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More on sex trafficking in Sweden, from the Swedish police

Just over a year ago I wrote this post, analysing the Swedish police’s annual human trafficking report for 2011. A few months later, the 2012 report was published in Swedish; I didn’t have the time to Google Translate it so I figured I’d wait until the English version came out. Unusually, though, it never did. And now, I see the 2013 report is available – but again, only in Swedish. Perhaps the powers-that-be in Sweden have realised these reports aren’t exactly helpful to their international propaganda campaign.

So, Google Translate it is.  As it turns out, much of the 2013 report just repeats more-or-less-verbatim what I already quoted in my summary of the 2011 report (and I really do encourage you to read that, particularly if you still buy the TORL disinformation). But a few things jumped out at me from Section 3.1 of the current report, the section on “Human trafficking for sexual purposes”:

sex trafficking is not just an urban phenomenon but … these crimes also occur in small towns throughout Sweden (p.15)

They probably said that in the last report too, but it strikes me now how similar it is to Diarmuid Martin’s widely-reported New Year’s Mass, in which the Archbishop of Dublin solemnly informed us that trafficking is happening in every nook and cranny in Ireland. Hype about the spatial distribution of sex trafficking is an interesting subject in and of itself, though not one I’m going to spend any time on here.

In 2013 the police established a total of 41 complaints concerning trafficking for sexual purposes. … The above statistics can be compared with the situation in 2012, when 21 reports of human trafficking for sexual purposes were established. (p.15)

I’ve said repeatedly that I think trafficking statistics are pretty much meaningless, because they only measure what officials detect and identify as trafficking, which doesn’t necessarily coincide with the actual amount of activity taking place that fits the legal definition of “trafficking”. But let’s be honest – if this was a Dutch or German study showing a 95% increase in sex trafficking in a single year, don’t you think we’d be hearing all about it from the Mary Honeyballs and Rhoda Grants and Equality Nows of this world?

As in 2012, there was also in 2013 a return to more brutal methods in trafficking cases. (p.16)

Hmmm. Is this the “normative effect” Minister Fitzgerald tells us she expects from the law?

According to Europol … the victims of sex trafficking brought into the EU from third countries particularly come from Nigeria. This is the case even in Sweden. (p.16)

TORL supporters in Ireland have repeatedly claimed that this is the case in Ireland, too, which again undermines the argument that a country’s prostitution laws make the difference.

In cases where women are exploited in prostitution in Sweden and able to be contacted by the police or NGOs they are offered the opportunities for support and assistance. If they are not willing or able to cooperate with law enforcement authorities in an investigation of human trafficking/pimping, they may in some cases be inadmissible under the Aliens Act. [Footnote: According to Chapter 8, Section 2, first paragraph of the Aliens Act, “an alien is inadmissible if it can be assumed that during their stay in Sweden they will not earn a living in an honest way.”] (p.17)

Let’s condense that a bit: “In cases where women are exploited in prostitution in Sweden but not willing or able to cooperate with law enforcement, they may be deported, because we don’t want their kind here.” Such a caring compassionate approach to “women exploited in prostitution”, isn’t it?

Some victims told police that were they exploited in prostitution by sex-buying men, pimps and traffickers in several other EU countries before they were transferred to Sweden. According to Europol, it is common for criminal networks engaged in human trafficking to move victims from country to country and often within countries. This is how traffickers regularly offer men the sex-purchase of new women and maximize their profits. (p.19)

I think this is quite noteworthy, in light of previous claims that traffickers avoid Sweden because they can’t make any money there. 15 years of the sex purchase ban, and police say that traffickers are still moving victims to Sweden in order to “maximize their profits”. What does that tell you about how effective they think their law really is?

Another subsection looks at the online sector, and the last paragraph merits quoting in full:

National Police can confirm that subjects relating to the purchase of various sexual acts, escort services and prostitution activities still, despite a ban on the purchase of sexual services, engage men in Sweden. On the site and on the discussion board Flashback are hundreds of pages with thousands of discussion threads about these topics. Some of the threads contain reviews, written by sex-buying men, of women who are exploited for prostitution purposes. The reviews related inter alia whether the woman corresponds to the man’s expectations of the sex purchase, her appearance, physical attributes and her willingness to perform the “services” as promised on the website. That the woman ordered is actually offered is also important information for the sex-buying man. Moreover they exchange male sex-buying experiences such as how they can avoid detection by the police or family members, or avoid being exposed to robbery or extortion. The language used by these men in reviews is often highly sexualised, derogatory and abusive towards women. The threads on the web forum are divided into different regions; Sweden, other Nordic countries, the Baltic States, Europe and Thailand. (p.21)

I think that pretty much speaks for itself.

Now, a couple points on what’s not here. One of the most striking revelations of the report I reviewed last year was the near-trebling of Thai “massage parlour” brothels in Stockholm between 2009 and 2011-2012. There are no up-to-date figures in this report, but it does confirm those findings. So, for any pro-criminalisation people who were hoping the 2013 report would say “er that was wrong and actually there really are no brothels posing as massage parlours in Stockholm”: sorry to disappoint.

