Friday, November 27, 2009

Illinois and the Swedish Prostitution Model

llinois' Cook County Sheriff, Tom Dart, is in the process of re-focusing Illinois' efforts to address prostitution to the demand side. In his efforts, he is looking to the Swedish model for addressing prostitution. In Sweden, the selling of sex is legal, but buying sex is illegal, reflecting a belief that prostitution is a form of violence against women. The law is meant to put the focus on the people who create the demand for commercial sex and facilitate it: johns, pimps, and in some cases traffickers.

In a recent article in the Weekly Standard, Ambassador Lagon, former Ambassador-at-Large and Director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP) and current Executive Director of Polaris Project, reports that Dart is shifting "enforcement resources from the supply side to the demand side: from arresting (and releasing and rearresting) forcibly prostituted women and girls to arresting pimps and johns and impounding their cars, while directing the prostituted females to social services."

Lagon quotes Thomas Bodström, a former Swedish minister of justice, stating that "as long as men think they are entitled to buy and use women's and girls' bodies, human trafficking for sexual purposes will continue." While not all commercial sex is forced or is trafficking, proponents of the Swedish model and efforts to address demand argue that such efforts will afford protections to anyone engaged in commercial sex, since it will allow prostitutes and sex-trafficking victims to access social services and healthcare without fear of arrest.

End Demand, IL, an organization advocating for efforts to address demand for commercial sex, states that its goals are to "advocate for the creation of resources and tools for law enforcement to hold perpetrators accountable, deter further exploitation and increase options for prostituted and trafficked women and girls. . . . EDI's work will result in the adoption of sound public policies and practices that focus law enforcement efforts on protecting victims of the sex industry and prosecuting traffickers, pimps and other enterprises that profit from the exploitation of women and girls in the sex trade. Furthermore, our work will create an infrastructure of care for those involved in prostitution." From a basic economic-analysis standpoint, addressing demand makes sense, given that reducing supply tends to mainly drive up prices and profits - for pimps and traffickers, in this case - and does not eliminate demand.

At the same time, Amanda Kloer of
End Human Trafficking points out that simply lifting the Swedish model and attempting to graft it onto other communities and localities is problematic. She lists three main reasons that simply imposing the model on Illinois may not work, including Sweden's more extensive social welfare system, the fact that Sweden is more homogeneous and a significantly smaller country and more centralized nation than the US, and a cultural emphasis in the US on individual rights and the ability to "do what we want." She concludes, "These concerns shouldn't prevent Sheriff Dart or any other creative public servants from taking a hard look at their prostitution policies and reinventing them to better protect women and girls in prostitution. But they should be an reminder that the U.S. isn't Sweden, and thus we shouldn't implement the exact same policies nor expect the exact same results."

We can learn a great deal from international efforts to end slaver, but at the same time, innovative efforts, in fact all efforts, to address trafficking must carefully consider the local context.

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