The lead police officer on human trafficking in Sweden has defended criminalising men who buy sex from women in prostitution — a proposal currently being debated by MLAs.
DUP MLA Lord Morrow’s bill, intended to tackle sex trafficking, is modelled on a Swedish law introduced in 1999 and is currently being backed by the DUP and Women’s Aid.
But it has been challenged by Amnesty International, some MLAs including Justice Minister David Ford and several senior PSNI officers. Nine district councils and counting have backed it so far, with cross-party support.
Detective Supt Kajsa Wahlberg is the Swedish Rapporteur on human trafficking, members of the EU network responsible for monitoring the implementation of anti-trafficking policy in their member states.
She is regularly invited to international expert meetings on trafficking in human beings by bodies such as Europol, Interpol, the OSCE, and the Task Force on Organized Crime in the Baltic Sea Region. Since 2008, she is also a permanent member of the European Commission Group of Experts on Trafficking in Human Beings.
“The police authorities in Sweden have used this legislation for over 15 years,” she told the News Letter. “Initially, some police authorities were doubtful about the possible effectiveness of the law, and how to enforce it.”
She adds: “In fact, very soon it became clear that the law is an excellent tool to hold individuals that purchase a sexual service accountable for their actions. But it also allows us to use it to reach and investigate those who organise prostitution activities in Sweden — whether they are local organised crime elements or cross-border traffickers.”
She refers to the “comprehensive evaluation of the effects of the law” which was led by the Swedish Chancellor of Justice, Anna Skarhed, as evidence that the law is effective.
The report’s methodology has been contested internationally by advocates of legalised prostitution.
Ms Wahlberg’s last report as national rapporteur concluded: “When the ban on the purchase of sexual services came into force in 1999, there was speculation that the police authorities would face difficulties in applying the legislation. That has not been the case.
“The enquiry concerning the effects of the law on the purchase of sexual services showed that police and prosecutors now believe that its application is working well, but that its effectiveness depends on access to resources and the priorities that are set within the judicial system’.”
She added: “I would like to underline the importance of basing any conclusions regarding this legislation on the extensive experience and evidence that is available in Sweden, through such channels as Ms Skarhed’s report.
“This is after all a legislation that functions as a barrier for the development of a local prostitution market.”
She particularly reflected on claims she has read that prosecuting men who buy sex in Northern Ireland could stretch PSNI resources away from human trafficking investigations.
She responded: “If men don’t buy women in prostitution, we will have no human [sex] trafficking cases to investigate. Wouldn´t that be less resource intensive?
“I have spent 15 years listening to various police forces at international meetings asking for stronger legislation on human trafficking, more resources to combat it, more investigative techniques etc.
“If I then ask if we can do something on the demand side, there is either silence or it raises extreme frustration.”
SWEDISH APPROACH ‘REEKS OF HYPOCRISY’
But Dr Graham Ellison of Queen’s University Belfast, a vocal advocate of state regulated brothels, say the Swedish ban on men buying sex “reeks of hypocrisy and double standards”.
One Swedish champion of the law was jailed for rape and purchasing sex while a chief prosecutor, judges, police officers and senior government ministers have also been convicted, he says.
“The overwhelming majority of cases are dismissed through lack of evidence, wasting valuable police resources.” he says.
For those who say the Swedish approach works, he insists that they show him the evidence.
Enforcement of the law is only “patchy” across Sweden, he says.
There are claims that some police abuse vulnerable sex workers, while migrant sex workers are unceremoniously deported, he adds.
Ms Wahlberg confirms that some police officers, one prosecutor and four judges have been convicted of buying sex in Sweden since 1999.
She adds: “No legislation works 100pc. Do you have such a law in Northern Ireland? We have laws regarding fraud and theft too and these laws are being broken all the time. When that happens, no one blames the law.
“About 5,000 police reports have been drawn up since 1999 for buying sex. Almost half of the cases, 46pc are being cleared. This is a very good result compared with other crimes.”
She adds: “Most men confess on the spot, they are being fined and therefore not prosecuted.”
She says mobile phone records are used as evidence against buyers.
Victims may be given temporary residence in Sweden if they are cooperating with prosecutors or are returned safely home in cooperation with the International Organisation for Migration, she adds.
‘STATISTICS CAN’T TELL FULL STORY’
Ms Wahlberg says that many factors have made it difficult to measure the effects of their fight against the crime.
The law against the purchase of sexual services was introduced in 1999 and a law against human trafficking in 2002, she says.
Around the same time, mobile phone and internet usage became common among the public and Baltic countries entered the EU, making immigration much easier.
“Around these years, a lot of things happened at the same time and it can be difficult to measure the effect [of the laws].”
Nevertheless, she is clear that outlawing the purchase of sex has “a deterrent effect” on traffickers. Her force also intervenes informally “in many cases” where someone is about to buy sexual services.
“Victims of human trafficking for sexual purposes have told the police that traffickers and procurers talk about Sweden as a bad market for prostitution activities,” she says. “The police also have evidence from wire-tapped conversations between members of organised crime networks, that these networks prefer markets in countries where prostitution activities are legalised or tolerated.”