And finally, there’s a whole subsection – 3.1.3 – devoted to “Support for voluntary return and reintegration of persons trafficked for sexual exploitation or prostitution”. It takes up approximately one page of the overall five-and-a-half page section on sex trafficking. Curiously, there is no section on integrating trafficking victims into Swedish society. But then, we’ve already seen why that is: because their only value to Sweden is as a law-enforcement tool. It seems the Swedish state uses them for its own purposes, and then discards them like unwanted goods.

I’d call that exploitation.  Wouldn’t you?

ETA: The Swedish police have now released a press statement on this report, which can be read (in Swedish) here. This part of the statement is notable:

Human trafficking for sexual purposes makes most people think of foreign girls and women who are lured into sex slavery, something that the progress report also describes. But there is also a domestic problem in which minors, mostly girls, living in Sweden sell their bodies on the net. …

There are many who do not understand this explosion of girls who sell their bodies on line, says [Detective Inspector] Kajsa Wahlberg. These young girls have a need to be seen and get confirmation, while there is a great demand for young bodies.

This law is an abject failure. How can anyone claim otherwise?

About Wendy Lyon

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

15 responses »

  1. I might be able to help with translations, should you need them in the future; Swedish speaker. I have rather inconsistent productivity though, due to medical reasons… But send me a mail if you need anything.

  2. Interesting thoughts. On principle i support the rights of consenting adults to have sex irrespective of whether money changes hands. But i had not heard of the websites for buyers. Your description of the discussions chills me.

    • In principle so do I, but when a woman’s destitute, never mind when she’s kidnapped or lured under false pretenses, the whole idea of consent takes a nosedive.

      • I am really uncomfortable with a notion of “consent” that suggests a woman’s capacity for it depends on her economic circumstances. Not only does it infantilise women for being poor (in a way that poor men never are, even when they have to make undesirable choices) but more importantly it suggests that actually forcing a survival sex worker to have sex is no worse than paying her to have sex, which is a really dangerous idea to be putting about. I know that’s not what you mean to say, but that is the logical corollary of it. I think this is something best explored by sex workers themselves though. I’d really recommend having a read through Tits and Sass, a collective blog of current and former sex workers, many of whom with a history of survival sex work, which frequently explores the concept of consent within that context.

        • I didn’t say that consent “depends on” economic circumstances, and I sure didn’t mean to imply it. Economic circumstances influence our choices, period. That goes for everyone, regardless of gender, regardless of what kind of work we do, and regardless of whether we’re poor or not. To me this is a no-brainer, but in the U.S. (where I live) it’s widely ignored — witness the current celebration of “free speech” as if it’s equally free to everybody and everybody has equal access to it.

      • I absolutely agree.
        Thanks for posting.

    • you mean, the translation of the report does. This is written in a way to ensure the reader is offended, dismayed, outraged, etc to invoke the very reaction you had. That kind of language is exploitive, imo, and may have very little basis in reality. The sex workers want clients, the clients want sex workers, these sites provide a way for SWs to connect with clients so that the client knows, in a country that forbids real communication, what the SW provides. This is actually a way for the SW to control who she sees, and helps increase her ability to work safely. given that it is unlikely that SW and client can have a meaningly conversation or that she can put up ads that reflect that.

      These sites allow communication at a different level, in countries that criminalize communications. Of course the police and govt of Sweden want to make sure whoever reads their comments about such sites get offended. They want you to support the criminalization and deportation of the very people they also tell you are victims of exploitation.

      • There are important sex worker critiques of these sites though (again, I’d refer readers to Tits and Sass). But it is the case that criminalisation of clients actually promotes use of review sites – because they help clients identify who are genuine sex workers, not police on a sting operation.

  3. Interesting post! Very good and thought provoking blog! Thanks 🙂

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  5. Mm, lies, damned lies and statistics, as they say. Yes, the number of sex trafficking cases increased from 21 to 40 in Sweden. So if the measure against which the law is judged is whether trafficking was eliminated altogether, it has indeed failed. But if it is judged against a comparator – Germany for example – where there were 636 sex trafficking cases in 2011…. it looks rather as though it’s succeeded, doesn’t it? Even allowing for Germany having a larger population by a factor of eight – which would equate to 320 cases – so on exactly the same statistics, adoption of the Nordic model could be argued to be projected to halve sex trafficking in Germany.

    Then again, that 636 is a third reduced from 2001, so we would also need to look at the stats from Sweden pre-1999. If Germany is a third reduced and Sweden has continually grown, that would point to the efficacy of the NZ model.

    After that though we need then to control for population growth, then control further for immigration effects and willingness of the authorities to investigate trafficking in the first place (an enthusiastic state will uncover more instances than an apathetic one – so the apathetic one would on the stats have a 0 incidence which would not reflect the reality) so one way and another, statistics are a shonky measurement.

    • LonelyPasserby

      Why should one compare Sweden to Germany, when one can compare Sweden to Sweden (both “Sweden as before the laws in question” and “Sweden year-after-year as these laws remain in effect”) ?

      You are rather desperate in your attempts to protect the infantilising and sex-worker endangering “anti-demand” laws from criticism.
      The fact you are desperate is good. It means we’re doing something right.

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