The great trafficking affair in Gothenburg

Sentence was passed at Hovrätten in western Sweden September 21 last year. It was a trial for a large prostitution affair. It’s a vast sentencing which is based on the one from the Local Court in May. There were a large amount of young Romanian women involved and six Romanian men on trial.

The testimony of the women paints a tragic picture of their deprivation. They have also been replaced with new women which shows how extremely difficult this type of operation is to catch. It also became apparent that there was much fear involved. One woman who had acted as a secondary to one of the men threatened another woman, which became known in the Hovrätt’s judgment. The pimps come from networks controlled by relatives and friends. They have also relatives back in their home country and in the same area as some of the victims. Connections were noted between prostitution and brothel operations in Romania and the women had been coerced. In the sentencing, it became known that the prostitution operation had also been transnational and used in countries like Denmark, Holland and Italy.

The sentencing from the local court is generally well written but sadly some strange writings appear in the Hovrätten’s sentencing.

Both courts have their limits in seeing the patriarchal pattern which marks the connection between the women and men, but Hovrätten makes this more apparent. These patterns can be seen by how it seems to be normalized to beat women and that men are in charge.

The women’s stories give an image of an appalling existence. There’s poverty and deprivation, orphan backgrounds and someone who had been sold as a child. Others became pregnant and had to provide on their own. They are cheated and threatened and their situation on the streets of Gothenburg is hard and brutal.

The psychological pressure these women are under consist of threats of  reprisal. Even during the interrogations when they have to relive the memories from the streets of Gothenburg. This makes it amazingly strong of them managing to stand witness.

But what’s shameful is that Hovrätten after all this decides to count the women as suspects just because they are poor. They write “the plaintiffs are apparently from poverty-stricken areas” and that damages could entail ”noteworthy reasons of giving false information”. It’s boggling how a Swedish court has such lack of understanding both from a power perspective and for how the traumatizing events have affected the women.

It’s simply shameful and black and white how Swedish courts look at women in prostitution. Hovrätten also decrease the scale of the prosecution points and the harshness of the penalties. It is a partially unfortunate sentencing as it sadly sends signals that the stricter original sentencing from the Local Court doesn’t really matter anymore.

Even though Sweden officially sees trafficking/prostitution as a serious crime, there are problems in practice when the courts don’t understand the problems or have an unenlightened and disparaging view on women in prostitution.

The investigation reveals that prostitution in Sweden has generated vast sums of money which the pimps has sent home. Naturally, this money comes from Swedish men’s wallets. Men who have bought access to young women standing out in the streets around 7 in the evening until 5-6 in the morning no matter the weather. The men have had sexual relations with the women in urinals, at cemeteries, in cars and sometimes at their own apartments.

Many sex buyers have also been fined. Ask yourself if fines should be the only penalty when you abuse women from another country like this. Is it enough of a deterrent? From interviews with sex buying men, their biggest fear is publicity. In this court process they have nevertheless got out very lightly. They haven’t had to stand holding a sign.

It’s clearly a problem when the court seems to only blame the Romanian men when it should be shared with the Swedish buyers. Should they not be called as witnesses? Should they not be a part of the process and should penalties not be increased? Because without sex buyers; johns, there is no trade in women from Romania or anywhere else.

This is exactly what happened in a trial from a few years ago

In 2007 sentencing was passed in an affair where Russian women had been sold by countrymen. This also in Gothenburg. They had used telephone contacts and the buyers would pick up the ordered women at a gas station.

But in court, 16 of the buyers testified. They were probably only a fraction of the men who bought the women. But the buyers; the johns were used as living evidence and as such strengthened the women’s testimony so their stories wouldn’t be the only evidence in the case. The testimony of the men in all its shame was creative and pathetic but this had another effect. These men were displayed and made this part of the sex trade industry more visible. The part which is the engine that keeps the whole operation running. The prosecutor and the court making this decision showed a rare moment of efficiency. There should be school dealing with and teaching human trading in court processes.

This actually happened in another affair in 2010. Romanian women were the victims here as well, sold via the Internet to places in Stockholm. Some of the buying men were prosecuted and there was media attention as some of the names were well known.

The question then is this: Why weren’t the buyers used in what has come to be called the largest trafficking affair in Sweden? Why weren’t they assembled to add evidence? Why is street prostitution considered something different? The men should definitely have been able to provide evidence of how ruthlessly abused these women were.

Not only as a deterrent and the much needed anonymity johns have, they do in fact  come from different social groups and jobs and are of varying age. They make up a clientele which differs from other violent criminal activities. This something which is also important to uncover.

Right now, a Bulgarian affair has just been exposed and is still under investigation. This time with  women who have been sold using the Internet. Will the johns be allowed to testify and be used as evidence in court? This should be a given.

Read more about the affair from 2007

Read more about the affair from 2010

Marie Johansson