RSS Feed

Swedish police stats show more, not less, prostitution and trafficking

In the latest edition of “Reports The Swedish Government Hopes You Never See”, I’ve been looking over the wonderfully-titled Slutredovisning, prostitution och människohandel  (Final Report, Prostitution and Trafficking) published by the Swedish police in February of this year. Although Sweden issues many of its reports in English, funnily enough this isn’t one of them.

The background to the report is that in September 2008, the Swedish government asked the National Police to

att förstärka insatserna mot prostitution och människohandel för sexuella ändamål (strengthen efforts against prostitution and sex trafficking)

and a police strategy was developed toward this end. That such a request was made is noteworthy in itself, since by 2008 the Swedes and their supporters were already proselytising about the law’s supposed success. If the government was having to ask the police to step up the battle, that suggests a certain level of dissatisfaction with what the law was actually achieving, despite their grandiose claims for it.

There are a few passages scattered throughout the report that I could make mischief with if I were so inclined. For example, page 20 states that police in Västra Götaland county (which includes Gothenburg, Sweden’s second-largest city) saw, during the 2008-2010 period covered by the report,

en dramatisk ökning av rumänska kvinnor som såldes för sexuella ändamål i Sverige (a dramatic increase in Romanian women sold for sexual purposes in Sweden)

which of course also doesn’t fit entirely with how the Swedes have sold their law to the world. But what I was really interested to find was this chart on page 45,  showing the actual police statistics from the report period:

The table’s title, in English, is “number of reported cases 2008-2010 and percentage change”. The text translates as follows:

Pimping and aggravated procuring
Human trafficking for sexual purposes, total
Human trafficking for sexual purposes with person over 18 years
Human trafficking for sexual purposes with person under 18 years
Human trafficking for other purposes, total
Human trafficking for other purposes with person over 18 years
Human trafficking for other purposes with person under 18 years
Purchase of sexual services
Purchase of sexual acts by children

Now, do you notice anything interesting about those figures? That’s right – they’ve all gone up since 2008.  In some cases, they’ve gone up by an absolutely enormous amount. This is a law that deters prostitution and trafficking?

These are only reported cases, of course.  The statistics can’t prove that there has been an actual increase in the number of cases. It could be simply that they’re now detecting more of them, thanks to this new “strengthened effort”. But that doesn’t really help the Swedes’ argument, either, because what it says is that prior to that effort – while they were going around the world telling anyone who’d listen that they were winning their war with the sex industry – in fact, they were only failing to notice it. In other words, criminalisation did not make sex work go away; it just drove it underground. Which is exactly what sex workers and their advocates have always claimed – and what the law’s supporters have always strenuously denied. These statistics have to be seen as rendering that denial wholly untenable.

And since the stats only measure reported cases, it isn’t outside the realms of possibility that the number actually is decreasing even while the police are detecting more. But the Swedish haven’t been arguing that it’s possible the numbers have decreased. Their claim is an assertion of fact. It would be a difficult claim to substantiate in the best of circumstances, given the clandestine nature of the sex industry and the additional layers of secrecy that criminalisation always brings. But when the only metric available says the exact opposite of what is claimed, the claim becomes more than “unsubstantiated”. It becomes false – and probably wilfully dishonest.

Thanks to Arman Maroufkhani for assistance with translations.

About these ads

About Wendy Lyon

Fighting a lonely battle for evidence-based policy and the proper use of apostrophes.

27 responses »

  1. The statistics go up because police are doing a better job of enforcing the law and are putting more resources towards it. The swedish numbers are still drastically better than Amsterdam, Germany, New Zealand, etc, or any other place where prostitution is legalized……

    Reply
    • The statistics go up because police are doing a better job of enforcing the law and are putting more resources towards it.

      That may well be true, but they aren’t going down, are they? So the statistics don’t support advocates’ claims about the law. The fact is they have no evidential basis for those claims.

      The statistics also show that sex workers and advocates were right all those years when they were saying that prostitution had just gone underground, rather than going away.

      The swedish numbers are still drastically better than Amsterdam, Germany, New Zealand, etc, or any other place where prostitution is legalized

      Sweden has always been believed to have less prostitution in comparison with other countries. This was the case before the law was enacted as well as after it.

