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.