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KNXV prostution billboard in Phoenix_1440736368256_23312196_ver1.0_640_480

It has all the earmarks of a tearjerker. The billboard erected in Phoenix, Arizona, by anti-prostitutionists looks like artwork for a 1940s paperback cover or poster for a low-budget movie. I wish I knew what specs were given the artist. I wonder if End-Demanders in the Cease network (Cease – get it?) consciously evoke out-of-date style in hopes that viewers will associate the message with Ye Olde Nuclear-Family Values.

liptearsExamples of the classic posture can be found in two seconds of searching, because Sad Women abound, including with hand to forehead. Like pearl-clutching, forehead-clutching is a classic. But with a man as subject? Not so easy, no siree. Men look solemn, fierce, outraged. The only readily-available male face looking this sad (minus the B-movie forehead business) is in Brokeback Mountain publicity, where the theme was Have Sex – Lose Everything, rather than buy sex. It seems that only sex can make men feel truly sad – or is it only men who have sex with men?


We do not know whether Lose-Everything man is sad because he has to lose all the sex he would have bought, if he had been permitted to, or because of all the sex he might have had with his wife and will now never have. Because obviously the wedding ring is going to go.

But besides the hilarious picture we have notworthit.org for those curious to know more. Could any domain-name be sillier? I feel someone may be attacking End Demand from within. A few years ago we saw a roving billboard in London that does not have the making of a B movie. The message was Buy Sex – Pay the Price, but the male figure portrayed looked more like a Cainesque Bad Boy than sad.

Sure, moralists who wish everyone would keep their sexual tastes under wraps are easy to mock. But the Phoenix billboard moves into the realm of self-parody, providing an object that will maybe strike ordinary people as too wacky to even think about. That’s a good thing.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist


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redup2The idea of criminalising the purchase of sex continues to be promoted round the world, usually as part of some politician’s campaign against immoral sex and the exploitation of children, with a subtext aimed at keeping women at home and migrants out. Sweden’s law is thrown out as the model, along with claims that prostitution is practically absent and trafficking nearly non-existent there. Neither of these has been proven. To explore this sort of claim, see tags to the right of this post (sweden, nordic model, laws, gender equality, for example.)

The banning-sex-purchase proposal has been made in countries as far away from Sweden as Brazil and India. Presented abstractly it sounds clear, simple and righteous. But local context and history make a big difference in how a proposed law can come to pass and operate on the ground (as opposed to in starry rhetoric). The Swedish context is unusual in the world, the conditions making this law (sexköpslagen) possible difficult to imagine outside the Nordic region. Nothing slapdash nor sudden was involved but rather deep history in a particular culture. This is not true of other countries that jump on the bandwagon because some politicians see their chance to make names based on simplistic moralising.

The following is an excerpt from a longer article I published a few months ago on the dysfunction of prostitution laws, the idea of whore stigma and the disqualification and actual murder of sex workers. For those who ask Where did the Swedish model come from? How could feminism have led to it? this provides a short version of what might be called an épistème – the epistemological field forming the conditions of possibility for knowledge in a given time and place.

Sweden and prostitution (from Prostitution Law and the Death of Whores, Jacobin, 15 August 2013)

The population of only nine and a half million is scattered over a large area, and even the biggest city is small. In Sweden’s history, social inequality (class differences) was early targeted for obliteration; nowadays most people look and act middle-class. The mainstream is very wide, while social margins are narrow, most everyone being employed and/or supported by various government programmes. Although the Swedish utopia of Folkhemmet – the People’s Home – was never achieved, it survives as a powerful symbol and dream of consensus and peace. Most people believe the Swedish state is neutral if not actually benevolent, even if they recognize its imperfections.

After the demise of most class distinctions, inequality based on gender was targeted (racial/ethnic differences were a minor issue until recent migration increases). Prostitution became a topic of research and government publications from the 1970s onwards. By the 1990s, eradicating prostitution came to be seen as a necessary condition for the achievement of male-female equality and feasible in a small homogeneous society. The solution envisioned was to prohibit the purchase of sex, conceptualized as a male crime, while allowing the sale of sex (because women, as victims, must not be penalized). The main vehicle was not to consist of arrests and incarcerations but a simple message: In Sweden we don’t want prostitution. If you are involved in buying or selling sex, abandon this harmful behavior and come join us in an equitable society.

Since the idea that prostitution is harmful has infused political life for decades, to refuse to accept such an invitation can appear misguided and perverse. To end prostitution is not seen as a fiat of feminist dictators but, like the goal to end rape, an obvious necessity. To many, prostitution also seems incomprehensibly unnecessary in a state where poverty is so little known.

These are the everyday attitudes that social workers coming into contact with Eva-Maree probably shared. We do not know the details of the custody battle she had been locked in for several years with her ex-partner. We do not know how competent either was as a parent. She recounted that social workers told her she did not understand she was harming herself by selling sex. There are no written guidelines decreeing that prostitutes may not have custody of their children, but all parents undergo evaluations, and the whore stigma could not fail to affect their judgements. For the social workers, Eva-Maree’s identity was spoiled; she was discredited as a mother on psycho-social grounds. She had persisted in trying to gain mother’s rights and made headway with the authorities, but her ex-partner was enraged that an escort could gain any rights and did all he could to impede her seeing them. The drawn-out custody process broke down on the day she died, since standard procedures do not allow disputing parents to meet during supervised visits with children.

