Despite the fact that we find ourselves in a pandemic with restrictions and social distancing, men are still wanting to purchase sex. Sex purchasing in hotels have become more difficult, which creates an increased concern for the vulnerability amongst workers on Thai massage parlors and for women and children on the internet. RealStars and the Salvation Army fear that the pandemic and its financial consequences will cause more women to fall into prostitution.
The massage industry is one of those where business has decreased or ceased completely during the pandemic. This is a result of the current restrictions and the fact that the financial situation has worsened for many clients. During the last year, RealStars have been shedding light on sexual exploitation that is connected to the massage industry and Thai massage parlors. To prevent men from seeking out these parlors to purchase sex, RealStars have created a label and an informatory film about the Sex Purchase Act, and it has reached out to over 500 Thai massage parlors in Sweden.
⁃ At the moment we are very concerned that many of those women who are already vulnerable and gets a minimal compensation from massage will be pressured into prostitution to an even greater degree, says RealStars’ Secretary General Malin Roux Johansson.
The latest studies show that one in ten Swedish men has purchased sex, despite the fact that the Sex Purchase Act has existed for over 20 years. A lot of men use myths around prostitution to justify sex purchasing. They may for example claim that they are helping vulnerable women financially or that the women sell sex voluntarily. During the pandemic, social workers in Sweden have reported that more people are pressured into selling sex when society’s financial crisis is escalating. In these Corona times, sex buyers are also contributing to an increased spreading of the virus, and women in prostitution are exposed to bigger risks during the pandemic.
⁃ We have strong indications that the financial crisis forces many women in the Thai massage industry to take bigger risks and to act contrary to their own wishes. For example, some parlors are staying open despite the fear of contagion, and in some cases the purchasing of sex increases, as the demand for ordinary massage decreases, says Emma Cotterill, national coordinator against human trafficking, the Salvation Army.
Long term solutions are necessary in order to acknowledge and apply the Sex Purchase Act. The protection of vulnerable groups must also improve. RealStars are of the opinion that the government must secure the resources to target groups that are in an extremely vulnerable situation with the aim that further exploitation can be prevented, for example the Thai massage industry.
⁃ Generally speaking, it is men that are frustrated that use violence against women, and the men that don’t stop purchasing sex despite the pandemic are feared to be included in this group, where some sex buyers have a potentially aggressive behavior, says Malin Roux Johansson.