      Reply
    • A 2008 report by the prostitution law review committee in New Zealand found no evidence to support the claim that human trafficking has increased since decriminalizing prostitution.

      Reply
      • Yes but New Zealand is a remote island nation with a small population and limited points of access. The risk:benefit ratio of trafficking women to New Zealand will be much worse than trafficking them to Germany, the Netherlands or the United States.

        Reply
        • It does not matter how difficult it is or how big the population is etc, the fact there has been no increase, means that the system has not been abused further, which in turn means that where a window of opportunity may have opened, it has made no difference. Trafficking only works where things are not out in the open and legitimate. If there is nothing illegal about the trade, then there is nothing to hide and a smaller opportunity for abuse.

        • That’s actually the point, Surly Beaver: trafficking rates are driven by factors other than the legality (or illegality) of prostitution.

  2. Official statistics are always fraught with hazard when it comes to interpretation. It certainly seems reasonable to assume that the continuing calls for renewed efforts to combat sex work suggests that it hasn`t gone away. Not only did the government give the police new resources in 2008 but called for further efforts in the official evaluation in 2010 and the penalty was increased this year. I think that the statistics reflect police activity rather than the actual level of sex work activity. This is a common problem with crime, justice and police statistics. On the other hand I agree sex work hasn`t gone away. Like other countries Sweden has concentrated on street work because it is visible. I haven`t seen any activity on the traditional strolls in Stockholm recently but have seen advertisements witrh telephone numbers stuck up on poles. A decline in street work has been witnessed in many countries and cannot therefore be simply attribuited to the Swedish purchase law.
    European Centre for Sex Work Research and Policy

    Reply
  3. No,prostitution in Sweden has not gone away. I’ve never heard an abolitionist argue that it has. We know you can’t wave a magic wand and get rid of prostitution and trafficking. But it takes a long time to change public attitudes. Children growing up in Sweden right now are learning that prostitution is exploitation and a direct deterrent to gender equality. It is when these children grow up that we will see the full effect of the swedish model. Btw, there is no such thing as prostitution going “underground”. If the johns can find them, the police can find them.

    A friend of mine went to Sweden and met with the head of the Swedish national police where he revealed that through wiretapping they had multiple high profile figures involved in organized crime stating on tape that they don’t bother trafficking women into Sweden anymore because there is no market for the “product” aka the women. So this model is detering organized crime. Compared to the places such as Amsterdam/ New Zealand/ Germany where they have huge problems with trafficking and organized crime.

    I’ve heard the arguments over and over again that there is a difference between prostitution and trafficking. Here is the problem: they both cater to the same male demand. Traffickers and pimps recruit, kidnap, threaten, blackmail and kill women and underage girls because there is a DEMAND. As long as we continue to tell men that it is okay to buy women this will continue.

    Most women in prostitution are there because of poverty, addictions, childhood abuse, the foster system, racism, etc. Very few middle class women who have not experienced any of the previously mentioned issues become prostitutes. However priviliged middle class women who prostitute who really truly have a choice should STOP. Their decision to do what ever they want is at the cost of telling men that they can buy and sell women as they please.

    There is no good reason that men should be able to buy sex. Not one. Johns do not respect the women they buy. If you spend some time reviewing the escort review boards online it becomes very clear that johns view these women as commodities to use and discard regardless of how “nice” they were when they were with the prostitute. This is an article about an insurance company in Germany who hired prostitutes as a reward for 100 of their employees:

    http://radicalhub.wordpress.com/2011/07/09/rich-mens-currency-women/

    I don’t think you can argue that those men showed any respect for those prostitutes or women in general. That is what happens when you tell men it is okay to buy women: 100 men go along with putting different colored bracelets on the prostitutes and marking their arms to show how many times they have been ” used”.

    Laws are only effective if they protect the most vulnerable and marginalized. This is why legalizing prostitution does not work. In countries, like the Netherlands, where prostitution has been legalized, sex trafficking has increased exponentially. Illegal brothels outnumber the legal ones and disadvantaged women and children are not safer from johns, pimps or traffickers. Most importantly legalization normalizes the male demand for paid sex.