In a 2010 report evaluating the law criminalizing sex-purchase, stigma is mentioned in reference to feedback they received from some sex workers:

The people who are exploited in prostitution report that criminalization has reinforced the stigma of selling sex. They explain that they have chosen to prostitute themselves and feel they are not being involuntarily exposed to anything. Although it is not illegal to sell sex they perceive themselves to be hunted by the police. They perceive themselves to be disempowered in that their actions are tolerated but their will and choice are not respected.

The report concludes that these negative effects “must be viewed as positive from the perspective that the purpose of the law is indeed to combat prostitution.” To those haunted by the death of Eva-Maree, the words sound cruel, but they were written for a document attempting to evaluate the law’s effects. Evaluators had been unable to produce reliable evidence of any kind of effect; an increase in stigma was at least a consequence.

Has this stigma discouraged some women from selling sex who might have wanted to and some men from buying? Maybe, but it is a result no evaluation could demonstrate. The report, in its original Swedish 295 pages, is instead composed of historical background, repetitious descriptions of the project and administrative detail. Claims made later that trafficking has diminished under the law are also impossible to prove, since there are no pre-law baseline statistics to compare to.

The lesson is not that Sweden’s law caused a murder or that any other law would have prevented it. Whore stigma exists everywhere under all prostitution laws. But Sweden’s law can be said to have given whore stigma a new rationality for social workers and judges, the stamp of government approval for age-old prejudice. The ex-partner’s fury at her becoming an escort may derive in part from his Ugandan background, but Sweden did not encourage him to view Eva-Maree more respectfully.

Some say her murder is simply another clear act of male violence and entitlement by a man who wanted her to be disqualified from seeing their children. According to that view, the law is deemed progressive because it combats male hegemony and promotes Gender Equality. This is what most infuriates advocates of sex workers’ rights: that the “Swedish model” is held up as virtuous solution to all of the old problems of prostitution, in the absence of any evidence. But for those who embrace anti-prostitution ideology, the presence or absence of evidence is unimportant.


Some of the immediate questions you might have, for instance on Gender Equality and State Feminism, are addressed in the full essay Prostitution Law and the Death of Whores. This kind of background is, of course, not interesting to everyone, and most of what I see on the topic talks about the law as Bad or Good. Discussions typical in parliamentary committees like the Irish are silly because they opt to accept banal lists of supposed successes in Sweden without acknowledging the difficulties of knowing effects at all. Activists on both sides tend to over-state their cases – practically the definition of much activism in social movements. For anyone interested in history, though, the background is crucial, and it can be seen as good news that it’s not so easy to simply transfer the logic of a law from one country to another: that kind of homogenised culture is not here yet.

Proof of the law’s effects are mostly unknowable so far. The state’s evaluation of the law in 2010 admitted ignorance of how to investigate commercial sex online and gave numbers only for street prostitution. This was a tiny number to begin with describing an activity that is diminishing. Claims that sex trafficking have decreased are meaningless since no baseline statistics were kept on this before the law was passed. The claims of eradicating either phenomenon are public-relations trivia. That politicians in other countries reproduce these claims in supposedly serious hearings demonstrates mediocrity and lack of interest in the subject. As I said above, the principle effect we can be sure of is

Sweden’s law can be said to have given whore stigma a new rationality for social workers and judges, the stamp of government approval for age-old prejudice.

Increases in stigma, social death and excuses to disqualify women who sell sex as autonomous beings are dire effects to a piece of legislation that emerged from a goal to achieve Gender Equality. Utopian visions can backfire, and this one has.

For another of my views of Sweden’s present State Feminists see Extremist Feminism in Swedish government: Something Dark

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist


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Not so long ago the French would shrug and sigh about prudish societies where sex could still provoke scandal, scoffing at melodramas acted out in the USA by politicians caught doing something opposed to so-called family values. Dominique Strauss-Kahn used this tradition with his claim to be engaging in ‘libertine activity’ when he paid for sex at parties. Now this is changing, not only because of Strauss-Kahn’s continuing saga but because the French parliament is set to pass a law against buying sex that was previously associated with countries to the north.

A couple of years ago I wrote Europe’s anti-prostitution initiatives multiply, discussing France in the context of the European Women’s Lobby campaign for a Europe Free from Prostitution. UN Women National Committee Sweden recently called this ‘an issue that divides the world, and where the Northern European and the global women’s movement fight for recognition of fundamentally different values.’ Perhaps now France will feel more northern than southern Europe.

In networks of activism for sex workers’ rights and better commercial-sex laws, the bill set to pass in France has been a focus of campaigning for some time. Many unfamiliar with the subject cannot believe their ears when told about the contradictory law known as the Swedish or Nordic model, which prohibits the buying of sex while allowing it to be sold. In Prostitution Law and the Death of Whores I said:

Yes, it’s illogical. But the contradiction is not pointless; it is there because the goal of the law is to make prostitution disappear, by debilitating the market through absurd ignorance of how sex businesses work.

