Human trafficking may be against the law, but it isn’t easy getting a conviction against a trafficker.
The Swedish Prosecution Service says that over a three year period there were 119 investigations into human trafficking in Sweden. Of these, only 19 went to trial, and there were just 6 convictions.
One reason, they say, is that there hasn’t been evidence that the man or men in question actually had power over the women, like being discovered keeping them locked up.
But another is that the courts are often skeptical of the women’s testimony.
Thomas Ahlstrand is the deputy chief prosecutor at the International Public Prosecution Office in Gothenburg. He tells Swedish Radio News he’s seen many cases where women say they are the victims of trafficking, describe how they were recruited, then taken to Sweden, and forced into prostitution, and the prosecutors can prove that the woman were prostitutes and gave money to the alleged pimps.
But, he says, when they get to court, the women change their testimony.
It’s legal to sell sex in Sweden, but illegal to pay for it, and both pimping and trafficking are serious crimes. So the women don’t risk going to jail if they testify. But, Thomas Ahlstrand says, there’s still a reason why they might want to change their testimony.
"They want a life afterwards," he tells Swedish Radio News, "and the pimps are all they have. They don’t want to be alone on the streets the rest of their lives."
He says the problem with getting a conviction is not in the law, it is in the way the courts are applying them.
In what ought to be a commendable interest in the rule of law, Thomas Ahlstrand says, the judges usually accept the version told in court, rather than the original statement to the police, so the defendants go free. Or even if the woman doesn’t retract her story completely, if she changes it someone, she’s still lost her credibility with the court.
Attorney Vivika Lebsund, who has been involved in many cases involving human trafficking, says it’s important that the women get some kind of support, so they will tell the true story in court.
She tells Swedish Radio News "It’s important to remember such women have probably lived under very difficult circumstances, vulnerable and mistreated in many ways."
She says they may have economic problems or come from countries where they have reason to mistrust the authorities.
"So," Viveka Lebsund says, "it’s important to create a trusting relationship so they feel safe and will take the risk to tell their story."