    However racially and economically marginalized women are telling us very clearly that they do not want their daughters, sisters, aunts, or mothers bought and sold by men. These are the voices that we need to place at the forefront of the prostitution debate. Laws surrounding prostitution need to protect the equality, freedom and human dignity of our most disadvantaged women and children. Not the rights of the few privileged women “choosing” prostitution and certainly not the rights of pimps, traffickers and johns.

    Reply
    • Children growing up in Sweden right now are learning that prostitution is exploitation and a direct deterrent to gender equality. It is when these children grow up that we will see the full effect of the swedish model.

      A study by the Swedish National Board of Youth Affairs in 2009 found that children were becoming more rather than less accepting of commercial sex.

      Btw, there is no such thing as prostitution going “underground”. If the johns can find them, the police can find them.

      Aren’t you contradicting yourself here? In your first post you said that the huge increase in figures from 2008-2010 did not reflect increased commercial sex activity but merely increased detection. By your own admission, therefore, in 2008 when the police detected 187 sex purchase cases there were a minimum of 1,084 that they didn’t detect. Clearly the johns can find cases that the police can’t.

      In any case, by your logic there could be no such thing as any underground commercial activity. Are you really willing to stand over that?

      A friend of mine went to Sweden and met with the head of the Swedish national police where he revealed that through wiretapping they had multiple high profile figures involved in organized crime stating on tape that they don’t bother trafficking women into Sweden anymore because there is no market for the “product” aka the women.

      How do you square this assertion with the annual Swedish Police reports which state that there are still plenty of women being trafficked into Sweden? In fact, the recent reports say that there are more and more of them.

      Most women in prostitution are there because of poverty, addictions, childhood abuse, the foster system, racism, etc. Very few middle class women who have not experienced any of the previously mentioned issues become prostitutes.

      Without getting into the question over what “most” women in prostitution have experienced, I would guess that very few middle class women who have not experienced any of those issues take on low status jobs in general. That is a reason to give the people in those jobs more rights, not less. The lack of a legal framework in which their rights as workers are protected, including occupational health and safety and basic labour protection rights, only marginalises them further.

      However priviliged middle class women who prostitute who really truly have a choice should STOP. Their decision to do what ever they want is at the cost of telling men that they can buy and sell women as they please.

      There are a lot of things that I wish some women would not do because of the effect on other women, but I don’t feel entitled to send the police to stop them. And I can’t conceive of a situation in which I would want them to stop so badly that I would support them being subjected to heightened risks of injury, illness or death if they didn’t stop.

      The reality, as you should well know by now, is that sex workers are not going to stop just because some people think they should. Bearing that in mind, would you not be better refocusing your efforts on improving conditions for all of those in sex work? You could start by dropping the stigmatising and dangerous notion that sex work involves selling the person.

      If you spend some time reviewing the escort review boards online it becomes very clear that johns view these women as commodities to use and discard regardless of how “nice” they were when they were with the prostitute.

      I’m sorry to tell you this but men often don’t speak very well of the women they pick up in nightclubs, either. Should we bar one-night stands?

      In countries, like the Netherlands, where prostitution has been legalized, sex trafficking has increased exponentially.

      I’m aware of claims that sex trafficking has increased in the Netherlands (as well as claims that it has not). I’m not sure how those making such claims get around the problem with the Swedish statistics, i.e. is there really more of it, or is more just being detected.

      In any event, I don’t know of many sex workers’ rights advocates who look toward the Netherlands as an ideal model, anyway. So you’re attacking a straw man.

      Most importantly legalization normalizes the male demand for paid sex.

      I would not consider this the most important issue. I would consider the health and safety of sex workers the most important issue. Criminalisation undermines sex workers’ health and safety, which is why the main actors in the global health sector all oppose it. Illegal sex workers have worse health and safety outcomes than legal sex workers; this has been well documented. The policy you advocate would push all sex workers into the illegal sector.

      However racially and economically marginalized women are telling us very clearly that they do not want their daughters, sisters, aunts, or mothers bought and sold by men. These are the voices that we need to place at the forefront of the prostitution debate.

      Surely the voices at the forefront of the debate should be sex workers themselves?

