That Eternal Debate About Prostitution

On Sö 29.09.2013 there was in Hbl under “Debatt – Läsarnas brev” a long piece by Anna-Maja Henriksson, Justitieminister, under the title “Legaliserad prostitution är en dålig lösning”. She starts with the claim that “nuvarande lagstiftning fungerar dåligt och inte skyddar de personer som man strävade att ge skydd när man lagstiftade om saken 2006”, and in the further discussion she refers to a long article in the German weekly DER SPIEGEL (issue of 27.05.2013).

My own situation in this debate is that since a longish discussion about prostitution in Ny Tid very many years ago, I have been paying a bit attention whenever the topic appeared in those media which I happened to come across. Thus it happens that I have bought and kept that copy of DER SPIEGEL (also because of an article concerning a scandal around the buying of military equipment in the same issue), and aside of that also kept a number of earlier articles in Hbl about the matter.

According to my collected material, it is certainly possible that the situation of sex workers is indeed unsatisfactory in both Finland and Germany. In Finland, because the law seemingly demands (for punishment) proof that the customer has been knowingly exploiting the prostitute’s exposed situation (and how to prove that now in court?), in Germany, because the law has simply declared prostitution to be a free and legal enterprise without ever having followed up the actual consequences and tried to correct any misdevelopments. The consequence is that in Germany there is on the one hand, e.g., the organization of the free prostitutes of Berlin (named “Hydra”) which keeps also an information office where women who consider joining the profession can get advice (after which ca. half of them prefers not to join), and countryside sex clubs whose sex workers go twice per year for a holiday at home ( e.g. in Poland), after which they return voluntarily, while elsewhere in Germany the business is a classic example of brutal early capitalism, with conditions which can well be compared to Bangladeshi garment factories, and travel organizers who provide the brothels with busloads of – also foreign – customers. And who of this blog’s readers would now like this second face of prostitution …

The Swedish, and A.-M. Henriksson’s, solution is to declare the whole business illegal and punish any customer who goes to a prostitute. The result has, seemingly, been that in Sweden the whole business has decreased by roughly half, that the percentage of men who freely admit that they are visiting prostitutes has shrunk drastically, and that the traffickers seem to have lost interest in Sweden and turned to better markets (such as Germany). Not bad, so far. But one can of course wonder about that half of the business which is still going on, perhaps also ask how honest those men are who do not feel good any more about going to prostitutes (do they perhaps STILL go there while not admitting it?). And then there is of course the opinion of the sex workers themselves: an article in Hbl of Lö 10.09.2011 (p.6 – “Slopa Sverige som modell”) reported about the very strong reservations which the representatives of sex workers had against the Swedish model. Among other things they were pointing to the fact that 80% of the hints to the police concerning trafficking comes from prostitutes’ customers – a source of valuable information which is of course closed down by the Swedish model (where no man can admit having visited a prostitute without risking punishment). And once such a flow of information is drying up, it might of course make the statistics look much nicer – while making it at the same less reliable … . And a more recent article in Hbl (Ti 10.09.2013, p.4) reports anyway that also the rather well-merited and well-known commissar Thomas Elfgren does not believe in the Swedish way: “Problemen sopas under mattan och prostitutionen försvinner till nätet …”.

Jaha, and what now really to do then? Considering what everything the German authorities (according to the SPIEGEL article) are NOT doing about the situation (while “free enterprise” is allowed to do whatever), I think that there is still VERY much what can be done (or at least tried) before simply following the Swedish example. E.g. one could try and encourage prostitutes’ customers to report more frequently to the police, one could improve the protection of witnesses, one could give more permits to listen in to the phone calls of suspected traffickers (permits which the police in Germany will – strange enough – often not get), one could demand and check that every sex worker has any time free access to her passport and her own bank account, and above all one could try to make sure that the police whose job it is to deal with these things is in fact MOTIVATED to protect sex workers (whereas in Germany the traffickers seem often to have friends/agents among the police who warn in good time of scheduled police controls). Altogether, there ARE things which one could try, and at least I should not feel good about simply neglecting the opinions of the sex workers themselves.

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