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So you don’t want to take Amnesty’s word for it? Okay.

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CN: stuff you might find by googling for low-quality cishet male porn 

Last week, Amnesty International finally published its full policy position on sex work. The reaction from anti-sex work feminists has been predictable: lots of vitriol, penis-shaped candles, and pimp smears, but little to no engagement with Amnesty’s actual arguments. The 101-page report into Amnesty’s research in Norway (Melissa Gira Grant has summarised it well here) has been, unsurprisingly, almost totally ignored, apart from a couple suggestions that Amnesty is too compromised for its research to be trusted anyway.

Well, great news, “Nordic model” advocates: you don’t have to take Amnesty’s word. Because Swedish super cop Simon Haggstrom – you’ll know him from his frequent visits to other countries to proselytise for the sex purchase ban – has now published his memoirs. Only in Swedish, alas, but that’s why God made Google Translate. Here are some of his views on how the law actually functions in practice. Let’s take them thematically, shall we?

On whether the law is “working” to end demand



On the law’s “normative effect” on young Swedish men


On whether sex workers are still hassled by police


Note the subtle threat in the above, made explicit in the next one:

On whether sex workers are de facto criminalised


Pro tip: ask anyone with a precarious immigration status in your country whether that sounds like a request to voluntarily assist with a police investigation. Or not.

On whether sex workers are treated respectfully and with dignity during raids

Confiscating their used tampons and displaying them as “evidence”? You decide.


Yes, this is an actual picture in the book

On whether the law is more concerned with preventing or punishing “exploitation”


In fact, one could be forgiven for thinking the “main reason” is something totally different. If the cops intervened before any sex took place, Simon would miss all the good parts:








And if all that wasn’t enough to answer one final question…

On who exactly benefits from this law


Well, there you go: it provides the cops with “excitement” and plenty of wank material, in which they themselves play a starring role in the action. Ironic, when you consider that Amnesty are the ones being accused of privileging men’s sexual desires.

So let’s recap. According to one of the law’s chief enforcers, it hasn’t changed men’s attitudes. It isn’t deterring them from paying for sex. It isn’t stopping women from selling sex (indeed, they have to engage in a sexual act before enforcement will take place at all). It is subjecting them to unwanted interactions with the police, up to and including detention, and deportation for those who refuse to accept the cops’ “help”. That … sounds an awful lot like what Amnesty found next door in Norway, doesn’t it?

But even Amnesty might be surprised at the clumsy, cringeworthy porn that Haggstrom illustrates his accounts with – more surprised than Swedish sex workers seem to be, which is possibly telling in itself. Is it any wonder he’s such an advocate for the law?  Without it, he’d have to get off with only his imagination again.

Credit to Lucy Smyth for translations and screenshots. 

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Sex trafficking in Sweden, according to the Swedish police: part 3

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This is the third in a series (previous parts here and here) of my analyses of Swedish police reports which, as you’ll see, depict the law against paying for sex in a less flattering light than you’d expect from all the propaganda about it. I’m not going to go into much depth with this one, first because it largely repeats the findings of the previous two and second because I felt sick to my stomach before I reached the end of it, for reasons that will become clear. What follows, then, is only a few particularly notable excerpts from the latest report (published in November 2015). The link is here and, like last year, I’ve had to run this through Google translate; it seems the practice of publishing these reports in both Swedish and English ceased after my first post in this series. I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.

So here goes:

In cases where the women used in prostitution in Sweden had been found the police or NGOs offered opportunities for support and assistance. If they are not willing or able to cooperate with law enforcement authorities in an investigation into human trafficking or pimping, they could in some cases be rejected under the Aliens Act to the EU country where they have a residence permit. That women do not want or dare to cooperate in an investigation may be due to lack of confidence in the police, but also to the fear that they or their family will be punished. (p.16)

Supporters of the law often deny that this happens, but there it is in black and white from the Swedish police themselves. Non-EEA sex workers or women trafficked into prostitution (the report assumes they’re the latter) risk expulsion if they don’t help the police with their investigations – even though the police know that sometimes they refuse out of fear. What kind of “support and assistance” is that?

By the way, here’s the footnote to that paragraph:

According to Chapter 8, Section 2, first paragraph “an alien may be rejected if it can be assumed that during his or her stay in Sweden he or she will not earn a living in an honest way”.

