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Opinion: to better battle prostitution, police should focus on punishing clients

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUIn the fight against prostitution and human trafficking, police should devote more time prosecuting the ‘clients’ of those services, not prostitutes, as it is in many countries, said Per-Anders Sunesson, Swedish Ambassador at Large for Combating Trafficking in Persons.

According to him, the so-called Swedish money, in which responsibility is demanded from the client and prostitutes are freed of the fear of being punished, focuses on the person who exploits other people. This practice has been adopted by France, Ireland and other countries.

Sunesson says it is easy to arrest women pulled into prostitution. It is far more important to make it clear that the ‘client’ does something wrong, too. Sweden made this step in 1999, with a law that punishes the purchase of sex. At the same time, ‘service providers’ are freed from criminal liability.

Sweden’s ambassador for special assignments said this practice has brought good results – it is now rare to find people who believe prostitution is acceptable. «Very few people in Sweden buy women and girls for sexual needs. This is because society has undergone massive changes,» said Sunesson.

Additionally, he says that implementation of Swedish model has allowed for more successful combating of human trafficking. «Compared to other countries, we have fewer problems with human trafficking. Every now and then certain cases of human exploitation surface, including cases when people are brought to Sweden to beg on streets. At the same time, when compared to other countries, Sweden is better off when it comes to victims sold for sexual exploitation,» said the expert.

He explains that the decision to adopt this model was not easy for Sweden. Only half of society supported adopting the new law. However, when it became clear that the law had provided good results, the number of supported surged to 80 of the country’s population.

According to Sunesson, before implementing the model and supporting the law, the country held wide discussions. Women’s rights movement in Sweden was the most active participant in those talks. Results of studies performed by the government also painted a very unpleasant picture. This helped make the decision and eventually change the situation in Sweden.

The expert believes the studies performed in Sweden on prostitution revealed that women and girls pulled into this kind of life often come from poor families and have very difficult childhood. Society then made the conclusion that prostitutes are not «capable businesswomen», but rather the victims of this illegal enterprise. «These women and girls had lost their self-respect, did not go to school – they are victims, nothing else,» said Sunesson.

He adds that society’s opinion has also changed after hearing that men buy sex and talk of women as though they are things.

The ambassador also adds that when the Swedish government decided to prevent prostitution in the country, there were people who said both the buyer and ‘service provider’ should be punished equally. However, because the argument in favour of punishing clients rung louder, the decision was made to relieve «service providers» of criminal liability.

After implementation of the law, Sweden worked long and hard to change public opinions. A lot of resources were put into educating police officers and social workers. Inclusion of gender equality as a subject in schools had also benefited the process.

Sunesson stresses that the prostitution restriction law had changed people’s opinion on prostitution, similarly how it happened with the law that prohibits hitting children. Additionally, Sweden’s prostitution market is almost dead, because there is almost no demand for women and girls. «Of course, there are still people who buy sex. However, compared to other countries, Sweden is much better off. Now that the law has been in force for three years, the difference between Sweden and countries like Norway, Denmark and Finland is enormous,» said the expert.

Nevertheless, Sweden is not done with its fight against prostitution and human trafficking – there are still some unresolved matters. For example, some Swedes travel to other countries to buy prostitutes. The government wants to address this matter. Sunesson admits that there is no precise data to study this phenomenon, as it is very difficult to study this situation. Although there is not a great deal of demand for such services, it is not possible to influence absolutely all people’s opinions. There are men who travel to Thailand, Latvia and other countries for the purposes of sex tourism, he continues.

Nevertheless, Sunesson notes that the current government has voiced a proposal this year to prosecute people who purchase sex in other countries even if such a service is legal in those countries. «Unfortunately, because of different political reasons, this proposal did not make it to the parliament. I do hope, however, that it will be picked up by politicians in the next parliament,» said the ambassador.


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