The Swedish courts fail in domestic human trafficking

Caroline Engvall is a journalist and author. She has written the books ”14 år till Salu”, ”Skamfläck” and most recently ”Skuggbarn”, all of which are about young Swedes who sell sex to regular Swedish men. Caroline has written a guest post here on Realstars’ blog, and just like the title states; it’s about the problem the courts seem to have in recognizing domestic trafficking.

”There are certain things you learn when your life revolves around trying to hide the fact that you meet up with older men for sadistic sex in your spare time. You learn to never eat before a date. It helps prevent you from throwing up so much that you can’t breathe. You also learn what makeup is best for covering up bruises, and if you wear your hair in a ponytail the men can pull on it hard without ripping out clumps of hair. You learn how to efficiently lie to your parents so that they don’t question where you’ve been and who you are seeing. Instead of having parents who report the bastards who violated their daughter to the police, you get parents who believe their daughter takes part of a large social network, puts on makeup, is careful about what she eats, and likes to put her hair up. From afar, it’s all so damn beautiful.”

Linda, about 20 years old today, speaks in the new book “Skuggbarn – den okända sexhandeln med barn i Sverige”. As a 13-year-old she fell in love with the almost 20 year older Jesper. She says that he promised they would get married, ”as long as she met some of his friends first”. Jesper then hired his friend Magnus to drive Linda to violent sex buyers in a medium-sized Swedish city, and then took the money earned from all the things Linda was subjected to.

Linda didn’t tell the police. She wanted to protect him – at the same time, she thought she should blame herself. Linda never thought herself a victim of trafficking. She had acted ”voluntarily”. The lawyers are in agreement on the fact that her case could have been considered sexual trafficking with children, and subsequently produced harsh convictions if Linda had been brave enough to report Jesper.

Children being sold for sex – it happens over there, you think – not here. At the same time we remember the movie Lilja 4-ever, which told the story of a young, poor girl who is forced into Sweden by unscrupulous perpetrators in order to sell sex.

The movie became an eye opener regarding the existence of international human trafficking. Today however, the picture is wider – and more and more people have their eyes opened to the fact that this crime can also occur within the country. But not a single person has been convicted of domestic trafficking ever since the law against human trafficking for sexual purposes was introduced in 2002. The courts haven’t paid attention – because the way children are actually being sold for sexual purposes doesn’t always look like we think it does.

Domestic trafficking means that the victim doesn’t need transportation across a national border, only within the country. One of the hardest parts is how a prosecutor is supposed to show that the victim didn’t have any other alternatives. A person put in a position where he or she is sold doesn’t always occur in complete misery of a total lack of prospects – other actions could be at work. Children are trafficked because of the connection, situation and that some people have no qualms about exploiting other’s weaknesses, no matter what they may be.

This outdated view on children being sold for sex, combined with trafficking being extremely difficult to prove, causes grave consequences for the children. Because of the complexity of the stipulation, prosecutors have become accustomed to charging the perpetrator with pimping instead of trafficking in advance. This means that the victim will not get the same rights in the process as they would have in a trafficking case. This will not give the trafficked children the justice or protection they deserve and according to the law, are entitled to.

Because of the courts’ inadequate performance we now risk losing many children – Linda, for example. We need to rid ourselves of the preconceptions that trafficking is only about children who are transported in to the country and instead treat all children as equals – regardless of who they may be.

The courts need to learn to understand the complex machinery behind the behaviors of victims of trafficking; courts that can see past the preconceptions of what a victim of trafficking ”should be” like.

Thus, an updated practice is needed – one that sees how sexual trafficking with children looks today. It is important. Especially since a conviction means that the children feel like they are being heard. Only then can these children start to heal.

Caroline Engvall