Remember, these are women the law purportedly regards as “victims”.

Note also the procedural defect, which allows a person to be deported based on an assumption. In a country where discrimination against “Asian-looking” women is permitted as an anti-prostitution measure, without any actual evidence against the specific woman, you’d be forgiven for not putting much confidence in those “assumptions”.

Moving on to page 22:

In 2014, the police noted a change regarding the number of Internet sites with ads for the sale of sexual services where there was reason to suspect that the victims were under 18 years old. The ads were fewer and the police saw a change in the way to make contact from ads to the open pages of chat and social media applications such as Facebook.

It’s been pointed out time and time again that even where the sex industry is criminalised, it constantly adapts to new technologies and new methods of avoiding detection. Here’s a good example. Advertising on social media undoubtedly predates 2014, even if the cops weren’t aware of it. If police scrutiny begins to make that too inconvenient, something else will replace it – that’s an absolute certainty.

Oh and incidentally, if you’re imagining that it will only be people actually advertising sex whose social media accounts will be scrutinised, remember that the Swedish police have fairly strong surveillance powers. Anyone who spends time in, or talks to people in, Sweden can be pretty sure they’ll use this to justify even more snooping into your private communications.

Sex is still being sold by online advertisement, though, and on page 29 they give an example of it:

In the spring of 2014 the Stockholm police prostitution team came in contact with a 14-year-old girl sexually exploited by adult men for payment when she advertised sexual services via the Internet. The girl said that she was bought and sexually exploited by several men and the police managed to identify two of them.

The 14-year-old girl is, of course, an iconic figure in anti-prostitution campaigning. This image was all over the place in Ireland a few years ago:

Anna

The organisations behind this ad want us to believe that Anna’s sad story wouldn’t have happened if only there was a law here criminalising men who pay for sex. Yet here are the Swedish police confirming that 15 years after this law was introduced – a law older than she is – they have their own Anna, who’s been paid for sex by “several” adult men. And I’m guessing “she’s not the only one”, either.

On page 43, we find what may be the single most heinous thing I’ve ever read about this law. Discussing penalties (and why the doubling of them doesn’t seem to have worked as well as expected, although of course that’s not stated in so many words) the report says:

several proposals have been made that the crime of purchase of sexual services should be divided into severity and a felony introduced. The [2010 official] evaluation of the effects of the ban on the purchase of sex noted in its analysis of this question that a classification of the offence by several severity levels could bring more disadvantages for the fight against this and related offences. Police Regions agree with the commission’s fear that graduation would lead to resources being exclusively devoted to crimes considered more reprehensible and that the investigation of the crime of purchase of sexual services would therefore not be prioritised.

Read that again, and let it sink in. Actually, let me repeat this bit:

graduation would lead to resources being exclusively devoted to crimes considered more reprehensible and that the investigation of the crime of purchase of sexual services would therefore not be prioritised

Once more. Just in case.

graduation would lead to resources being exclusively devoted to crimes considered more reprehensible and that the investigation of the crime of purchase of sexual services would therefore not be prioritised

I am nearly at a loss for words about this. One of the arguments that has been made against the introduction of this law in Ireland is that it would divert resources away from serious offences (like actual trafficking and exploitation) because the police would need to use those resources going after just any man who pays for sex. So, here the Swedish police are confirming that that’s exactly what they want it to do. As with the increase in stigma against sex workers, the reduced ability of the police to focus on “more reprehensible” crimes against them is a feature, not a bug of the law.

There are case study summaries at the end of the report, but I think I’ll leave it here. If there is anything more outrageous or despicable than the deliberate refusal to prioritise serious crimes against sex workers, I’m not sure I have the stomach to read them.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to donate to National Ugly Mugs. Please consider doing the same if you can.

 

 

A favourite piece of research for Swedish model advocates throws up a few surprises

Guest post by @pastachips

Does legalized prostitution increase human trafficking?“, a 2012 study by Cho, Dreher and Neumayer, is cited everywhere as evidence that ‘legalised prostitution’ increases trafficking into the sex industry. This article from last month is a recent example. The study’s conclusions have already been called into question, basically because the paper doesn’t distinguish between different meanings of the word trafficking, either in terms of taking account different countries’ laws – are we comparing like with like? – nor in terms of making a distinction between something-that-might-be-legally-trafficking-but is-essentially-undocumented-migration, and something more like cross-border kidnapping. Making that kind of distinction is pretty important if you’re trying to say something coherent! As is comparing like with like! The papers’ authors caution against treating its conclusions with too much weight, noting that “the quality of data is relatively low”, and that more research “will require the collection of more reliable data to establish firmer conclusions” (p26), but I think their data is actually way worse that they’re letting on.

