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Swedish model could inspire Turkey to combat trafficking

STOCKHOLM – Hürriyet Daily News | 11/1/2009 12:00:00 AM | FULYA ÖZERKAN

The Swedish model focuses on demand as the key to ending trafficking and prostitution and makes the purchase of sexual services illegal while decriminalizing selling sex. Officials say the controversial legislation, in force since 1999, has dealt a severe blow to the modern slave trade

The Swedish model of zero tolerance for buying sexual services could become a source of inspiration for Turkey, which is both a transit and destination country for trafficked women.

Most of the trafficked women in Turkey are brought from Moldova and Ukraine on false promises and end up in prostitution at the hands of organized crime rings.

The Swedish government has been lobbying at the international level to promote its unique model focused on demand rather than supply as an instrument to fight prostitution and human trafficking for sexual purposes. Swedish officials say the controversial legislation, in force since 1999, has dealt a severe blow to the modern slave trade.

“Fewer Swedish men buy sex than 10 years ago, according to last year’s research. Other Nordic countries are more affected than Sweden, which is a bad market for trafficking because prostitution is not legal here,” detective inspector Kajsa Wahlberg of the Swedish National Police Board told a small group of journalists in Stockholm.

Wahlberg is national rapporteur to the Swedish government on trafficking as recommended by the European Union.

Since 1999, buying sex in Sweden has been a criminal offense and is forbidden on penalty of a fine or up to six months’ imprisonment. Selling sexual services, on the other hand, is not a crime.

[HH] Foreigners in prostitution

The victims of human trafficking for sexual purposes are primarily women and girls, and studies show it is mostly men who purchase sexual services. According to Wahlberg, women in prostitution in Sweden are mostly foreigners from Eastern European countries.

“An estimated 1,000 native Swedish women are currently in prostitution; that figure stood at 2,500 in 1998, before the law was enacted,” she said. “Today we are mostly connected with foreign women as traffickers benefit from visa abolitions and easy travel in the Shengen area after the EU enlargement.”

In cases that resulted in convictions in 2006, the perpetrators mainly recruited girls and women from Estonia, Russia, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria and Albania. Others were from Thailand, Poland, Nigeria, Kenya and the Czech Republic.

After the law passed in Sweden, in defiance of the opposition, Norway and Iceland adopted similar measures to curb prostitution and trafficking for sexual purposes. Lithuania follows a half-Swedish model where it is illegal to both buy and sell sexual services.

“I think more countries will change their legislation. There are ongoing discussions in Baltic countries,” said Jenny Sonesson, the foreign policy advisor for the Liberal Party, which is part of the governing coalition in Sweden. “If you fight organized crime, you must fight prostitution and the law is a barrier against the establishment of organized cross-border prostitution rings.”

[HH] Even an attempt is illegal

Sonesson said the Swedish police, who were against the legislation 10 years ago, now support it after having seen the results. Her Liberal Party, which voted down the law at the time, today supports it, as does 70 percent of the population plus all seven political parties in the 249-member Riksdag, or parliament.

“Even an attempt to buy sex is a reason for prosecution under the Swedish law. Civilian and female police are on watch,” said Patrik Cederlöf, national coordinator against prostitution and trafficking.

In 2008, the Swedish government adopted an action plan for combating prostitution and human trafficking for sexual purposes, calling for increased national and international cooperation.

“We don’t have enough tools due to open borders. We are seeing a surge in the number of trafficking cases. Today a lot of people move in the Shengen area and we need cooperation at an international level,” said Cederlöf, describing the action plan as a road map outlining how Sweden wants to work against this international phenomenon.

The plan also calls for protection of the victims, who are provided with ad hoc permits to stay in Sweden while the investigation continues. The cost is covered by state funds.

The Swedish government will be investing 213 million Swedish Krona until December 2010. The government will decide whether to continue implementing the program after it is submitted to the parliament in 2011.

[HH] What about Turkey?

According to the Swedish model, focusing on demand is the key to ending trafficking and prostitution. This is different from the Turkish system, in which prostitution is legal and regulated. Prostitutes must register and acquire an ID card stating the dates of their health checks, but most sex workers are unregistered, working in violation of the law.

The country straddling East and West is cited a top destination for mostly female victims of human trafficking in international reports. Turkey established a toll-free “157” hotline in cooperation with the International Organization for Migration, or IOM, a Geneva-based organization, to help rescue the victims, especially foreigners from such countries as Moldova and Russia.

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