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MARIE JOHANSSON, COUNSELLOR, PROJECT KAST: We don’t think it’s right that someone is buying another body, another human being.
MARY GEARIN: The laws are supposed to both protest prostitutes and dismantle their trade, but after a decade and a half, are the laws working on either front?
BEATRICE UNANDER-SCHARIN, ROKS, WOMEN’S SHELTER GROUP: I would say that it is a success that the Swedish Government has seen our view on violence against women and made that into law.
PYE JAKOBSSONS, SEX WORKER’S RIGHTS ACTIVIST: I think Sweden is excellent at doing PR. I think Sweden is maybe not so interested in evidence.
MARY GEARIN: The way it works in Sweden is this: A prostitute can arrange to meet a client, the client, if caught, faces a fine of 50 days’ pay, unless another crime is involved like pimping or running a brothel. The client is also offered counselling. The prostitute faces no charge. Supporters of the law say the stigma of prostitution has now shifted onto the client, but buying sex has become socially unacceptable in Sweden.
But how is such a law policed? One of the handful of cops in Stockholm’s prostitution unit tells me it’s all old school.
JONAS HENRIKSON, POLICE OFFICER: Every shift we need to go out, so we only work in the field.
MARY GEARIN: Jonas Henrikson draws on his form every life in the narcotics unit to track down clients, mostly men. By monitoring the very law that people say are free to go about their business, the prostitutes.
JONAS HENRIKSON, POLICE OFFICER: We sit here and watch the buyers approach, and then we filter them out, so to speak, we look for different telltales.
MARY GEARIN: What are those telltales?
JONAS HENRIKSON, POLICE OFFICER: Not going to tell you.
MARY GEARIN: Henrikson says between stakeouts and cruising the streets, he can make between five and 15 arrests a night.
JONAS HENRIKSON, POLICE OFFICER: Ninety-nine per cent of the cases the girls tell us exactly how it was, how much the man paid and what they were doing. And usually the man admits as well to the crime, they confess.
MARY GEARIN: Is there a paradox there that you are hunting for these women and the things that they are doing but the women are not the criminals, the men are?
JONAS HENRIKSON: To me, yeah it was a paradox in the beginning, but then I understood that when they wrote the law, they actually managed to implement the fact that men buying sex from women is equal to men’s violence against women, and they actually managed to put that into the law, and with that reasoning it’s kind of obvious, if a woman is being used and being in such a bad situation that she has to sell herself to get money, then is it really fair to punish her?
MARY GEARIN: Henrikson says Sweden has become much less attractive for human traffickers and the laws have strengthened links between sex workers and police.
JONAS HENRIKSON: Actually having a communication with the girls and they seem to trust the police in a good way.
MARY GEARIN: But Karina tells a very different story.
CARINA EDLAND: I did a stupid thing and got raped, and I couldn’t call the police because I didn’t want the police to target me for. because the thing that happens is that they don’t target the clients, they target us to spot the clients.
MARY GEARIN: Carina isn’t showing her face, she says, because of the increased stigma coming from the laws designed, after all, to wipe out her trade.
CARINA EDLAND: I always say to my colleague, it’s better if you put us in a row or in a line and just machine us down, because my opinion of Sweden is they don’t want us here.
MARY GEARIN: Former sex worker, Pye Jakobssons is an outspoken critic of the system that she says has made prostitution more dangerous.
PYE JAKOBSSONS: We have three different laws controlling our homes, so if we rent an apartment, and sell sex in our apartment, the landlord is forced to evict us or he may risk of being charged with pimping.
If we own our apartment, we have lost our right to own it if we sell sex in it.
So the only way you can work and only be affected by the law criminalising client is selling sex in the street or going to the client’s home which would be two of the more riskier ways to work.
MARY GEARIN: It seems everyone agrees prostitutes need greater support from a social service system that still harbours prejudice, especially about mothers in the sex trade.
BEATRICE UNANDER-SCHARIN: I see women in prostitution, the same as I see women in domestic violence situations and they are not being in domestic violence doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother, and being in prostitution doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother, so that attitude needs to change.
MARY GEARIN: But from her experience working with women’s shelters, Beatrice Unander-Scharin is convinced that the laws are right because prostitution is wrong.
BEATRICE UNANDER-SCHARIN: It’s usually in every case that I have heard of and seen there has been something that has made the choice not a choice. It is a choice without an alternative and that’s not a real choice.
MARY GEARIN: It’s not clear the laws have actually succeeded in decreasing demand for prostitution. The law’s supporters point to the red light district of Stockholm. It’s nothing like it used to be.
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