They focus in on comparing Denmark, Germany and Sweden, and tell us: “in terms of human trafficking victims, the ILO estimated the stock of victims in Germany in 2004 to be approximately 32,800 – about 62 times more than in Sweden” (p25). I looked up their reference for that 32,800 figure, and found that the ILO paper cited as the source – Danailova-Trainor & Belser, 2006doesn’t even mention Germany. I discovered that by reading it, but you can also test it by clicking through and doing a command-f search for the words “German” or “Germany”, which you might reasonably expect to occur in a document that mentioned Germany.

The same 2006 paper is also cited as the source for the numbers on Denmark, where the claim is made that “… the ILO estimates the stock of human trafficking victims in Denmark in 2004 at approximately 2,250, while the estimated number in Sweden is about 500”, and the bracketed reference reads: “Global report data used in Danailova-Trainor and Belser, 2006” (p24). Again, I looked for those numbers (or any mention of Denmark) in vain in the Danailova-Trainor & Belser 2006 paper. I also checked out the “Global Report” mentioned as the source for Danailova-Trainor and Belser’s data, which I figured was probably a reference to the ILO’s 2005 report titled ‘A Global Alliance Against Forced Labour’ – there’s nothing else published that it plausibly could be; I checked. The 2005 Global Report doesn’t contain any country estimates, let alone numbers like those cited by Cho, Dreher and Neumayer.

I assumed that the 32,800 figure regarding Germany must have come from somewhere, so I dug around for ages on the ILO site, and found that the ILO seems to mostly resist giving country-specific numerical estimates (cf this 2005 report on trafficking in Germany, which really won’t be drawn on numbers). The only figures I could find for trafficking in Germany in 2004 were these official lists of identified victims that put the 2004 number at 972 (for all officially identified trafficking victims, not just sex trafficking victims). Obviously a list of ‘officially identified’ victims is unreliable – for instance, surely everyone knows these lists massively under-represent the number of men trafficked into agricultural work. But I feel like at least that list has an available methodology, which you could for instance replicate to see if you would get a similar number, or critique or challenge (as I would). How do you assess the validity of the process which produced an unreferenced 32,800, that appears to have come from nowhere?

It’s probably worth noting that I’m not invested in “defending” Germany’s record on ‘sex trafficking’ (scare-quoted because I think a lot of what is referred to in that phrase is more complicated that is generally allowed). I’ve focused in a bit on Germany because the study does. I don’t support Germany’s legal model in terms of sex work, and nor do any sex worker-led organisations in Ireland or the UK that I’m aware of; sex workers are perfectly capable of articulating why and how laws like those in Germany harm us, and disproportionately harm the more marginalised of us. I just feel like having references that go somewhere is quite a low bar in terms of the social sciences – especially when you’re citing very large numbers that apparently don’t appear anywhere else! – and I’m pretty surprised that the Cho/Dreher/Neumayer study seems not to clear that bar.

I also noticed that the study’s info on sex work laws around the world (167 countries! such big study wow!) is from, uh, 1995. (See p46.) The authors of the study are aware of some potential problems with this, noting: “for some countries, prostitution law changed during the 1996-2003 period: … Germany (2002), Denmark (1999) … Netherlands (2000), New Zealand (2003), and Sweden (1999). Our results are robust to the exclusion of these countries” [emphasis mine; some countries removed because if you want to see the full list you can follow up my reference] (p37). Norway implemented the sex purchase law in 2009; Iceland in 2007. In short, the effects of the ‘Nordic model’ are not actually included in the data of this study, and nor is the effect of the New Zealand model. “Our results are robust to the exclusion of these countries”. This might arguably make the study a not-totally-solid citation for you, if you’re looking to argue that the Swedish model is great and the New Zealand model is 💩. Here’s maybe the most interesting surprise. Cho, Dreher and Neumayer include a handy list of all the countries they’ve “looked at” (scare-quotes because hmmm), sorted into categories according to whether those countries have “very high”, “high”, “medium”, “low” or “very low” trafficking ‘inflows’. (See p44.) Sweden is listed in the “medium” category, along with … New Zealand.