Although a lot of activism now takes place via social-media websites, sometimes an email is better. Thierry Schaffauser sent the following ideas in a message about the current situation in France to an activist list. I have added links he provided and edited so that outsiders to these conversations may understand. The full text of the proposed French law can be read here: Proposition de loi renforçant la lutte contre le système prostitutionnel.

Dear all,

I think what we fear is going to happen.

The Socialist party introduced the bill, which was co-signed by all other parties affiliated to the Socialists as well as the Communist and Left parties, so there is already a majority in favour of the law. The right wing might vote with them as well. Even MPs who are against the law will probably vote for it, out of party discipline and to avoid being labelled as sexist, pro-pimp and pro-prosti-killers by feminists (prosti-tueurs is the new name they give to men who buy sex).

In parliamentary hearings two former prostitutes were invited to speak, both affirming the shame, degradation and self-destruction of prostitution. Current sex workers were not asked to testify; one of us spoke along with the health organisations. We have held many demonstrations and shown all the evidence, but we are ignored. The sponsors use flawed evidence and anonymous testimonies; they don’t care about NGOs or research.

Sponsors of the bill claim all the time that 90% of prostitutes are victims of trafficking. This percentage may be their estimate for non-French sex workers, not trafficking victims, but abolitionists don’t distinguish between the two. No source is given for the figure. All migrants are defined as trafficked.

Sex workers who oppose the bill are accused of being a non-representative and privileged minority, so selfish that we defend our own interest and those of pimps and willing to sacrifice the majority of poor victims of trafficking and rape. They insist they will not pass a law on behalf of sex workers who claim to consent to prostitution. They say that our consent is flawed due to poverty and other constraints, and believe that if we were to leave prostitution and go into therapy we would recognise that we had lied to ourselves and that prostitution is, in fact, harmful.

Migrant sex workers from all parts of the world increasingly join the sexworker union STRASS, but they don’t participate in public debates because of the language barrier and the stigma. During our last demonstration there were many migrants, but they were ignored by mainstream media. The bill would make it possible for migrant sex workers to get a six months’ residence permit on condition they agree to stop prostitution.

Sponsors of the law don’t care that only 22% of the French population are in favour of fining clients 1500€, because they say in Sweden the law succeeded in changing people’s minds about prostitution. They share the same goal to educate people in France. The bill would mandate school programming to teach that buying sex is like rape and that prostitution is degrading.

The bill says street soliciting will be permitted, but local by-laws can be passed to maintain public order, so sex workers would not even be decriminalised.

The bill would instruct Internet Service Providers to alert authorities and give power to block access to websites suspected of profiting from prostitution, which means even escort advertising could be targeted. One MP said it would be possible for police to use our phone numbers, which we fear means they could listen to conversations in order to identify and arrest clients and lead to forced entry into our homes and workplaces.

Sponsors of the bill don’t even listen to police, who say criminalising clients would be too difficult to implement and would divert efforts to combat trafficking.

A few days ago a group of reactionary right-wing men started defending the right to buy sex in a very sexist manner. They are being widely reported in the media, and sex workers who oppose the bill are made to look as if we side with them, which is terrible for us.

I don’t know what to do now.

See La pénalisation contre-productive for more on the bill from Thierry Schaffauser.

Many of Thierry’s comments illustrate how certain social actors are disqualified from participating in debates, including when their own welfare is at stake. The most peculiar idea pushed by abolitionism is that there must be a single interpretation for the act of selling sex, that all who do it must agree about the experience. In the case of sex workers who do not want their clients penalised, crusaders give a range of excuses for why their opinions are not relevant, appropriate, serious or believable, allowing their exclusion from debate. Somehow prostitution has come to be a subject where disqualification and discrediting are major tactics for winning political campaigns, where crusaders aggressively dismiss women, men and transgender people from attempting to tell their experiences. The most extreme disqualification goes to the voice of anyone currently selling sex:

Aucune personne prostituée pendant qu’elle exerce la prostitution ne dira jamais qu’elle est contrainte, jamais. Tout le monde effectivement dit que ‘je le fais volontairement’. Ce n’est qu’au moment où la prostitution s’arrête que les personnes disent en fait ce n’était pas ce je disais. – Danielle Bosquet

This authoritarian trump card permits anyone claiming autonomy in selling sex to be dismissed on non-provable ‘brainwashing’ grounds. See Prostitution Law and the Death of Whores for more on how disqualification works.

The turning of all migrants who sell sex into victims of trafficking is what drove me into reading and research in the late 1990s. Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry is the result of that research, along with articles in academic journals that opened the door to a new field of study. Moral entrepreneurs disqualify this work, too, as exceptional and irrelevant.

