HUMAN TRAFFICKING: Concerns even as Swedish law is rewritten to get convictions

WHEN one looks at the numbers of successful prosecutions for human trafficking in Sweden over the last five years, one could easily be forgiven for thinking there had been little return for its major investment in combating the crime.

Between 2003 and 2008, there were just 10 people convicted specifically of human trafficking out of 133 cases brought.

However, the low return is not reflective of the true impact the prosecutions have had. The ambiguous wording of the trafficking law in Sweden up to July 2010 made it exceptionally difficult to get convictions.

But the authorities had good reason for not being in a particular rush to correct that ambiguity.

The sentences for aggravated pimping — the crime just below human trafficking carried the same maximum sentence of 10 years as the more serious misdemeanour.

“A lot of cases end up as serious pimping instead of human trafficking, because it was easier for the prosecutors and court to have a sentence for it,” said Detective Inspector Jonas Trolle of the Swedish surveillance unit who is an expert in investigating human trafficking.

“I think it was sad, because our legislation on trafficking in human beings is a very good legislation and has a lot of possibilities to get convictions, but it was too complicated for the prosecutors and courts. Therefore, prosecutors would not push strongly for the highest sentence possible for aggravated pimping.”

When that category is taken into account, the successful prosecutions shoot up. The number of reported crimes rise to 601 and the convictions rise to 127.

Nonetheless, it simply was not good enough not to have clear and detailed legislation. The problem was that a successful prosecution for human trafficking required the prosecutors to prove the defendant had taken control of the victim.

“We had two trafficking paragraphs before, which did not work,” said Kajsa Wahlberg. “The second paragraph had so many tiny little things which had to be correct. For instance, it said that the trafficker must use improper means in order to recruit or transport the person but it also said the trafficker must have control. Improper means is very much related to control also. It was mixed up. It also said the trafficker must have the intention at recruitment that he is going to exploit the person.”

She cited, as an example, an instance where a Swedish man trafficked a girl from Slovakia to the southern part of Sweden. “He claimed she was his girlfriend, they had lived there and they decided to move to Sweden,” she said. “He said he proposed for her to go into prostitution and that he recruited buyers for her but that he had no intention to traffic her to Sweden when he took her from Slovakia. He said it was an idea that came up when they got here.

“So many of these types of people got loose because we could not prove intention to traffic. It was also viewed that the second paragraph did not protect children as it should. Because of the confusion, 16-17 year olds were not being regarded as trafficking... The court required directly that the trafficker must have used improper means. The paragraph did not require that.”

In the forward to the new clause which came into the Swedish human trafficking law on July 1, 2010, the authors wrote: “The requisite that describes the improper means should be given in somewhat clearer and more readily-understood meaning than they have at present.”

Therefore, the relevant paragraphs were rewritten to state: “Anyone who makes use of unlawful coercion or deception, abuses someone’s vulnerable situation, abuses someone’s youth or defencelessness or abuses someone’s dependent status has used such a means that may result in liability for trafficking in human beings.

“The current list of kinds of acts of trafficking covered shall be supplemented by the possibility of a person, who by some improper means controls another in order to exploit her, in him being penalised for trafficking in human beings.”

It is too early to say whether the new language will make it easier to achieve the full human trafficking convictions authorities crave.

As far as Jonas Trolle is concerned, there may still be issues.

“I am worried about the situation now,” he said. “They have removed the control part, but I am not sure it is easy to have sentences for human trafficking.”

He has reason to be worried. Police estimate that between 400 and 600 women are trafficked to Sweden every year and of those 200 to 300 are destined for Stockholm.

Furthermore, there is concern that even the new version of the law does require the accumulation of a large swathe of evidence before a conviction can be sought. Kajsa Wahlberg admits that that often means victims might be moved on before the police can move in and arrest the trafficker.

“After surveillance for a certain period of time, you might assume there are 30 women being exploited, but you don’t go in and identify them all, because you will reveal your investigation,” she said, “We are not always sure what is going on; if all of these women are being exploited or if they have another role in the apartment. When we strike, there might only be three left because some of them are being transported back and forth and we are not always clear of each and everyone’s role. We can interrogate the three, but we don’t know about the other 27.”

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