Now, I don’t think that’s actually meaningful! Because I think that the data used to produce the conclusions of this study was 🌸 garbage 🌸. In general I think you get information that’s meaningful about sex work, trafficking, migration and exploitation by asking migrants who sell sex about their experiences and their policy suggestions. This study is a good example of that. But if you do think the conclusions of the study are meaningful – for example, if you’ve cited this paper as part of your argument in favour of laws like Sweden’s – then it should probably concern you that a study-you-apparently-consider-reliable ‘reveals’ Sweden is actually no ‘better’ at tackling trafficking than New Zealand. Whoops!

I know “the point” of this study is that it’s not “just about” individual countries; it’s trying to see patterns on a macro scale. But – that’s kind of a design problem with the study? In order to have relevance to policy debates, you have to organise your data in a way that is coherent with the terms of the debate – or at least, not egregiously incoherent. The global sex worker rights movement isn’t arguing for the (massively varied!) laws that this paper puts in the pile it calls “legalisation”; we’re not campaigning for “oh, laws that look something like the ones they have in Nevada, or Amsterdam, or Germany, or New Zealand; the details don’t matter, we don’t really mind”. We do mind! We’re trying to work towards (and improve on) the sex work laws they have in New Zealand. Sorry if this idea is complicated, but: aggregate data from Germany, Denmark, New Zealand and the Netherlands doesn’t make sense if no one is arguing in favour of the legal system in Germany, Denmark or the Netherlands, and when people who are pro-criminalisation refuse to understand this, they don’t derail us so much as make it obvious that they don’t care about the detail of the laws because they won’t be affected by them. Which isn’t that great an advocacy look, tbh. My focus on comparing New Zealand to Sweden in this study’s (broken and out-of-date) data isn’t because I’m scared of what will be ‘revealed’ by the aggregated global data (except in the sense that I’m finding this study scarily incompetent); but because I think it makes sense to talk about legal systems in a way that’s precise enough to be coherent.

Plenty of people have cited the Cho/Dreher/Neumayer paper as if it closes the argument, or as if it has some kind of weight or meaning. People who have been using it (presumably without reading it) probably need to decide whether the study – once read beyond the abstract – shows that New Zealand and Sweden have pretty much the same outcomes in terms of ‘sex trafficking’, or whether it’s actually so unreliable and badly put together as to be functionally useless (ding ding ding). While they decide which angle to take, I’m gonna write to the journal that published this paper and raise a few concerns.

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 Sexwork.net 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 Sexwork.net 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?

Sex workers are still targeted under the racist Swedish model

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Last week, an appeals court in Sweden upheld a decision in favour of a tavern owner and security staff who had denied entry on three separate occasions to Asian-looking women. The tavern admitted judging these women by their appearance, but said they had barred them in order to prevent prostitution from taking place on their premises. Police had told the tavern owner that this was going on, and that Asian women were involved. These particular Asian women weren’t though, and they brought a discrimination claim.

The women lost in the lower court, and then lost again on appeal. According to my best Google Translate, the appellate court found that preventing prostitution is an “inherently legitimate reason” which justifies the means that was taken by the tavern, even though the effect was to bar women from their premises who had done nothing more than appear to be Asian. That’s not unlawful discrimination, according to the Swedish courts.

There are a couple things going on here. First, of course, there’s the blatantly racist nature of the policy, now formally endorsed and legitimated by a Swedish judiciary which sees nothing wrong with singling out women of colour for whore stigma. It’s not particularly surprising that racialised women would bear the brunt of a policy aimed at a migrant-dominated industry, but the court’s seal of approval institutionalises racism within Official Sweden’s zero tolerance approach. Of such a priority is the Swedish state’s war against sex work that all else can be thrown by the wayside, even principles ordinarily regarded as pretty fucking basic in a supposedly advanced democracy.

The second thing is that this decision exposes the lie that the Swedish law is not about targeting sex workers. Of course it is. They may not be targeted for prosecution, but the Swedish authorities are more than happy to go after them with any other means at their disposal. They go after them with immigration laws, with the power to refuse them custody of their children; they stake out their homes. They have already involved non-state actors in their war, as when they train hotel staff to monitor the habits of female guests; now, it seems, other branches of the service sector are also being drafted into the Prohibitionist Army. Whose policy seems to be one of “shoot first, ask questions later”.