The French legislation is highly repressive in many ways. That it is sold as morally righteous confirms my feeling that we have moved into a period of Social Purity, the name given to a movement in Anglo countries in the late 19th century, in which the pursuit of prostitutes and their clients was a principle activity. The difference now can be seen in clauses to the French bill that would increase police power by allowing more surveillance of telephones and possible blocking of Internet sites where sex is offered for sale. The Rescue Industry now propose to save us from even the sight of advertisements considered to foment prostitution; we are all to be re-educated and rehabilitated for our own good.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist


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Alas. Ordinarily I would quickly click away or delete nonsense-news like this of a ‘consultation’ on prostitution law run by politicians. But since I am assured that its results will indeed be taken seriously by mainstream government, I have to suggest people especially in the UK and especially those who can claim to be a ‘group’ do respond. So-called consultations are going on left and right in the this area of the world, in both Irelands and Scotland, so this adds England and Wales. They are all started by people who want to bring in criminalisation of clients, and in such a conflict-ridden field it’s better to claim to be non-partisan.

You may look at the official registry page for this group called the All Party Parliamentary Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade (APPG for short); their names unsurprisingly include Fiona Mactaggart. The group have launched an online Call for Evidence, a misnomer as they are just asking for opinions and feelings – no evidence at all. The stated goal of the group is

To raise awareness of the impact of the sale of sexual services on those involved and to develop proposals for government action to tackle individuals who create demand for sexual services as well as those who control prostitutes; to protect prostituted women by helping them to exit prostitution and to prevent girls from entering prostitution.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade is launching an inquiry to assess the current UK legal settlement surrounding prostitution, and to identify how legislation to tackle demand could safeguard those in danger of sexual exploitation and abuse.

I hardly need point out that this is not the way to make a serious inquiry or hold a consultation.

The online questionnaire is not long. Skip if you want to from the introductory palaver to where the questions begin. You may answer anonymously. You may answer as an individual. You may be anywhere in the world.

The deadline for response is Monday 4 February at 16:00. No responses considered after that.

Please note that despite sounding like a government group, this whole project is financed by CARE (Christian Action Research and Education): a well-established mainstream Christian charity providing resources and helping to bring Christian insight and experience to matters of public policy and practical caring initiatives, according to themselves.

Note that the addition of Global Sex Trade in their name indicates an anti-trafficking agenda. They don’t address it in this questionnaire, but the door is obviously open.

Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist


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Toulouse-Lautrec, AloneNordic model is a new tag on this website, and it doesn’t refer to leggy blondes. People contact me ever oftener asking for what I’ve written on prostitution laws in the Nordic countries, so I have now tagged everything I could find. This is a sub-set of the Sweden tag, which includes other sorts of issues related to gender equality. Norway’s law is even more stringent than Sweden’s. Iceland is the third country that has passed the law, but many others are considering it.

What you will not find are quantitative, definitive, bottom-line debunkings of abolitionist and anti-prostitutionist claims. Those don’t exist, they cannot exist, and anyone who says they can is spinning a line. There’s widespread disagreement about how to define trafficking and who is a victim of it, so when you see numbers you should immediately be skeptical. Sometimes ideology is at the bottom of large figures for victims. Other times the issue is that different countries and organisations use non-comparable categories for counting people. Where sex businesses operate in the informal sector there are no formal lists of employees. Where sex workers are supposed to register with the state (as prostitutes) many do not. Undocumented migrants are not eligible to register anywhere as workers and are not counted at the border. Everyone estimates all these numbers; the words research and evidence are tossed about wantonly. The most egregious example I know of ideologically based, subjective, sloppy counting is Siddharth Kara’s. There are other grotesque examples I describe as Garbage In, Garbage Out.

When someone asks for ‘the most reliable statistics on the effect of the Swedish Model of prostitution criminalisation’, they are assuming those exist somewhere. To understand why they do not exist, look at critiques of the government evaluation of its law. They were unable to evaluate it, they didn’t know how, I wouldn’t know how either, so no conclusions can be drawn from the evaluation. There are only claims. Go to the nordic-model tag and find things like

Moral entrepreneurs go on pretending large numbers prove their points. People say the Nordic model – laws that prohibit the purchase of sex and punish purchasers – is effective in reducing prostitution and trafficking. As for reducing prostitution, the only thing that possibly has been reduced is the number of people selling in the street, but those were tiny numbers to begin with and already shrinking. The Swedish evaluators anyway used famously wrong Danish numbers for street prostitution to make their claim and never issued a correction after being informed of their error. On any other kind of commercial sex, they had no numbers at all because they did not know how to do that research (and they admitted it).

As for claims about trafficking, you cannot know you have ‘reduced’ something for which you had no baseline numbers in the first place. All you have are police officials’ impressions and claims. The ‘effect’ of the law is unmeasurable.

I’ve begun tweeting, by the way, and realise I am starting to reach people who don’t know why anti-trafficking campaigns are so conflicted and unsuccessful. Do come join me (@LauraAgustin) in the challenge to make incredibly complex subjects lucid in under 140 characters.

Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist


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Note to visitors to Sweden who want to see, examine, document, research or otherwise report on the effects of the law to criminalise buying sex: Cancel your trips, there is nothing to see.

