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Linking Prostitution and Human Trafficking Policies: The Nordic Experience

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Contemporary Organized Crime

Part of the book series: Studies of Organized Crime ((SOOC,volume 18))

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In international debates on prostitution policy and in debates on prostitution that takes place within individual countries, references are often made to “the Nordic” or “the Swedish” model of prostitution policy. In Sweden, Norway and Iceland, the purchase of sex is a criminal offence, while it remains legal to sell sex. In debates references are made to the effects of such a policy on the extent of human trafficking. While politicians and activists are eager to treat this particular way of regulating prostitution either as a great success or a great failure, researchers need to take into consideration how a country’s anti-trafficking and anti-prostitution efforts impact identification of cases and therefore available figures. In this chapter we investigate the evidence for how the Swedish Sex Purchase Act influences trafficking to Sweden, and we particularly argue that researchers must avoid underestimating the complexity of the relationship between law and the phenomena they regulate.

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  1. 1.

  2. 2.

    European Parliament resolution of 26 February on sexual exploitation and prostitution and its impact on gender equality.

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  4. 4.

  5. 5.

    “Telefonavlyssning har också gett vid handen att Sverige inte framstår som en bra marknad för att sälja kvinnor. Även här uppfattas hur kriminella beklagar sig över att köparna är rädda samt för att man måste organisera verksamheten mer i Sverige för att nå lönsamhet. Vid flera tillfällen har också polis från de baltiska staterna informerat om att kriminella i deras hemländer inte anser att Sverige är en bra marknad för människohandel. De skäl som anges här är desamma som nämns ovan”.

  6. 6.

  7. 7.

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    For an analysis of the link between prostitution and human trafficking, see Anderson and O’Connell Davidson (2004).

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    “So, after 12 years with a law prohibiting the purchase of sexual services, we can establish that in Sweden the ban is of great value in fighting prostitution and human trafficking”.

  10. 10.

    “The law is an expression of the political commitment and consensus in Swedish society to prevent and fight prostitution and human trafficking by targeting men’s demand for women, other men, and children for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Those men who purchase or attempt to purchase a sexual service are prosecuted and convicted; it is recognized that the law also has beneficial normative effects on the prostitution behaviour of individual men as well as on public attitudes towards prostitution and sex trafficking in Sweden”.

  11. 11.

    The cases are almost always resolved out of court by payment of a fine on the spot.

  12. 12.

    Statistics from The Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention, full table presented in Tillsynsrapport 2013:7:14 Rikspolisstyrelsen.

  13. 13.

    Unofficial translation provided by the Swedish authorities quoted in Secretariat of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (2014).

  14. 14.

    For a comprehensive description and discussion of Swedish obligations vis-à-vis trafficking and the Swedish Trafficking Act, see Kelemen and Johansson (2013).

  15. 15.

    Statistics from The Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention, table presented in The National Police Board (2013,7,13).

  16. 16.

    Figures for forms of trafficking other than for sexual purposes are reported separately in Sweden.

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  18. 18.

    “The Alien Act allows for the possibility to issue a temporary residence permit to someone who is willing to witness and facilitating starting up an investigation or for a legal proceeding to be conducted. A temporary residence permit can be issued for 6 months and thereafter be renewed. According to the same section, an alien can also get a temporary residence permit for 30 days, in order to recover and decide whether to cooperate with authorities within crime investigation” (Aliens Act (2015/716) Chapter 5. 15 §).

  19. 19.

    Aftenposten 11.05.06: “Norge – et marked for menneskehandlere”.


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Correspondence to May-Len Skilbrei .

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Skilbrei, ML., Holmström, C. (2021). Linking Prostitution and Human Trafficking Policies: The Nordic Experience. In: Nelen, H., Siegel, D. (eds) Contemporary Organized Crime. Studies of Organized Crime, vol 18. Springer, Cham.

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