I don’t think there’s much risk of a similar court judgment in Ireland, even should the Swedish model be adopted here. Our Equal Status Act does allow for denial of services where it is believed that serving the person would give rise to a substantial risk of criminal activity, but “discriminatory grounds” are specifically excluded as a valid basis for that belief.  The reason for that exclusion is so that pubs and shops and hotels cannot cite criminality by some Irish Travellers as a reason to deny entry to all of them, so it’s rather unlikely that the courts would allow use of a similar justification to bar all women from ethnic backgrounds popularly associated with prostitution.

But what the Equal Status Act says and what actually happens in pubs and shops and hotels are two different things. And just as Travellers are, in fact, routinely denied entry on discriminatory grounds in spite of the law, women who are seen as being “high risk” for prostitution because of their racial appearance could well find themselves being subjected to a de facto discrimination door policy. This is particularly likely to happen if the law creates “an offence of recklessly permitting a premises to be used for the purposes of prostitution”, as recommended by the Oireachtas Justice Committee and supported by the Turn Off the Red Light campaign and its member organisations, several of which operate in the migrant advocacy sector. If this law is passed and migrant women become collateral damage in the Irish war against sex work, as they have in the Swedish and Norwegian wars, will these groups also shrug it off as an “inherently legitimate reason”?

We need to talk about Sweden’s problem with rape and consent

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Content/comments warning: This post is about the way Sweden’s justice system deals with rape and sexual assault cases. It will contain graphic descriptions of sexual violence and rape apologism. It is not about Sweden’s reported rape rate. Racist or MRAist comments will be deleted.

15th May 2013

Swedish court clears ‘bottle sex’ men of rape

Three 19-year-old men were cleared of the rape of an underage girl. They had pinned her down on a bed, pried her legs open and inserted a wine bottle into her vagina, causing bleeding. The court accepted the truthfulness of her account, but rejected the charge of rape. It said she may have tried to keep her legs together out of “modesty”. The verdict stated, “People involved in sexual activities do things naturally to each other’s body in a spontaneous way, without asking for consent”.

19th September 2013

‘No’ debate erupts after gang rape-acquittal

Six teenagers were cleared by a Swedish appeals court of gang-raping a 15-year-old girl. Although she had said no, as one of the judges told the media afterwards, “that doesn’t automatically mean it’s rape”. The absence of actual violence (apart from the rape) meant she had to show she was in an “incapacitated state”, and fear of being gang-raped by six people was deemed insufficient to meet that threshold.

4th November 2013

Activists protest foster home teen rape acquittal

A 17-year-old girl in foster care in central Sweden reported the foster father for rape. His sperm was found in her vagina and on the spot in her bedroom where she’d said the rape took place. His explanation that he had been “erection training” in the bathroom and left a sperm-covered piece of paper there, that just happened to find his way into the girl’s vagina, was deemed feasible by the court. He was acquitted.

14th January 2014

Swedish judge defends dominant-sex rape acquittal

A man was acquitted of raping a woman who had screamed to the point of losing her voice as he attacked her. The court said it could not be rape because “the thought had not occurred to him, that she did not want to have sex with him”.

27th January 2014

Man cleared of rape: was ‘unaware’ she was drunk

A man was acquitted of raping a woman in western Sweden. The court accepted that the woman was drunk – in fact, it said she had been so drunk that she “fell to the ground and lay there awhile”. But he claimed he didn’t realise she was drunk, and the court ruled there was no proof that he did.

31st March 2014

District Court: All participated in a game in the shed

A 16-year-old was acquitted by a court in Eastern Sweden after forcing an underage girl to perform oral sex on another boy. The Court accepted that the girl felt forced, but said there was no proof that the accused intended force. Even though the reason she felt forced was him shooting her with a BB gun.

***

There’s a common thread running through the majority of these cases: a definition of rape (or sexual assault) in which the defining factor is not the victim’s consent, but the perpetrator’s perception of that consent. And unlike in Irish or British law, it seems, once that perception is asserted, its reasonableness is irrelevant. The accused need only claim to not have known the victim wasn’t consenting – no matter how patently absurd that claim is. The prosecution will need to prove that the accused not only heard “no”, but recognised it as “no”; not only that the victim was passed out on the floor from drinking, but that the accused recognised them as drunk. The fact that anyone with a brain in their head would have recognised these things? Not enough.

