Published in Dagbladet (Norway) the 21th April 2007

Some public service officials and politicians in Sweden often express themselves in political correct terms, even though they don’t have any evidence that supports their claim whatsoever. If you talk to the police who is working the streets looking for suspicious trade in women and social workers who actually meet and talks to those who sells sex, you’ll find they have a different view and opinion about these questions than there supervisors. But they never get listen to or receive any publicity they are silenced.

A recent report from the International Organization for Migration, IOM, released in February 2007, shows that the trade in human beings predominantly concern slavery in other areas than prostitution. The report emphasizes the need for a stronger protection for migrate workers since research clearly shows that trafficking is tied to measures regarding migration policy. But what is important to notice is that trafficking foremost is used for exploitation in agriculture, construction, and household services and not for sexual purposes.

It is therefore not logical to argue that a law that prohibits buying sexual services is relevant to the trade in human beings. The original motivation for Sweden’s prostitution laws wasn’t as a measure against trafficking, but as time has gone by, so has the argument. That’s because the radical feminist ideas that the law was based upon has often been questioned which has led to trafficking increasingly being associated with the law as a way to defend it. After all, everybody is against trafficking, which is why they try to refute criticism on that level. In Sweden, where the law has been introduced, the facts are it isn’t a law effective against trafficking. That’s the job for other laws, measures and focused resources.

But if you believe that Sweden’s anti-prostitution laws is effective against trafficking – should we then criminalize everybody who hires maids on the grounds that there exists women who have been sold and forced to work as maids? The reasoning of otherwise rational people seem to disappear when the discussion revolves around sex.

Despite that the slave trade has existed for thousand of years the issue has just recently become popular among politicians; it is also a good springboard for a political career. Politicians like to be seen as strongly opposed to trafficking, and it is therefore easy to argue for a criminalization against our customers. I and many others in the business instead advocate decriminalization and better working conditions for sexworkers. Because underground profiteers, pimps and traffickers flourish and we would rather avoid them.

A criminalization does not affect our customers, but rather we who sell sexual services. Police, social workers and sexsellers have witnessed violence and increased risk first hand. The “normal” customers have all but disappeared from the streets. Those who remain are the ones with the odd sexual demands and most twisted views. The rates have declined, we are exposed to increasing risk and robbed, abused and raped more frequent than before. Some women abstain from using a condom for a higher rate and follow customers scared of the police to more secluded places, where nobody can help them.

The solidarity we feel with the victims of trafficking must not be confused with people’s ignorance and lack of knowledge regarding sexwork. When that happens it is at expense of the sexworker.

Just like in Sweden the majority of all prostitution occurs indoors, and those selling sex in the streets are usually the ones with drug abuse problems. But now a new trend is emerging where the numbers of east-European and African women selling sex on the streets of Oslo are increasing. The African women are more aggressive in there marketing towards customers and more visible than Norwegian sexsellers. It’s very unfortunate if racism and public order issues should get mixed up with migration and trafficking in one huge mess.

In Denmark who have a completely different approach to prostitution, NEC new director, criminal inspector Kim Kliver, says that max one percent of all foreign guest workers in the country are victims of forced sexual labour.

It also important to remember that it doesn’t exist a big market for selling sexual services under coercion. If the traders in human beings is to have a base of a large number of customers, the women have to act their voluntary cooperation which makes it hard for the customer to determine if the woman is a victim of trafficking or not. The methods used are definitely subtler than portrayed in films like “Lilja 4ever” or “Human trafficking”.

What is needed is correct information to help us identify human trafficking, signs you should be aware of as an ordinary citizen, sexseller, sexbuyer, police, social worker or medical staff. Better cooperation, practical action and creative ideas are also needed.

If Sweden’s prostitution law is introduced in Norway the trust between sexsellers and the authorities will collapse, walls will be erected and cooperation will become severely complicated. The prostitutes will be more exposed to harm and violence. The customers will be afraid to testify since they are subject to criminal charges, and trafficking will become harder to detect.

We sincerely hope that knowledge, facts, common sense and a pragmatic and humane policy triumphs over ignorance, prejudice, racism, moral hysteria and career driven politician’s springboards. We hope that Norway does not commit the same mistake as we did in Sweden 1999. It’s easy to introduce laws, but so much harder to remove them.

Isabella Lund,
SANS – Sexworkers and allies network in Sweden