Sweden urges sex-trafficking law reform

SWEDISH police have said if Ireland and other countries adopted their stringent anti-prostitution laws, it would aid police co-operation and help make Europe a no-go area for sex traffickers.

The Nordic country has pioneered a zero tolerance attitude to men who pay for sex, instead of focusing resources solely on prosecuting women engaged in prostitution. This has been mirrored more recently in Norway and Iceland.

Ahead of briefing sessions with representatives of the gardaí, PSNI, the Health Service Executive and support organisations, Detective Superintendent Jonas Trolle said it would improve the ability of police forces to cooperate if Europe made itself a no-go area for sex traffickers.

He said it would improve cooperation between investigators and facilitate the sharing of information on cross-border gangs.

“I think if we had a similarity within Europe [in terms of legislation] we can say this is a zone where we don’t accept this because this is a form of domestic violence against women,” he said.

Det Supt Trolle said in his experience of cracking down on narcotics and prostitution, it was wrong of fellow European countries to liberalise their criminal codes to come to grips with the black market businesses.

He said countries which had allowed these crimes to become legal had given international criminal gangs an opportunity to build and make money.

“They have given organised crime the possibility to become bigger, stronger and created the possibility for them to earn legal money and that is a big problem,” he said.

The highly regarded officer also said the reputation Sweden had established since the introduction of its anti sex-buyer laws more than 10 years ago had aided it in its efforts to combat human sex trafficking.

He said this was despite Sweden previously being considered an attractive destination internationally because customers were considered to be polite, good payers and clean.

“But they [the traffickers] know the possibility of getting caught is quite high. We are doing our best to chase them,” he said.

For example, in the case of Nigerian traffickers, who built massive networks in southern Europe and in recent years made inroads in the Irish sex trade, Stockholm detected one attempt by these operators to set up. But police were able to rout it within months.

Estonian traffickers, who were able to build a more elaborate business in Stockholm, proved a more difficult problem to solve.

However, following three years of investigation Det Supt Trolle said these gangs were also defeated.

The Swedish police were in Ireland as part of an information exchange session organised by the Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) and Ruhama.

Chief executive of the ICI, Denise Charlton, said of all the solutions to sex trafficking it had explored, the Swedish model appeared one of the most effective.

“[The Swedish law] has brought about a reduction in demand for prostitution and trafficking and there is very broad public support for the initiative,” she said.

Det Insp Trolle said despite initial scepticism for the laws it passed, there was now 80% public support for it and this was as high as any policy could reasonably expect to attain.

This year the punishment for procuring sex was also raised from a maximum of six months to one year.

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