How can you see ‘less’ sex trafficking’, ‘less’ sex work? How does one interpret emptiness? What does the absence of people on this bus mean? Does no one ride buses anymore? Is this one out of service? Is it on display in a museum? Has the route been cancelled? Who knows the answer?

I receive messages continually from people planning trips to Sweden: journalists, filmmakers, researchers, students, fellowship-applicants. They have all had the same idea to visit a country where a law prohibiting the purchase of sex is claimed to have reduced its sale and reduced sex trafficking. If these visitors write to me, I suppose they have read what I (and others) have written on the failure of the government evaluation to prove anything about the law and the difficulty that any such evaluation faces. Yet people assume they will somehow be able to observe the effects of the law. The whole idea of effects is questionable, but in the case of prohibitionist laws even more so. The most obvious first effect of prohibition is to discourage people from being seen doing whatever has been prohibited. Some people might really stop (or might never start) doing whatever has been made illegal, and some people might find different ways to do it that will be harder to discover. A typical visit is proposed like this Irish one:

Mr Shatter said representatives from the Department of Justice and the Garda travelled to the Swedish capital, Stockholm, recently to observe the impact of legislation introduced there in 1999 to criminalise the purchase of sexual services.

And reported like this:

Presentations in Sweden included discussions with the Swedish Department of Justice and evaluators of the Swedish legislation (Supreme Court Judge Anna Skarhed, Mrs Gunilla Berglund from the Ministry of Justice, the National Rapporteur on Trafficking Ms Kasja Wahlberg, and the Co-ordinator of Stockholm Prostitution Unit Mr Patrick Cederlof). There were also presentations from ROKS (a Swedish NGO which provides refuge for battered women), Jenny Westerstrand (Researcher on Prostitution regimes) and Ulrika Rosvall Levin, (The Swedish Institute). [some typos corrected by me]

I don’t understand myself why they spend money and time interviewing government spokespeople, politicians, the heads of government-funded projects and moral entrepreneurs all of whom only re-state what they have said before but not proven: that the law has reduced prostitution and sex trafficking. Those statements are widely available on the Internet, including in television clips and videos. All of the above interviewees receive government money to do their jobs and all are known to fiercely favour the criminalisation of buying sex and wish for the disappearance of all forms of selling it. They give meaning to the term stakeholder.

Many visitors also interview police officials, who are only permitted to confirm government policy and mostly just point to a drop in the number of sex workers in the street (since they have no idea how to measure all other forms of commercial sex). The police also engage in speculation that shows they are doing their jobs well, since there is so little sex trafficking to see. This absence is also tricky to interpret, since there was never any baseline evidence on trafficking before the law so they have nothing to compare to now when they do (or do not) find any.

But, you say, some of the visitors want to talk to you or ask you to introduce them to real live sex workers who could balance what they hear from the government. About talking to me, ok I will sound different, but I can’t demonstrate that government claims are wrong – the same problem of researching an absence holds. (Another snag is that visitors begin by assuming that anyone they want to talk to lives in the capital, when Sweden’s a big country [for Europe] and all relevant and interesting folks do not live in Stockholm.) About my introducing visitors to sex workers: I consider it unethical. If I did introduce anyone, though, what would the personal testimony of one or two individuals mean? Little.

Nonetheless, I don’t believe I have deterred anyone determined to come see what the prohibition looks like. All I can do is ask folks to consider what they think they will be able to see. Take this view of a single person sitting in a bar – how many reasons can you think of to explain why he is alone?

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist


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On sex trafficking, sex work and the Swedish claim that their evaluation of the anti-prostitution law is evidence of anything at all, I am one of few public critics. Is what I say so taboo that it cannot be credited, though? Usually my ideas are simply excluded from mention -  obviously the easiest way to deal with criticism. But a report issued recently by the Irish government presents pages of my published work, chopped up into separate bits, without mentioning my name or giving any other reference. The Report of Visit of Dignity Project* Partners to Stockholm 14-16 September 2010 says

Some comment since publication of the evaluation has been sharply critical. Examples of comment in the print media (much of it not mainstream) give an indication of negative reactions. These are summarised at Appendix 2.

But they didn’t summarise at all.  The appendix consists of 966 words of quoted material taken entirely from two articles I wrote – which means they have reproduced a large part of both pieces of writing. This is irresponsible, unethical and possibly illegal and needs to be fixed to acknowledge my work.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Mr. Alan Shatter T.D., today (17/10/11) announced publication of a report of the Department of Justice and Equality on Sweden’s legislation criminalising the purchase of sexual services – often referred to as the “Swedish Model”.

APPENDIX 2 (pages 13-15 in the report) (*see end for more on the Dignity Project)

Examples of negative comment in the print media


Critical blogging has been brisk, so what makes mainstream media commentators avoid criticising this evaluation, not on ideological grounds but because it is so badly done that it proves nothing at all?”

“….the embarrassing lack of evidence to prove that the law has had any impact at all on the buying and selling of sex. This is not a ideological argument; it doesn’t prove that the law is no good; it proves that the evaluation is no good.”

” …. crystal clear that the evaluators couldn’t find evidence of anything.”