      Laws surrounding prostitution need to protect the equality, freedom and human dignity of our most disadvantaged women and children. Not the rights of the few privileged women “choosing” prostitution

      The ironic thing here is that it’s precisely the most vulnerable who are most negatively affected by laws that criminalise commercial sex. This is certainly the case in Sweden, where it is street workers who are now pressurised to accept clients more quickly and with less negotiation and to agree to less safe sexual acts; it is foreign sex workers who are being deported when caught selling sex and who consequently are turning to pimps for protection. Whereas it is indoor workers, the ones whom you would describe as “privileged”, who report that their incomes have increased as they have picked up the clientele who are not willing to risk arrest on the streets. Leaving, of course, the poor street workers with the clients who don’t care about being arrested.

      Reply
    • This is a gender bias issue. If a man enjoys sex with multiple women he is ‘Jack the lad’. If a woman does it, she is a whore or abused. Why is it not possible to understand sex is not about ‘respect’, it’s about two people enjoying each others company?

      The kind of men who see trafficked women are a minority. A man who does not care if the woman is enjoying herself or not, is also the kind that would likely rape a woman, well, let’s face it… he does! This does not represent the majority of men who visit Escorts. The majority are looking for a ‘mutual’ experience, but as they are not able to find that consent in day to day life, they are happy to pay for that consent and mutual experience.

      Something that seems to be forgotten, is that many men choose to see the same woman for their sexual needs. They form a bond, they have a friendship and yes mutual respect and fondness. I know of people who have been seeing each other for over a decade and remain good friends afterwards. There are also those that do pay for company. To share a meal together, perhaps have a massage, a kiss and a cuddle and enjoy having company. For some the sex is immaterial and not always present.

      Lastly, you are also forgetting that time does not stand still. Street walkers are now the minority and Escorts make up the majority. Women in Education, studying law, education, nurses etc have all looked at Prostitution as a way to see them through the expense of training/education. Some women use it as a stop gap, a way to take the stress off throughout the recession and a way to further their choices for the future. There are in fact many women who are not Escorting to maintain a habit or an addiction, but for much more positive reasons.

      You may think this is selfish, but living as a single woman or even a couple these days is hard and if a lady feels she is suited to sex work and enjoys doing it, then let her fill that gap and not those that are coerced or trafficked into it. It is after all the oldest profession, so it is not going to stop. If you make it hard for those that are willing, then you will only be left with the ones who have no choice. How does that help anyone? How does that put the woman first?

      Reply
  4. Okay Wendy well let me ask you the following questions then:

    1) Why do you think that men should be able to buy sex ? Why should they be able to buy women based on their ethinicity, body type, age etc. like a Mcdonald’s menu? If this system is so natural and consensual why aren’t there just as many women buying men for sex?

    2) You didn’t respond to the article I posted about the insurance company…Do you think that treatment of prostituted women indicates that those 100 men respect women? Do you actually believe that a man talking disrespectfully about a woman after a one night stand is the same thing as the disrespect shown by the men on those escort review boards?

    3) You think that prostitution and trafficking are different things, but aren’t they both filling the same male demand for paid sex?

    4) How does full legalization stop the pimps and the traffickers? How are the police supposed to regulate it?You don’t like the swedish model or Amsterdam’s laws, which model of law are you asking for? New Zealand law? Isn’t it against the law in New Zealand for prostituted women to have an STD or be high/drunk etc in the brothels? What happens to a prostitute then with an STD or an addiction? The men aren’t tested for STD’s etc.. .so doesn’t this system just protect the men and not the women?

    Reply
    • 1) Why do you think that men should be able to buy sex ?

      Firstly, it isn’t only men that are able to buy sex.

      Secondly, it’s up to you to justify making a legal activity illegal when money is exchanged. It isn’t up to others to justify why a legal activity should not be automatically rendered illegal in any particular circumstance.

      Why should they be able to buy women based on their ethinicity, body type, age etc. like a Mcdonald’s menu?

      As our Guest points out, they are not buying women. They are buying a service provided by those women.

      Incidentally, you might enjoy this page.

      If this system is so natural and consensual why aren’t there just as many women buying men for sex?

