The scale of the sex trade, prostitution and human trafficking is enormous, both on our streets and the Internet. But the question is: what is being done to put a stop to the trade on the Internet? RealStars has interviewed Police from Sweden’s three largest cities to look at what is being done to stop the Internet sex trade. The will and capabilities are these, but the lack of resources represents a major hurdle.
Gothenburg – Surveillance given low priority
Advertisements on sex sites increase in line with the demand for buying sex. The Internet sex trade is enormous and will continue to grow without drastic actions. The situation has been made worse by the fact that the Gothenburg Human Trafficking Group has not been able to undertake any surveillance at all for more than a year due to a lack of resources. Those reports that are made by people are of course investigated in the usual way. The City Police undertake reporting of sex buyers on the streets but not at the same level as in previous years. Meanwhile, nothing is being done to stop the Internet sex trade.
– “It’s a free run on the Internet”, says Mats Paulsson, who previously had responsibility for the Human Trafficking Group.
In Gothenburg, Mats and his group had previously worked very effectively to track down and apprehend sex buyers, which had the effect of reducing street prostitution. Currently, they are working against other forms of serious organised crime linked to what is known as ‘The Unique Event’ in Gothenburg. With the reorganisation of the Police in 2015, the future is unclear. According to management, the new organisation will still undertake work against human trafficking for sexual purposes. How it will be organised and to what extent remains unclear.
Project Ernst in Malmo
Malmo’s Prostitution Group was shut down some time ago. As a result, there was considerable criticism directed at Malmo Police. Newspapers carried headlines such as ‘Skandia Police worst at Hunting Sex Buyers’. Attention from the media led to the establishment of Project ‘Ernst’ in 2014 with the aim of understanding the Internet sex market and its scale. It is hoped that at the end of the year they will be in a position to present a proposal to their leadership on activities for the future. Because current activities occur only sporadically there is a risk that the proposal is based on only a limited part of the sex trade in Malmo. Mats would prefer a working group that worked full-time to stop the development of prostitution.
The Prostitution Group in Stockholm
Stockholm has a prostitution group that works actively and continuously with reporting and surveillance of the sex trade. Because of their high workload, they were unable to participate in an interview, which shows the skewed priorities in the fight against prostitution in Sweden.
Stockholm also has a Human Trafficking section that has the task of working with cases dealing with sex trafficking and procurement of prostitutes. In the course of the past year, the Human Trafficking Section has had only two men convicted as ‘net pimps’.
The Human Trafficking Section’s Ewa Carlenfors says despite the low number of prosecution, neither Sweden or Stockholm are attractive markets when compared to other countries that do not work actively against crimes of this nature.
Mats from Gothenburg’s former Human Trafficking Group makes the point that “The Stockholm Police probably don’t understand how lucky that are so have the resources to undertake the work that they do.”
What difficulties do the police experience in their work against prostitution and trafficking on the Internet?
Both Mats and Karl-Magnus agree that you don’t need to be a computer expert to take on the Internet sex trade. Police work starts with the same sorts of simple word searches that anyone would use to find a sex site.
– “It stands to reason that escort sites and advertisements are there so that people who want to buy sex can find them”, says Mats.
The work that was previously undertaken by the Human Trafficking Group in Gothenburg was focused mainly on staying updated on the different escort sites. Is it possible to identify the prostitutes that continue to appear and the new prostitutes that have appeared? If the same telephone number repeatedly appears it can point to some form of organised crime.
– “You can get a lot of information by reading sites on the Internet if you know where to look”, says Mats.
The Gothenburg Police would even occasionally meet prostitutes to speak with them. They did not always act immediately when the sex purchase took place, but rather sought to get to the human trafficker or someone else in the chain. In the event of a sex purchase involving a minor the Police would act immediately.
Ewa Carlenfors at the Stockholm Police also points out that sex acts involving children always receive the highest priority.
Karl-Magnus who is currently attempting to identify and map the Internet sex trade sees many challenges.
– “First and foremost, it is difficult to determine the crime. Clearly, it is not illegal to place an advertisement on the Internet.
Furthermore, he says, it is even more difficult to make contact with prostitutes on the Internet that it is on the streets. This is because prostitutes using the Internet often do not trust the Police as many of them come from other countries. On the other hand, prostitutes on the street see the Police as a source of protection and know they will not interfere with what they are doing. For example, the police always let the prostitute keep the money if they break up a sex trade.
Another difficulty with fighting the Internet sex trade is a lack of control over the different sites.
“When the prosecutors commence an investigation against into a website, the people responsible for the website domain have shifted it to another country with a different legal framework that Sweden”, explains Ewa.
More resources and better cooperation reduces prostitution and human trafficking
It is clear that the Police are disappointed and concerned about the lacked of resources to combat prostitution and trafficking. They are forced to watch a growing market. The decisions do not lie in their hands.
The preventative work is different in different parts of the country with an uneven distribution of resources. Gothenburg’s previous human trafficking division that had built up both competencies and procedures has been closed and resources have been given to Malmo that is taking its first steps. The competencies that exist should be used to assist each other to allow everyone work in the most effective way possible.
The lack of an on-going and continued focus by the Police is the biggest problem. The Prostitution Group in Stockholm has an ongoing surveillance program that must compete with other projects. The question is always how many hours can they spend on surveillance? Is it enough to have a few people working against an enormous market where 250,000 people are buying sex through the Internet in Greater Stockholm alone (Kalla Fakta, 2013)? Or where there were 311 trafficking victims per 100,000 inhabitants between the years 2010 and 2012 and where 8% of all men have at some time bought sex? (Eurostat, 2014; Claude, 2010).
Because the victims rarely report these crimes, surveillance is a critical in the struggle against prostitution and human trafficking. The low rate of reporting of these crimes is due to fear, threats and violence as well as a lack of knowledge and mistrust of the Swedish justice system.
As human trafficking is often hidden, it doesn’t get the same attention as, for example, narcotics. The visibility of the crimes and the attention they get from the media can also influence how Police resources are allocated. That is why it is so important to draw attention to prostitution and human trafficking and the problems in the work against them.
Having said that, I would also like to point out that the police that work to stop these crimes are highly professional and put their souls into their work. This is something that must also receive praise and attention. Thank you to all those who have participated in the interviews.