“Sex crimes go down in Sweden: the new evaluation of the law against buying sex is spreading the message round the world, but the report suffers from too many scientific errors to justify any such claim.”

Stigmatised and criminalised people avoid contact with police, social workers and researchers.”

Street prostitution receives exaggerated attention in the inquiry, despite the fact that it represents a small diminishing type of commercial sex that cannot be extrapolated to all. The inquiry mentions the difficulty of researching ‘prostitution on the internet’ but appears not to know that the sex industry comes in many different shapes being researched in depth elsewhere (escorts without websites, sex parties, strip clubs, massage parlours, students who sell sex, among others).”

All the above comes from my Smoke gets in your eyes: Evaluation of Swedish anti-prostitution law offers ideology, not methodology.

The evaluation leaned heavily on small-scale data about street prostitution, because that was the easiest to find………evaluators bolstered their case by claiming that street prostitution had increased in Denmark, where there is no such law, using information from a Copenhagen NGO whose inflated data was exposed in parliament last year. Street prostitution is known, in any case, to constitute a tiny, diminishing part of the whole of commercial sex.”

From my Big claims, little evidence: Sweden’s law against buying sex (The Local, presumably counting as a mainstream publication)

“… police only encounter sex workers in the context of criminal inquiries, the funded groups mostly meet sex workers seeking help, small studies can only indicate possible trends and the Danish statistics on the number of ‘active’ street workers – used to show that Sweden’s prostitution is less – were publicly shown to be very wrong eight months ago.”

The law is claimed to have had a dampening effect on sex trafficking, but no proof is offered. Trafficking statistics have long been disputed outside Sweden, because of definitional confusion and refusals to accept the UN Convention on Organised Crime’s distinction between human trafficking and human smuggling linked to informal labour migration. The report claims the law diminishes ‘organised crime’ without analysing how crimes were identified and resolved or how they are related to the sex-purchase law.”

“In this report .. the methodology section is practically non-existent. We know nothing about how .. the evaluation was actually carried out.”

Again all the above comes from my Smoke gets in your eyes: Evaluation of Swedish anti-prostitution law offers ideology, not methodology.

“The evaluation gives no account of how the research was actually carried out – its methodology – but is full of background material on Swedish history and why prostitution is bad.”

Again from my Big claims, little evidence: Sweden’s law against buying sex

“One single sex worker’s sad personal story takes up three pages, while the account of sex workers’ opinions is limited to the results of a survey of only 14 people of which only seven were current sex workers.”

“Research must try for some kind of objectivity, but the Government’s remit to the evaluation team said that ‘the buying of sexual services shall continue to be criminalised’ no matter what the  evaluators found. The bias was inherent.”

“This evaluation tells us nothing about the effects of the sex-purchase law.”

Again all the above comes from my Smoke gets in your eyes: Evaluation of Swedish anti-prostitution law offers ideology, not methodology.

” …one feminist faction promotes the ideology that prostitutes are always, by definition, victims of violence against women. As victims, they can’t be criminals, so their side of the money-sex exchange is not penalised, whereas those who buy are perpetrators of a serious crime. This ideology, a minority view in other countries, predominates among Swedish State Feminists who claim that the existence of commercial sex is a key impediment to achieving gender equality. Such a dogma is odd, given the very small number of people engaged in selling sex in a welfare state that does not exclude them from its services and benefits.”

“A Government report from 2007 admitted it was difficult to find out much of anything about prostitution in Sweden.”

“Several media commentators took the occasion to attack the law itself, since despite regular Government affirmations that the majority of Swedes support the law, opposition is fierce. In the blogosphere and other online forums ……… nonconforming members of the main parties relentlessly resist a reductionist view of sexuality in which vulnerable women are forever threatened by predatory men.”

“.. most politicians undoubtedly feel little good will come from complaining about legislation now symbolic of Mother Sweden. The Swedish Institute has turned the abolition of prostitution into part of the nation’s brand, what they call a ‘multi-faceted package to make Sweden attractive to the outside world’.”

“Sweden indisputably ranks high on several measures of gender equality …. But other policies considered as part of gender equality are much harder to measure …. It is hardly surprising that the Government’s evaluation presents no evidence that relations between men and women have improved in Sweden because of the law. The evaluation’s main recommendation is to stiffen the punishment meted out to men who buy sex.”

“….citing no evidence, the report maintains there is less trafficking in Sweden because it is now ‘less attractive’ to traffickers … Such naive statements argue that without demand there will be no supply…….reducing a wide range of sexual activities to an abstract notion of violence and brushing aside the many people who confirm that they prefer selling sex to their other livelihood options.”

As for combating trafficking, there is no proof…..different countries, institutions and researchers do not agree on what actually constitutes trafficking. It does not help that fundamentalist feminism refuses to accept the distinction between human trafficking and human smuggling linked to informal labour migration, as enshrined in the UN Convention on Organised Crime.”

Again all the above from my Big claims, little evidence: Sweden’s law against buying sex

I am writing to the Minister’s private secretary and the Ministry’s press office right now.

