Tag Archives: Sexbuyer Laws

Nordic/Swedish models: laws criminalising the purchase of sex

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

Note to researchers: Forget trips to view no sex trafficking in Sweden

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

Irish government uses my writing on Swedish anti-prostitution law without mentioning my name: theft or taboo?

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

Sunday Shock! There are proud sex workers in Sweden (which some have known all along)

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

Trafficking convictions in Sweden: tortuous laws about sex

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