Tuesday, April 15, 2003

In Sweden, a prostitute pays her taxes, but chides government for accepting the money

STOCKHOLM, Sweden — Rosinha Sambo paid her taxes promptly this month. Then she filed a police complaint against the Swedish government for accepting the money because she earned it from prostitution.

She likened it to having lunch with a friend, then paying for it with money she earned as a prostitute.

"That is the same as accepting money from the clients and, in my opinion, the same as pimping and receiving," Sambo told The Associated Press Monday.

In Sweden, a Scandinavian country of 8.9 million residents, it's illegal to obtain sexual services from someone for money, but it's not illegal to sell those services.

The law, adopted in 1999, targets not prostitutes, but the buyers. People arrested for trying to pay for sex face up to six months in jail, plus fines that are linked to the amount of their annual income.

Since 1999, 188 people in Sweden were arrested and convicted of paying for sex, according to the National Council for Crime Prevention.

According to Sambo, the government legitimized her profession and nullified its own law by accepting her tax payment of 5,000 kronor (US$589 ) on April 11.

"Getting the right to pay tax means that the Swedish government has confirmed that prostitution is a profession," she asserted.

Sambo, a prostitute since 1984, moved to Sweden in 1986 from Portugal. A native of Angola and a Portuguese citizen, she was given her notice of tax assessment for self-employed workers from the tax authority in Varberg, 480 kilometers (300 miles) southwest of the capital, Stockholm.

"I went to the tax office and demanded to pay taxes. They asked me if my business was some kind of entertainment. And I said no, this is about prostitution," she said. "I've never made a secret of my job."

Varberg tax authority spokesman Torbjoern Ahlberg told the AP that the tax authorities don't care if the law against prostitution is violated.

"We don't take into account if it's illegal or not. What matters is if a person applying for a notice of tax assessment is fulfilling three criteria — the work must be permanent, independent and aimed at making a profit," he said.

She said that she wanted to pay her taxes so she'd have the same access as other workers — self-employed or not — to a pension and state-paid sick leave.

Sweden's taxes on income, wealth and property are among the world's highest. Meanwhile, the government provides free education and subsidized health care. It also offers some of the world's most generous welfare benefits, including unemployment compensation and up to 480 days of paid parental leave.

But by accepting her money, the government must legalize prostitution, she claims.

"I am a sex worker and I demand that the law criminalizing the buying of sex be abolished, that the government respects our rights as sex workers," she said, adding that the Social Democratic government should also make available free condoms, AIDS tests and other materials needed by sex workers.

But Uppsala University legal expert Haakan Westin said taxes must be paid, no matter how the money is earned to pay them.

"From a legal point of view, the state can tax Sambo for her income," he said.

Sambo said she's prepared to sue the government in the European Court in Strasbourg to have the prostitution law overturned.

"My customers think it is great. They are very grateful that somebody wants to take away the law that makes them criminals," she said.

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Created: May 2, 2003
Last modified: May 2, 2003
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