      Jeez, I can think of a number of reasons why women don’t buy as much sex from men as men buy from women, which have nothing to do with “natural and consensual”. Because many women are less interested in casual sex than men are. Because those who are interested in it can often find it more easily than men can, without having to pay for it. Because “having to pay for it” may be more embarrassing for a woman than for a man. Because women are socialised into this seduction myth which says they can’t be the one to initiate sex. I could probably think of a few more if I spent some time at it.

      The fact is that men and women approach a lot of aspects of sexuality in different ways. These differences no more prove that commercial sex is inherently non-consensual than they prove that non-commercial sex is inherently non-consensual.

      2) You didn’t respond to the article I posted about the insurance company…

      You haven’t responded to a lot of things I’ve posted :)

      Do you think that treatment of prostituted women indicates that those 100 men respect women? Do you actually believe that a man talking disrespectfully about a woman after a one night stand is the same thing as the disrespect shown by the men on those escort review boards?

      You sound as though you don’t really believe that men say horrible things about women after one-night stands. Sometimes they do. And sometimes those women didn’t have sex with them simply as a source of income, but because they really loved/liked/respected the men and believed the men loved/liked/respected them. That is not a very nice thing to do to a woman. But it’s perfectly legal, and I haven’t heard any sex work abolitionist argue that it shouldn’t be. Why not?

      3) You think that prostitution and trafficking are different things but aren’t they both filling the same male demand for paid sex?

      Not if it’s a woman buying the sex.

      It’s a daft question anyway. There is a demand for child care workers, and many child care workers are in fact trafficked, does that mean that child care and trafficking are the same thing?

      4) How does full legalization stop the pimps and the traffickers?

      You want to talk about pimps? Here is what the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare has to say about pimps under the sex-purchase ban:

      According to one informant in Göteborg, there are probably more pimps involved in prostitution nowadays. The informant says the law against purchasing sexual services has resulted in a larger role and market for pimps, since prostitution cannot take place as openly.

      A woman engaged in indoor prostitution in Göteborg relates that when the law took effect in 1999, about ten women engaged in prostitution from various Eastern European countries approached her business because they wanted to hide indoors. Informants from the Stockholm Prostitution Centre also mention that the law has opened the door to middlemen (pimps), because it has become more difficult for sellers and buyers of sexual services to make direct contact with one another.

      This is actually the same thing that happened in Ireland when the soliciting law was brought in. Criminalisation, whether of buyer or seller, promotes rather than discourages pimping.

      How are the police supposed to regulate it?

      How do they regulate any other industry? Nobody says the fact that agriculture is not illegal means that exploitation cannot be addressed in agriculture.

      You don’t like the swedish model or Amsterdam’s laws, which model of law are you asking for? New Zealand law? Isn’t it against the law in New Zealand for prostituted women to have an STD or be high/drunk etc in the brothels? What happens to a prostitute then with an STD or an addiction? The men aren’t tested for STD’s etc.. .so doesn’t this system just protect the men and not the women?

      I am not calling for any one particular law to be adopted wholesale. However, it is not illegal for New Zealand sex workers to have STIs. The law says that both they and their clients must take “all reasonable steps” to minimise risk of acquiring or transmitting STIs. There is no mandatory testing. The Prostitution Reform Act doesn’t specifically mention anything about being drunk or high; perhaps this comes under occupational health and safety legislation which applies to sex workers like all other workers, but if so then you may as well ask the same question about those other workers because the law would apply the same to a non-sex worker with an addiction.

      Reply
    • Women also buy sex and companionship. It is a service and as long as the person selling is willing and doing so of their own free will. What is the problem?

      Reply
  5. “There is a demand for child care workers, and many child care workers are in fact trafficked, does that mean that child care and trafficking are the same thing?”

    Yes It would have been, if the trafficking childcare workers outnumbered the regular childcare workers by many times.

    Reply
    • Wow. Evidence, please, for the whopping assertion implied in your comment?

      Reply
      • Prostitution objectifies women. It is much easier for a person to abuse, disrespect and discard that which they have de-humanized through objectification.

        Teaching the next generation that it is not okay to buy a woman is a step in the right direction.

        Wendy, prostitution is not “just” buying a service. It is buying a woman’s body. When I hire a plumber and hire his “service”, I don’t care what he looks like as long as he gets the job done. Could the same be said of Jons?

