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Dublin: 5 °C Saturday 19 April, 2014

Law banning purchase of sex “would reduce sex trafficking and prostitution”

Police officers from Sweden and Norway met with members of the Gardaí, the HSE and other organisations to discuss making the purchase of sex illegal in Ireland.

A prostitute in Amsterdam's 'red light district'
A prostitute in Amsterdam's 'red light district'
Image: PETER DEJONG/AP/Press Association Images

A LAW BANNING the purchase of sex would reduce both prostitution and sex trafficking in Ireland.

That’s the view of the Immigrant Council of Ireland and Ruhama, who organised an information exchange in Dublin yesterday between members of the Swedish and Norwegian police forces and the Gardaí, the PSNI, the HSE, the Legal Aid Board, unions, housing associations and gender-based violence services.

At a briefing yesterday morning, Detective Superintendent Jonas Trolle, Stockholm Police, and Patrik Cederlof, national coordinator against prostitution/trafficking, Stockholm, spoke about the Swedish Model of criminalising the purchase of sex.

Detective Chief Inspector Thor Martin Elton and Detective Inspector Stian Jacobsen, Organised Crime Section, STOP project, Oslo police district, talked about their experiences of introducing such legislation in Norway.

It is estimated that 100,000 people are trafficked within the EU annually and that in Ireland, more than 1,000 women and girls - the majority of whom are migrants - are subjected to commercial sexual exploitation, says the Turn off the Red Light campaign.

The campaign says that more than half of those in prostitution have been raped and/or sexually assaulted and at least 75 per cent have been beaten up by pimps or buyers.

Denise Charlton, Chief Executive of the ICI, told TheJournal.ie that she hoped the visit would help bring forward the implementation of the Swedish Model in Ireland.

She explained that this is the second time that Swedish police staff have met with the Garda Síochána on this issue and the first time the Norwegian police have met them.

Charlton said that human trafficking is now a major issue linked with prostitution, alongside organised crime.

Sarah Benson, Chief Executive of Ruhama, said Ruhama believes it is imperative that the growing Irish sex trade is seriously tackled.

Legislation making the purchase of sex illegal was implemented in Sweden in 1999, with human trafficking legislation enacted in 2002.

Patrik Cederlof said:

At that time [in 1999] we didn’t have a specific crime for human trafficking. So we didn’t launch this legislation because of the trafficking problem. It was more a question of gender equality.

Detective Superintendent Jonas Tolle  explained:

I would say we have decreased the number of customers radically. If we talk in specific figures of the number of girls or women in prostitution in Stockholm, on a street level there is between five and 10 girls a day in a city with over 5 million people.

It is believed there are 20,000 street prostitutes in Barcelona, a city which has the same population as Stockholm. In the 70s, there were 3000 prostitutes in Sweden and up to 500 brothels.

He said that with regards to “indoor prostitution” where the sale of sex is arranged online,  ”it’s easier to find the girls in the internet than it is on the streets, so we have indoor prostitution as a consequence of the internet, not of the law”.

Trolle said he did not believe the legislation had driven prostitution underground.

Because you can’t put it underground; because then it is almost impossible for the clients as well. If the clients want to find a person in order to buy sex from that person, the police will most certainly find them as well.
Has it become more dangerous? No. It is always dangerous to be in prostitution.

He said that you could have 80 or up to 100 girls per day involved in indoor prostitution. Before the law, 1 out of 8 Swedish  men had bought sex at some point in their lives, but today that figure is 1 out of 40 men.

Between 75 per cent and 80 per cent of the population in Sweden believe this is good legislation.

Trolle said that traffickers who enter Sweden don’t want to bring too many girls “because they will have no customers”.

Norway has had similar legislation in place for 2.5 years. Detective Inspector Stian Jacobsen said there were law and order reasons behind it as women were “walking the streets” in large numbers and “aggressively” marketing themselves.

And also that they wanted to have fewer women in Norway selling sex and therefore you also have fewer women exploited for human trafficking.

Prostitution’s connection to organised crime was emphasised, with Trolle saying this legislation can be used to reduce it on different levels. “From a police point of view this is good because it is a win-win situation,” he said.

He said that 400 men in 2010 and 300 to date in 2011 in Stockholm have been prosecuted under the law. These men receive a fine based on their income and it is now possible to receive a one-year jail sentence.

In Sweden, these crimes are on the public record and can be reported in newspapers, while in Norway no cases have gone to court for not paying a fine.

There were 100 customers last year fined and 60 this year to date fined in Norway.

Said Trolle:

It is not a question of two people doing things in a free way. But it’s very dangerous to victimise the people in prostitution because they don’t want to be victimised. They want to be [treated] as a normal human being. But of course we can offer them help. We ask them for a testimony to begin with and we try to put them in contact with the social welfare system.

However he said it is very difficult to get prostitutes out of this situation because “they are forced from inside because of earlier experiences and they don’t think that they are worth anything else than being in this prostitution. So therefore it is very hard to change. It requires a lot of hours of therapy and support in order to get them out there.”

There is now a Social Welfare officer working with the police and prostitutes who they deal with, in what was described as a “holistic” approach to the situation.

Lap dancing clubs are legal and regulated in both Sweden and Norway, but Trolle said they are connected with organised crime in Sweden, most notably money laundering.

The police members said they do not believe the legislation of prostitution, as is the case in Holland, is beneficial, as it makes it harder to regulate or to know how many customers a prostitute has.

Detective Inspector Stian Jacobsen told TheJournal.ie that the legislation resulted in better relationships between the prostitutes and police. “It is about how to treat the girls,” he explained. “It is important to treat them with respect and give them comfort that they can go to the police if something is wrong. The girls can come to the police and say ‘I am a victim of human trafficking’. They trust the police.”

He said that around 50 per cent of the population in Norway currently agrees with the law.

It is is believed Senator Katherine Zappone will bring a motion to the Oireachtas in the near future about the possible implementation of the Swedish Model in Ireland.

Column: Do we have the right to buy or sell sex?

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