* So what is the Dignity Project? From the report itself:

Dignity is an EU funded (Daphne Programme) research project examining services provided for victims of human trafficking, with a view to replicating best practice models in partner countries, and is led by the Dublin Employment Pact and the Immigrant Council of Ireland. It is an inter-agency and inter-jurisdictional initiative with partners in Scotland, Spain and Lithuania and works to identify what steps can be taken to end the exploitation of women and children who are trafficked for sexual exploitation.

The Irish partners are Ruhama, Sonas Housing, the Legal Aid Board, the HSE Women’s Health Project, the Immigrant Council of Ireland and the Dublin Employment Pact. In addition, the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit of the Department of Justice and Law Reform and the Garda National Immigration Bureau are partners with observer status.
Dignity has been lobbying the Minister to follow the lead of Sweden, Norway and Iceland and bring forward legislation to criminalise the purchase of sex and decriminalise the sale of sex in Ireland in order to target the demand side of the sex industry.

Dignity’s website describes their extensive junkets to meet predictably like-minded people in different countries. The size of their grant brings the word boondoggle to mind. In days of Occupy movements this sort of Rescue Industry activity deserve to be cut.

Note: After tedious backs and forths, they fixed the attributions. The report is here.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist


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There are people who believe that all the values expressed and rhetoric declaimed in places like the building to the left – the Swedish parliament in Stockholm – represent the reality of the country itself. There are Swedish government spokespeople who claim there are no voluntary sex workers, and no clients, and no sex venues or prostitution or trafficking in all of Sweden. But do you really believe that a law banning the purchase of sex could achieve all of that? It is just highly improbable, as it is when other governments claim there is no homosexuality here (sometimes said about Somalia, Zimbabwe, Uganda) or the veil has no place in our country (said by some about France, Belgium). Of course there are gay people and women wearing headscarves in those places – but it is convenient for mainstream politicians to pretend otherwise.

Sweden is one of the big-time gay-rights-friendly spots in the world: RFSL (Riksförbundet för homosexuellas, bisexuellas och transpersoners rättigheter – Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights) dates back to 1950 and receives government funding. So it is significant that RFSL supported and encouraged Sweden’s sex worker organisation Rose Alliance to participate in Stockholm’s Pride Parade this year. The argument is: Just as other sexual identities and orientations are marginalised and deprived of rights, so are sex workers. Obvious: sexual autonomy, the right to do what you want with your own body. Money is not a defining element.

The following video clips from JubBacon show the Rose Alliance float. You can read about this in Swedish from sex worker Greta Garbo and on Makthavare. PS: No one was attacked, threatened or shamed. Some of those along the route were surprised into silence, others cheered.

Yes, I am a member of Rose Alliance.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist


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I suppose in a dictatorship it might be possible to write a law aimed at punishing traffickers where no meaningful evidence was required. Then arrests and convictions could shoot up and prisons be full of men who might or might not have had bad intentions or done anything wrong. But despite the unpleasant rhetoric and complete lack of interest in evidence evinced by some of Sweden’s Gender-Equality Warriors, the Swedish legal system operates as (in)effectively as those in other contemporary democratic-style states. This was made obvious in police comments on the difficulty of convicting men for buying sex and now here on the subject of convicting traffickers.

The story below attempts to explain why there have been so few convictions of traffickers, but the impossibility of getting the law’s wording right is obvious. Legal language is often tortuous, but this quality is exaggerated when it attempts to pin down ultimately indefinable states of mind: Note, in the key paragraph (in green below) the use of coercion, deception, abuse, vulnerable. defencelessness, dependent, improper means, controls, exploit. The meaning of each of these key words changes completely according to context and moment and easily mean different things to migrant (or victim), smuggler (or perpetrator) and rescuer.

The story comes from Ireland, where some legislators who want to penalise the buying of sex sent a delegation to Sweden – which absolutely everybody does, it’s the in thing, but all they usually do is talk to government representatives in Stockholm, who tell them what the visitors could have read online without taking an expensive junket. Note that this entire analysis makes no mention of migration at all, which continues to be the fundamental issue despite protestations that it is not because now we are talking about slavery.

Human Trafficking: Concerns even as Swedish law is rewritten to get convictions, 04 January 2011, Irish Examiner

When one looks at the numbers of successful prosecutions for human trafficking in Sweden over the last five years, one could easily be forgiven for thinking there had been little return for its major investment in combating the crime. Between 2003 and 2008, there were just 10 people convicted specifically of human trafficking out of 133 cases brought. However, the low return is not reflective of the true impact the prosecutions have had. The ambiguous wording of the trafficking law in Sweden up to July 2010 made it exceptionally difficult to get convictions. But the authorities had good reason for not being in a particular rush to correct that ambiguity. The sentences for aggravated pimping — the crime just below human trafficking carried the same maximum sentence of 10 years as the more serious misdemeanour.

A lot of cases end up as serious pimping instead of human trafficking, because it was easier for the prosecutors and court to have a sentence for it,” said Detective Inspector Jonas Trolle of the Swedish surveillance unit who is an expert in investigating human trafficking. “I think it was sad, because our legislation on trafficking in human beings is a very good legislation and has a lot of possibilities to get convictions, but it was too complicated for the prosecutors and courts. Therefore, prosecutors would not push strongly for the highest sentence possible for aggravated pimping.”

