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Zero Tolerance for Johns : How the Government of Sweden Would Respond to Spitzer

20 mars 2008

par Birgitta Ohlsson and Jenny Sonesson

We have a suggestion for the new governor of New York, David Paterson. Why not enact a statewide zero-tolerance law for buying sexual services ?

When Rudolph Giuliani was elected mayor in 1994, New York City was considered one of the most dangerous urban areas in the world. He introduced a policy of zero tolerance against crime and today low crime rates are a city trademark. As a hard-core crime buster, former Governor Eliot Spitzer earned the nickname "Mr. Clean." Today, he is notorious for spending large sums of money on prostitutes.

Spitzer may have fought fiercely against organized crime, but organized crime, human trafficking and prostitution are closely linked.

In our country, Sweden, Mr. Clean would be facing six months in jail for buying sexual services. While soliciting sex is not a crime in Sweden, it is has been illegal to pay for sex here since 1999. With its focus on demand rather than supply, the Swedish law is unique.

If New York, one of the world’s greatest cities, could be inspired by the Swedish legislation, it would be a severe blow to the modern slave trade. The Swedish police support the law because they have seen the results. Human traffickers tend to avoid Sweden because it’s hazardous to do business here. The law has also made customers more cautious. Sweden’s National Criminal Investigation Department concludes that the law is a barrier against the establishment of organized cross-border prostitution rings.

The Department has called for raising the maximum sentence from six months to one year.

We don’t deny that there are prostitutes who are satisfied with their choice of profession. Perhaps the escort who worked for Emperor Club VIP, called Kristen in the media, wants to be viewed as a proud entrepreneur. But satisfied sex workers constitute a sliver in the dire world of prostitution. Most people caught in the business of selling their bodies are poor and traumatized youths. The gap between the demand for sexual services and women who voluntarily want to sell their bodies results in forced prostitution at the hands of organized crime. Few real-world prostitutes live the life of the Julia Roberts character in the popular Hollywood love story "Pretty Woman."

We know what happens when society signals that prostitution is acceptable. Demand increases. The Australian state of Victoria legalized prostitution in 1984. Prior to legalization there were 40 brothels in the state, according to the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women. By 2004 there were more than 100 legal brothels, but the number of illegal ones had grown even more. A growing sex industry is a lucrative business that attracts criminals. Few Australian women want to work in the sex trade. Consequently the jobs are filled by migrants, often without work permits.

In Europe we see the same pattern. Germany legalized prostitution a few years back. Brothels in Amsterdam’s notorious red light district have been legal since 2000. Few German or Dutch girls plan on making a career selling their bodies to strangers. On the other hand, many poor girls from countries such as Moldova and Ukraine are lured to Berlin and Amsterdam on false promises. According to the European Union’s Police Agency, Europol, traffickers prefer business in countries with a well-developed sex industry. The reason is simple : low risk and high profit.

Sweden and New York could work together toward creating civilized societies in which the human body is not a commodity. Consider zero tolerance for buying sex services in New York, David Paterson. Without demand there is no supply.

Birgitta Ohlsson is a member of the Swedish Parliament for the Liberal Party. Jenny Sonesson is secretary general of Liberal Women of Sweden.

- International Herald Tribune, Wednesday, March 19, 2008.

On Sisyphe, March 19, 2008

Birgitta Ohlsson and Jenny Sonesson

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