the rich were given sponsorship by their clients or were given professions to exempt them from incarceration. Most commonly this was as an actress or singer with a theatre.
Theatres were a hot bed of prostitution. Image via Wikimedia. Paradoxically, women who worked as prostitutes that managed to save money to retire from the business by opening their own legal establishments such as coffee houses could not escape their past professions. Their places of businesses were regularly raided by the authorities who would forcibly examine staff for evidence of venereal diseases.
The double standards practised by the authorities would make your toes curl as alongside these raids, police turned a blind eye towards brothels that continued to exclusively service the rich. The act allowed authorities to legally extend and continue the practice of forced medical examination. Leading to widespread reports of harassment where local municipal officials abused this power, there was some attempt during the mid th century to legalise prostitution, placing brothels under state control.
Much of the effort to control the sex industry in Sweden at this time was directed at controlling the spread of pox syphilis. For the latter half of the 19 th century, brothels and street prostitutes were generally tolerated by Swedish authorities with some degree of state intervention persisting to provide regular medical examinations.