When that category is taken into account, the successful prosecutions shoot up. The number of reported crimes rise to 601 and the convictions rise to 127. Nonetheless, it simply was not good enough not to have clear and detailed legislation. The problem was that a successful prosecution for human trafficking required the prosecutors to prove the defendant had taken control of the victim.

“We had two trafficking paragraphs before, which did not work,” said Kajsa Wahlberg. “The second paragraph had so many tiny little things which had to be correct. For instance, it said that the trafficker must use improper means in order to recruit or transport the person but it also said the trafficker must have control. Improper means is very much related to control also. It was mixed up. It also said the trafficker must have the intention at recruitment that he is going to exploit the person.”

She cited, as an example, an instance where a Swedish man trafficked a girl from Slovakia to the southern part of Sweden. “He claimed she was his girlfriend, they had lived there and they decided to move to Sweden,” she said. “He said he proposed for her to go into prostitution and that he recruited buyers for her but that he had no intention to traffic her to Sweden when he took her from Slovakia. He said it was an idea that came up when they got here.

“So many of these types of people got loose because we could not prove intention to traffic. It was also viewed that the second paragraph did not protect children as it should. Because of the confusion, 16-17 year olds were not being regarded as trafficking… The court required directly that the trafficker must have used improper means. The paragraph did not require that.”

In the forward to the new clause which came into the Swedish human trafficking law on July 1, 2010, the authors wrote: “The requisite that describes the improper means should be given in somewhat clearer and more readily-understood meaning than they have at present.” Therefore, the relevant paragraphs were rewritten to state: “Anyone who makes use of unlawful coercion or deception, abuses someone’s vulnerable situation, abuses someone’s youth or defencelessness or abuses someone’s dependent status has used such a means that may result in liability for trafficking in human beings. “The current list of kinds of acts of trafficking covered shall be supplemented by the possibility of a person, who by some improper means controls another in order to exploit her, in him being penalised for trafficking in human beings.”

It is too early to say whether the new language will make it easier to achieve the full human trafficking convictions authorities crave.  As far as Jonas Trolle is concerned, there may still be issues. “I am worried about the situation now,” he said. “They have removed the control part, but I am not sure it is easy to have sentences for human trafficking.” He has reason to be worried. Police estimate that between 400 and 600 women are trafficked to Sweden every year and of those 200 to 300 are destined for Stockholm.

Furthermore, there is concern that even the new version of the law does require the accumulation of a large swathe of evidence before a conviction can be sought. Kajsa Wahlberg admits that that often means victims might be moved on before the police can move in and arrest the trafficker.

“After surveillance for a certain period of time, you might assume there are 30 women being exploited, but you don’t go in and identify them all, because you will reveal your investigation,” she said, “We are not always sure what is going on; if all of these women are being exploited or if they have another role in the apartment. When we strike, there might only be three left because some of them are being transported back and forth and we are not always clear of each and everyone’s role. We can interrogate the three, but we don’t know about the other 27.”

They will keep trying to get this right, though, we can be sure of that.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist


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Back in March people in Canada contacted me to ask about Gunilla Ekberg’s claim, in talks given there, that there have been 3500 men found guilty under the Swedish law against buying sex (sexköpslagen) since it was passed in 1999. Why would Ekberg make a mistake about something that can be verified on the website of the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (BRÅ)? The total is 757 over eleven years.

Until recently, the maximum penalty for those convicted of buying sex was six months in jail or a rather small fine. No one was ever jailed, as far as I can tell; jail-time is not mandated when penalties are minor. Therefore, the nearly unanimous vote in the Swedish parliament last month was about making it possible for a convicted person to go to jail, as a year-penalty pushes the crime upwards in importance. Perhaps one could say, then, that this apparently fierce vote was more about making the original 1999 law more coherent: if you seriously believe something is a crime, then you don’t want it to be never punished. If you see what I mean.

Numbers of convictions for buying sex in Sweden by year, 1999-2009

Source: BRÅ

Is this a large or small number of convictions? How many men were detained by the police but the case dropped? That information isn’t available. Activists and scholars tend to focus on the law’s rhetoric and presumptions, but it is never easy to put such a law into practice. Consider the document BRÅ published in 1999 on the subject of these difficulties from a policing point of view:

Evidential difficulties are the most common reason for the discontinuation of police investigations into suspected offences of this type. The most difficult thing to prove has been that the parties have entered into an agreement that sexual services will be provided in exchange for payment. It is an offence without a complainant and even though the prostitutes are obliged to give evidence, this obligation is limited since they are not obliged to reveal that they have themselves participated in an act of prostitution. Even if the prostitutes might consider giving evidence about the incident, it has been deemed difficult to reach them to obtain their co-operation in investigations since they often have no fixed address or telephone number.

So although the Swedish parliament recently raised the maximum penalty from six months’ incarceration to a year, the difficulty of getting convictions remains.

Thanks to Louise Persson for help with the numbers.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist


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