The national organization for women’s and girls’ aid in Sweden (ROKS) criticizes today’s politicians for not seeing the connection between trafficking and prostitution. Some Swedish politicians claim the following: that women in trafficking are victims, whilst women who are commercial sex workers do so voluntarily.
I believe that it is impossible to ignore the reality, that there is a connection between trafficking and prostitution. After the Schengen Agreement was put in place, allowing free movement of persons within a specific European territory, a change on the street has been noticeable according to a woman who works to empower women at Malmskillnadsgatan (the area of street prostitution in Stockholm). Most of the women and girls in commercial sex work today are foreigners. The amount of Swedish girls in commercial sex work have gradually decreased. The majority of women at Rosenlund (the area of street prostitution in Gothenburg) and at Malmskillnadsgatan are from Nigeria and Romania, not Swedish and the majority cannot speak the Swedish language.
How is it possible not to see the connection between prostitution and trafficking?
Women are trafficked by large criminal organizations. Sex trafficking is a sex phenomenon, where women and young girls are sold to men. In Germany alone, the prostitution industry contains 1.2 million male purchasers of sex daily from approximately 400 000 women. We are talking about an industry with an estimated annual value of six billion Euro!
Based on my studies and interviews with organizations working with vulnerable women in Sweden, this is a simplified version of the recurring story that is told:
Panders fool vulnerable families who struggle financially, and suggest a job for their daughters. Through manipulation the family sees a rescue in the offer. Once arrived to Sweden the girl or woman gets stripped of all identification and any money that she has. Since the pimp paid for the ticket and accommodation some woman ends up with a dept of around 500 000 SEK (according to a staff at Rosenlundstödet, a team which go out at Rosenlund in Gothenburg to support, help and deliver condoms to women in prostitution every Friday night). Every night after leaving the street the pimps empty the girl’s pockets. She keeps less than 10 % of what she earned.
Many girls in commercial sex work become exposed to various health hazards.
With any attempt to opposition, refusal or disobedience, the pimp responds with threats of harming herself or her family. Violence and beatings becomes a strategy to ensure that she follows orders. To cope with the maltreatment, threat, violence and trauma, many women resort to the use of painkillers and drugs to endure, and it is not unusual that this results in an addiction, which places the woman in a more vulnerable position.
Condoms are something the majority of women cannot afford due to the fact that the pimp collects and keeps the money. Condoms are not as prioritized in such a situation. If a woman owns condoms herself, she has a greater influence over the man to actually use it. In general, women in prostitution are offered more money to conduct sexual services without condom. In a conversation with Rosenlundstödet (a team that delivers condoms on Friday night at Rosenlund, Gothenburg) they stated that 70-80 percent of buyers do not want to use a condom, and in case a sex worker does not own a condom she is usually forced to have sex without one. Thus, she becomes exposed to contracting sexually transmitted diseases. Important to add is that a majority of these women avoid HIV or other STD’s tests at midwifery clinics due to the fear of being stigmatized.
The picture of a “happy whore” is no longer an image that prevails. What remains, in a wider extent, is a woman or girl who has been cheated and forced into prostitution by someone else, someone who claims to have the right and the power to own and decide over her, in order to enable personal material wealth and power.
It is time for us all to understand that women who are exploited through prostitution have had their rights violated. There needs to be an end to this dehumanization of women. We must stand up for their rights, because women’s rights are human rights.
Featured Image courtesy of Activate CFPL.