Through its laws on rape and prostitution, Sweden has produced two seemingly contradictory policies: that paying a woman who agrees to take your money for sex is the worst thing ever, but ignoring a woman’s rejection of your sexual advances is ok as long as you say you didn’t mean it. For a country so determined to control some women’s right to say “yes”, why is there so little concern for the right to say “no”? The only conclusion I can draw from this is that the Swedish state really doesn’t trust women at all to dictate the terms of their own consent.

(I should point out that one change has been made to the laws discussed above: namely, a rape victim who submits without force no longer has to show that they were in an “incapacitated state”. They can now show that they were in a “particularly vulnerable situation”. But the woman in the 27th January case was able to demonstrate this, and her rapist still walked free. Because he claimed he didn’t see it, and that’s still what matters in Sweden.)

Of course, there are rapists who are convicted in Sweden, maybe some of whom tried and failed to get away with the “I didn’t know no meant no” defence. That doesn’t make the existence of the defence any more acceptable. There are also some rapists acquitted in Ireland and Britain despite exceptionally dodgy consent defences, and since all our rape trials are heard by juries, who don’t give reasons, we wouldn’t know if they were de facto applying the Swedish standard. But it’s still better that they’re instructed not to.

If you’re reading this and it surprises you, ask yourself why you haven’t heard of these cases before. Why are they only ever reported in Swedish media and never picked up abroad? Why is that mainstream feminists, when they do hear about these cases (usually because people like me have tweeted these links at them), still refuse to acknowledge Sweden’s rape problem the way they decry, say, India’s or the USA’s?

To me the answer seems obvious: because mainstream feminism is incredibly invested in the narrative of Sweden-as-feminist-utopia. This isn’t just because of its horrible sex work laws; Swedish-style governance feminism in general is what mainstream feminism aspires to, where its hopes are pinned. To admit that it’s actually a bit shit for women in some ways, and particularly in a way like this which goes to the heart of women’s rights, is to admit that their emperor has no clothes. So better to ignore it and hope it goes unnoticed.

As someone who cares more about the actual lives of women than about any state feminism project, this post is my small contribution to stopping it going unnoticed.

 

Comparing “trafficking” statistics: why it’s a waste of time

I thought it might be useful to make a simple chart to demonstrate why it’s meaningless to claim that one country has more trafficking than another, based on their official statistics. Seeing as this comes up all the time.

You can click on it to enlarge:

Trafficking definitions

There are a few explanations and disclaimers I need to get in:

  1. The chart is based on my own interpretation of each country’s laws. There is undoubtedly scope for disagreement in some of the details – but not, I believe, on the overall picture.
  2. The big centre column refers to adult trafficking only. I included an age qualifier for Germany because its law treats 18 to 21 year old adults as children.
  3. For “Elements of Trafficking”, I’ve used the three-part schema derived from Article 3(a) of the UN Trafficking Protocol. The headers are a common shorthand and are not to be interpreted literally (“control” doesn’t only mean actual control but can include deception, for example).
  4. Even within a single element, definitions can vary widely; eg, in the UK the “movement” element strictly requires travel, while the Irish definition adheres more closely to the broader Protocol criteria.
  5. Finally and most importantly, the chart reflects what the law actually says – not necessarily how it’s interpreted in practice. It’s theoretically possible that the reporting bodies in each country actually apply a more uniform definition in the process of collecting statistics. But that’s for the people who put faith in the official stats to demonstrate – and to my knowledge, not one of them has done so.

All that said, I think this chart makes one thing crystal clear: when countries tally up their “trafficking” figures, they aren’t necessarily counting the same thing. And unless these distinctions are controlled for in comparative studies, which they haven’t been so far, the evidential value of those studies is pretty close to nil.

 

Sources:

Ireland – Criminal Law (Human Trafficking Act) 2008

UK – Sexual Offences Act 2003

Sweden – Chapter 4 § 1 a of the Penal Code (2010:371) as translated in this Swedish police report

Germany – §232 StGB Criminal Code (original German here; translations courtesy of Ralph in this comment, Sonja Dolinsek of Menschenhandel Heute and Google Translate)

Netherlands – Article 273f of the Criminal Code