by Cazzie Reyes- Digital and Social Media Intern
The latest trend in human trafficking policy is the Swedish/ Nordic model, which criminalizes the purchase of sex, while decriminalizing the selling of sex. Even President Carter is endorsing the approach, despite harsh criticisms. Amidst criesfrom sex worker activists and social service providers urging politicians to reconsider the law, many policy makers continue to tout this model as a success. To understand the motivations for keeping the law, it is necessary to gain the perspective of the stakeholders, from law enforcement officials to politicians.
In a discussion with Jonn Lamberth, Head of Border Control in Sweden’s southern region (Skåne), it became evident that policy implementation has led to a focus on migration and law enforcement. When asked how border patrol distinguishes between people migrating to be sex workers and sex trafficking victims, Officer Lamberth indicated that it was “very difficult” to distinguish between the two. This distinct lack of training is also evident because Swedish law enforcement tend to look for male traffickers and often fail to detect cases of trafficking where women are the perpetrators. As a result of this lapse in education, most trafficked individuals are simply arrested and deported back to their home countries. Perhaps what also drives this indiscriminate deportation is the fact that foreign women are not protected or viewed as legitimate sex workers in Sweden (see Aliens Act). They are perceived as criminals, engaging and encouraging others to engage in an illegal activity, the purchasing of sex.
Yet, at the same time, prostitution is viewed by politicians as violence against women and a threat to gender equality. One of the main reasons the law was passed was supposedly to “protect” women in the sex industry. The overarching belief is that no woman can possibly choose to sell her own body; thus, the Swedish government does not see prostitution as a valid profession, nor is it considered “honest work.” Doesn’t that viewpoint stigmatize and further marginalize those in the sex industry? Furthermore, can a state provide protections and effective services to sex workers with a mindset that rejects their work and with laws that prohibit its consumption?
Dr. Sven-Axel Månsson, a professor at Malmö University, posits the preceding question and argues that the Swedish Model ultimately failed to incorporate the viewpoints of sex workers during policy formation. Parts of his research in the field of social work study the regulation of prostitution and its implications for the well-being and health of both sellers and buyers of sex services. He points out that the policy’s supportive provisions, not just its prohibitive stipulations, must be carried out in order for the law to legitimately serve the sex workers that it deems to protect. Dr. Månsson also argues that the buyers be considered when forming policy. If a law is targeting the consumer, isn’t it also important to ask why the buyer keeps purchasing, even after being fined multiple times? Is there room for outreach, counseling, and other harm reduction methods on the side of consumption? If men are the source of violence in prostitution, why pass a law that drives them, and the sex industry, further underground?
Unfortunately, this conversation is completely ignored in Swedish politics, and the politicians refuse to talk about the negative effects that the law has on migrating transnationals and sex workers. For instance, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (OHCHR/CEDAW) reports that immigrant, refugee, and minority women in Sweden continue to face discrimination and remain unaware of available social services and legal remedies. Furthermore, foreign and national citizens engaging in the sex trade have reported troubling laws targeting sex workers that have resulted in evictions, child custody losses, and problems with tax authorities.
Despite these criticisms, however, an evaluation conducted by the Swedish government deems the policy a success. Politicians tout that the criminalization of the purchase of sex has decreased the number of sex workers as well as the demand for prostitution. However, these positive reports are based on faulty data. There is no way to compare the market size because there was no effort made to quantify its size before the law was enacted.
Unfortunately, as the discussions with Mr. Lamberth and Dr. Månsson indicate, it appears that the Swedish government isn’t even interested in reliable statistics. The policy is accepted by all of Sweden’s main parties, and they continue to export the model to other countries. The end result, then, is a national government that continues to ignore a disempowered and ostracized sex worker population.
*Cazzie Reyes is the IHTI’s Digital and Social Media Intern. She is currently enrolled in the Prostitution and Sex Trade program at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad.
Photo: Framed as a Crime by Cazzie Reyes (with permissions)