        Reply
        • No, what dehumanises and objectifies women is denying their autonomy and agency and insisting that they are not subjects who sell sex, but passive bodies – objects – who are sold. Also, see Lori Adorable’s comments about the “selling their bodies” trope here.

          I addressed in a previous reply the myth about what this law is teaching the next generation in Sweden, but even if they were getting the message you want them to get, that still wouldn’t justify it. A policy that does harm is never a step in the right direction, no matter what message it sends. Whether it’s denying young people contraceptives in order to teach them they shouldn’t be having sex, denying injecting drug users clean needles in order to teach them they shouldn’t be injecting, or denying independent residence status to migrant women with less than two years’ residency and abusive Swedish husbands, in order to teach them you’re not a “soft touch” for visa-marriages (another ingenious Swedish policy).

          Your last comment is nonsensical. People are always hired on the basis of having the characteristics needed for the job needed, and sex work isn’t the only type of work in which physical appearance might be one of those characteristics. Did Daniel Day Lewis sell his body when he took the role of Abraham Lincoln? If not, why not? After all he had to be tall and skinny to play that role, right?

    • im sorry but the number of consensual sex workers more than out numbers those who are trafficked.

      Trafficking is disgusting and should be stopped! But it is not the same as sex work!

      I am in Australia and in 12 years i have worked in many brothels and agencies and i have never met a woman who was trafficked or a sex slave. Because the industry is legal and decriminalized in one state, our trafficking rates are VERY low. It gets found out VERY quickly!

      New Zealand does not have high sex trafficking rates and who ever pulled that statistic out, id like to see the proof!!

      Reply
  6. Pingback: USA International Women's Day: 10 Reasons Why Feminism is Good For Boys and Men

  7. Grown ups should be free to buy and sell services make a distinction between normal prostitution and forced and men write on sites to avoid getting ripped off not out of lack of respect i have always treated the women as human beings this is bull .

    Reply
  8. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jul/02/prostitution-legalise-criminalise-swedish-law

    “The evaluation concludes that, since the law came in to force in 1999, the number of women involved in street prostitution has halved, whereas neighbouring countries such as Denmark and Norway have seen a sharp rise; that there is no evidence of an increase in off-street prostitution; and that, despite a significant increase in prostitution in the neighbouring countries during the past 10 years, there is no evidence of a similar increase in Sweden.”

    Reply
    • Erm, citing a 2010 article as if it contradicts data only made available in 2011 isn’t really the best argument. Anyway, that “evaluation” was a joke. It’s not actually based on any research or evidence, and its ultimate conclusion is little more than “well, we haven’t noticed any increase in indoor prostitution, therefore the law works”. Seriously, read it.

      Reply
    • The Guardian is vehemently against legalized prostitution and is hardly the most credible source when it comes to reports on prostitution. Behind its reputation as a quality paper, it is filled with biased reporting on lots of issues, including this one.

      The report you cite is inconclusive at best. It has only reduced street prostitution, which covers a minority of sex workers. The Swedes themselves are honest enough to admit that they have no reliable data covering indoor prostitution and other forms.

      There are other troubling facts. Sex workers in Sweden and Norway (which has adopted a similar approach) consistently report degraded working conditions, increased pressure from more aggressive clients and lack of support in dealing with abusive clients.

      The laws are failing precisely the people they claim to protect. But no one seems to care in Sweden, they are happy as street prostitution has been reduced. Doesn’t matter if the women still working as prostitutes are reporting worse conditions. Hypocrisy all the way.

      Reply
  9. Its all underground now. Swedish men go to Thailand and find women and then “sponsor” them, and the women work in massage parlors for 6 months in Sweden. Only immigration reform and tougher rules can change this. I have first hand knowledge of this happening. These men can only “sponsor” one woman at a time, but HUNDREDS do it every year. Swedish immigration is only concerned with large trafficking rings. It is the individual Swedish males, looking to make a few extra kroner, who fuel the underground sex industry now.

    Reply
  10. Pingback: Die Würde der Sexarbeiter und ihre persönliche Autonomie | ars libertatis

  11. Pingback: The Statistics. | My Thoughts on Sex Work and the Law

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,796 other followers

%d bloggers like this: