RealStars’ first decade

Ten years, time flies. A glance back in time shows a large spectrum of efforts for Fair Sex and against trafficking. Thousands of people have gotten involved despite being a small organisation that is mainly project funded, which works as a catalyst through others and within networks for a more powerful impact. In the beginning of RealStars’  journey, I was the driving force, but there were also men that had great importance in forming ideas and designing them. However, one idea did not go as planned: selling products for Fair Sex has yet to root itself but we are still very excited about other important advances.

At the same time we are able to see that, at current, it is growingly alarming with men that are constantly searching for people to exploit by purchasing sex. However, we are pleased to see more opportunities for improvement, partly because the Sex Purchase Act has spread internationally and that the consent law can be used in sex purchase cases.

This year, RealStars has existed as an idea, vision and business for more than ten years. We have trained several hundred hotels and reached more than 25,000 school students and several hundred thousand in our campaigns. We have collaborated widely and broadly, across sectors within different industries and key players. But for now, I mainly intend to provide a flashback.

Before we formally started a non-profit association in March 2010, we had already started to form the idea in 2008. I brought with me many years of experience from both idea-based organizations as well as business, and had for a long time held the idea that prostitution and human trafficking did not have enough attention. Together with my partner at the time, Emmanuel Chatel-Roux, who has his heart in the right place and great commitment, we created Realstars.

Social entrepreneurship – Fashion for Fair Sex
Initially, we were drawn into the spirit of the times. I wanted to get rid of the dependence on project grants and fundraising that so often applies to organizations, and we both wanted to reach out broadly and get people who normally don’t get involved in taking a stand against trafficking and for Fair Sex.

The idea started with Fashion for Fair Sex, to sell leggings and products as “bearers” and ambassadors for Fair Sex and freedom as a kind of social entrepreneurship in the same spirit as Tom Shoes; you buy a shoe and a pair is donated to someone who needs them. We worked on a business plan via Connect West and Venture Cup. Designer Johanna Brag created a fantastic pattern that was exhibited at the Röhsska Museum as part of an event on the EU’s anti-trafficking day. Unfortunately, however, the time was not ripe to get large clothing chains to sell fashion products in favor of work against trafficking. We still use Brag’s pattern as a symbol of freedom. Today you can also buy clothes and accessories that convey your opinion through our webshop. You can see them here.

On the other hand, we have come a long way with other business collaborations within our initiatives Business Against Trafficking and Hotels Agaínst Trafficking and now also Massage salons Against Trafficking. RealStars has become a pioneer even internationally through our industry and corporate partnerships to counter sexual exploitation.

The idea of RealStars came from my previous assignments
I often get asked why I took initiative on RealStars, so I thought I’d briefly explain that it was two assignments in 2008 that brought the idea to me. One was a consultancy assignment for Childhood, where I evaluated projects and thereby came into contact with vulnerability in prostitution and sexual abuse. The second was an assignment for Sandvik, where I reviewed the company’s code of conduct and was struck by what I had suspected, the purchase of sexual services was not included in the policies and guidelines. We wanted to get a grip on the sex-purchase laws and start campagins for Fair Sex, not by slapping people on the wrist but by putting in positive energy where we can all make a difference. Rather than focusing solely on the dark and impactful stories of the victims, we wanted to also talk about the offenders and exploiters. To us there was no doubt that the perpetrators’ victims should be granted rights, but of course we wanted to prevent any more people being involved in sex trade in the first place. People end up in prostitution because there is a demand for sex purchases. Helping the victims is extremely important, but as long as resources are not spent on changing attitudes that lead to sexual assault, lack of empathy and distorted women’s views, more people will become victims.

The men who formed RealStars
From the very beginning, I wanted more men to get involved and I’m glad that men have been a part of forming RealStars from its early days. Both Emmanuel and I believed that the message Fair Sex, that sex should happen on equal terms and with mutual respect and consent, was already part of our legislation. Back then, we did not understand that it would be necessary to form a consent law almost ten years later saying that sex should be voluntary, and if it is not voluntary then it is illegal, unfair sex. In the beginning, I also wanted a man to be a spokesperson for RealStars. This was to challenge the norm of only women talking about these questions, when it is in fact mostly about men having to change their behaviour of demanding sex purchases and taking advantage of somebody. Change the mindset! This was its initial phase. Emmanuel wrote some very relevant posts, including ‘Trafficking and me’, where he talks about sex buyers as “men without dreams or self respect” as well as ‘Fair Sex as I see it’.

RealStars also has other men to thank when it comes to expressing the issue’s core and for creating relevant communication. We have Magnus Almhed to thank for the initial copy, how we express ourselves, and who has just answered three questions. We have Fredrik Ganslandt to thank for the design and logo, the basis of the brand that expands our visibility in terms of color and shape. He has also answered three questions that will soon be on the blog.

I myself have been at the center as a leader, but I was also given the role of spokesperson even though it was not the intention. I have consistently run the business so that other parties would hop on the train and promote our message of Fair Sex against trafficking. An incredible amount of want to contribute with utmost pride, whilst others are still on our wish list of ambassadors and partners. I am convinced that the time will come for even more people to take a stand!

So, moving onto my vision of a Europe free from trafficking, that was initially my mantra. An important step outside of Sweden was when I joined a group in Brussels to work with the EU directive as early as 2011, often putting me in close cooperation with other proactive parties. This was an important step for our international work. I have continued this work and have ebem visited many countries to discuss the purchase of sex and the laws against it – sometimes it feels weird that this is considered proactive. Still,

So to the vision of a Europe free of trafficking that was initially my mantra. An important step outside Sweden was when I joined in context in Brussels to work with the EU directive as early as 2011, often in close cooperation with other proactive actors. It was an important step for our international work. I have continued to work and also visited many countries and talked about sex purchases and laws against sex purchases – sometimes it feels strange to say that word is proactive. But some still talk about sexual trafficking without talking about sex buyers, perpetrators. In this way you miss the preventive work. But some still talk about sexual trafficking without discussing sex buyers, perpetrators. In this way, you miss the preventive work.

Although the issue of prostitution is challenging, we at RealStars should be proud that we have succeeded in bringing together so many; altogether hundreds, even tens of thousands of people that have in various ways been involved in our initiatives, activities and campaigns over the years. We have many girls, boys, women and men to thank for fantastic contributions to the work on trafficking, the organization’s development and its outward work. We are not surprised that it is mainly women and girls of different ages who are involved in our organization and that see the sisterhood, but we hope that more men will get involved in the next ten years. This is everyone’s concern. We also have many companies and networks to thank for bringing up the issue of trafficking. If you are curious about everything that has happened, go read our blog posts. The last decade has led to change, but we still have a long way to go!

My first blog post
The lines below are taken from my first blog post from 2010.

At last. Huge. That is what it feels like now that we are slowly starting with RealStars’ blog.

The world can be a wonderful place to live. Here and now. Unfortunately, the news stream shows us that this doesn’t apply to all of us.

RealStars has a vision to make everyone into stars, valuable and inviolable. Beautiful words. Definitely. But so important. With RealStars, we primarily want to introduce new energy into the issue of trafficking. We want to do something about it. Become a new voice, focusing on Fair Sex.

This is still very relevant. Today, I am more concerned than before about the developments in Sweden. We see an increasing sex trade in Sweden, which is frustrating and deeply regrettable. At the same time, we now have the chance to re-model sex purchase laws, a 2.0 version, and give the issue a higher priority. There are still many who do not dare to or want to talk about men who buy sex, and as long as that’s the case, we continue to stigmatize the people who are pressured to sell sex.

RealStars is, and has been, a driving force both in Sweden and within the EU when it comes to focusing on the perpetrator, and we are becoming even more who are addressing this issue at its root. My wish is for men to influence other men to take a clearer stand on violence against women, since most men distance themselves but rarely talk about it.

Now in May we are launching a new campaign with this focus. In the 2019 edition of 48h, Sweden’s largest advertising competition for students, the contestants were assigned to create ads for RealStars, and it is these ads the campaign is based upon. Our hope is that the campaign will drive more people to reflect on the purchasing of sex and dare to take a stand! Slowly but surely, change will happen, but sometimes we are lucky and change comes quicker than expected. Thank you so much to everyone who has worked on our projects, helped us, supported us and taken a position on this important issue.

Malin Roux Johansson