Though Sweden is not by far ranking as the worst country for human trafficking and prostitution, the problem remains a large one, he says and and adds, “It’s definitely a problem tied in with organized crime groups. If they see a demand, they will supply it.”
Human trafficking in prostitution is the third biggest activity, only narcotics and weapon comes before it, Trolle says.
The women, or girls, some are as young as 13, who come to Sweden as prostitutes via human traffickers, are mostly from Estonia, Russia, Rumania, Bulgaria, Albania, Nigeria, Thailand and Poland. Many of the women are aware of the fact that they are entering a future of prostitution, but many are tricked on the terms. They are, for example, often expected to pay back costs of travel, rent, advertising, food and toilet requisites.
“They probably understand that it sounds too good to be true, but in many cases they are told that they will have to do some type of sexual activity, but get to choose and maybe having one customer a day,” says Patrik Cederlöf, the national coordinator against prostitution and human trafficking for sexual purposes in Sweden, placed at the County Administrative Board in Stockholm. He has worked with human trafficking and prostitution since the late 1990s and has seen it all.
“They are always indebted and that’s how they’re kept in control,” he says.
“They are prisoners with invisible walls,” adds Trolle.
Trolle explains that threats of long prison terms for prostitution and fear of law enforcement officers, are typical tactics to keep the girls in check.
In 2002, human trafficking for sexual exploitation became illegal in Sweden. In 2004, the law expanded to include other abuse like work and trade with organs. The portion of the law that the trafficking victim would have to have passed a border for it to turn into a crime was removed. During 2007 and 2008 a total of 30 cases of human trafficking and sexual exploitation were reported. During that time 24 persons were convicted of human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The punishment for human trafficking is two to 10 years and pimping two to 10.
“Nearing the victims, both when it comes to getting evidence and helping them, is a very delicate job, Trolle and Cederlöf agree.
“You have to establish trust and find a way to communicate,” Cederlöf explains.
Interpreters, therapists, medical care and protection in form of living arrangements can be offered while the trial goes to court. After that most women return to their native countries, but some stay and underage girls usually end up in foster care in Sweden.
Despite their efforts and training, Cederlöf and Trolle say their jobs easily trail with them even after they’ve punched out after a shift.
Trolle says his able to decompress thanks to debriefing and counselling offered within the trafficking unit, but also the understanding he gets from his family. He admits that some times he cries. Cederlöf has a similar story.
“You cannot say which case is the worst, because they are all horrible,” Cederlöf says.
By Majsan Boström
Some stories about the victims of human trafficking in prostitution in Sweden:
One girl was 13 having sex with 17 men in one day. Another girl was 16, when she was forced to have her uterus surgically removed after having too many sexually transmitted diseases. She was forced back on the job a week after her surgery. A third girl ended up in mental healthcare, not able to cope after her years as a sex slave and the following trial.