This week of Voice for Values, what is the link between human trafficking and prostitution?

Ruth Nordstrom is the President of the Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers, and tells us how the Nordic model of prostitution reform is reducing the problems in Sweden, and how it could work here in Australia too.

Ruth and her colleague Rebecca Ahlstrand were invited to Australia 13-21 June 2016 by the ACL to meet with senior political leaders around Australia. It is part of ACL’s campaign to reduce prostitution through the Nordic Model of prostitution legislation.




Lyle Shelton: Well hello and welcome to Voice for Values radio. It’s Lyle Shelton from the Australian Christian Lobby. It’s great to have your company again with us and we’ve got a very special guest joining us today all the way from Scandinavia, from Sweden, and her name is Ruth Nordstrom. She’s the president of the Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers. Now I know many of you would’ve heard us talk in the past about the Nordic model of prostitution policy. Ruth is an expert in this. She’s been very involved in this policy in her country. In Australia we have this terrible situation where many of our state governments have legalised brothels and legalised prostitution under the misguided view that somehow this is helping in protecting women and making it safe but in Sweden they do things very differently and it’s just a great privilege and a delight to have Ruth on the line all the way from Sweden visiting Australia. Ruth, welcome to Voice for Values radio.

Ruth Nordstrom: Thank you very much. I’m very pleased to be here and to be speaking to you all.

Lyle Shelton: Fantastic Ruth. Now Ruth before we get into this interview, I just have to ask you how you’re finding the Australian winter compared to the Swedish winter?

Ruth Nordstrom: I love the Australian winter. The Swedish winter is so cold and it’s so dark so I’m very pleased to be here and I’ll bring a lot of sunshine back to the Swedish winter.

Lyle Shelton: Good on you Ruth. I’m guessing that our winter is probably warmer than your summer over there. Would that be right?

Ruth Nordstrom: Some days it will be, yes. I’m very delighted to see your beautiful nature. Sydney is so amazing. I’m really pleased to be here.

Lyle Shelton: Good. I’m glad you’re enjoying it, Ruth. Well Ruth, down to the serious business of why you’re here. Now, just tell us a little bit about your involvement in this Swedish Nordic model of prostitution and for people who don’t know, this is where it’s illegal, it’s against the law in Sweden to purchase a woman for sex. Now that’s legal in Australia but in Sweden, if someone tries to purchase a woman, if a man tries to purchase a woman they can be fined. Just tell us about your involvement in that policy and how that is working out in your country of Sweden.

Ruth Nordstrom: Thank you. Well I’m the president of Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers and we assess victims of human trafficking and we also work to promote the Nordic model in other countries and the Nordic model is pretty unique. Sweden became the first country in the world in 1999 to introduce the Swedish model and it was then followed by Norway and Iceland and according to the Swedish Nordic model, it’s a crime to purchase another person and prosecution, according to the Swedish model, causes serious harm to those individuals and to society so this bill is actually part of a larger bill when it was introduced. It was part of the Violence Against Women bill and according to legislation, prostitution is a form of violence against women and against girls and according to our prosecution and our government’s bill, there is also closely linked prostitution and human trafficking and we see that a lot, where we assess victims of human trafficking. We see that it’s very high risk that they have been abused, they have been raped, they have been forced to human trafficking.

Lyle Shelton: That’s very interesting, Ruth. That’s very interesting that you make that link because we are continually told here in this country that if we make brothels legal, you can create a safe place for women where they won’t be abused in the way that you’ve described. This is what our politicians tell us in many of the states of Australia that have legalised brothels over the years.

Ruth Nordstrom: Exactly and it’s quite the opposite. According to the Council of Europe report that we were involved in called Prostitution, Trafficking and Slavery in Europe, 84 per cent of the victims of human trafficking in Europe are trafficked into forced prostitution. So there’s a clear link between prostitution and human trafficking because prostitution is the market that fuels the demand so prostitution also increases its exposure to sexually transmitted diseases, higher risks of drug and alcohol addiction, physical and mental traumas and so on. I think it’s very encouraging to see throughout Europe that the attitudes are changing and according to this report I mentioned, actually all Council of Europe member states were encouraged to consider criminalisation of purchase of sexual services based on the Nordic model and the Nordic model of prostitution that is actually seen as the most effective tool for preventing and combating human trafficking so I think it’s very important to focus on the link between prostitution and human trafficking.

Lyle Shelton: So Ruth you have countries in Europe and Holland comes to mind as one of the most high-profile countries where prostitution has been accepted and you know there’s the red light district in Amsterdam, are the Dutch realising that prostitution carries with it all of these harms and that their legal regime isn’t making this so-called industry safe for women?

Ruth Nordstrom: Well I think that during the report that [6:05…?] made a couple of years ago, I think there has been an awareness raising of those issues and in Netherlands, it was in October 2000 that the Netherlands lifted the ban on Brussels - it was dated back to 1911 – and since then there have been several studies from scientific research and documentation centre of the Ministry of Justice in the Netherlands and also from the national police force and these studies have revealed the impact of the decriminalisation of pimping in the Netherlands and it’s actually very disturbing to see this situation because according to these studies, the situation of persons in prostitution has worsened a lot since decriminalisation under the new legislation and the prostitutes’ emotional wellbeing is now lower on all measures, aspects, and the request for leaving the industry were high in demand. Only six per cent of the municipalities offered such assistance and we also see, according to these studies that from 50 to 90 per cent of the women in licensed prostitution work involuntarily.

Lyle Shelton: Just hold that thought Ruth. We’re coming up to a break. I’m speaking with Ruth Nordstrom. She’s the president of the Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers. She’s from Sweden. Stay with us. We’ll be right back after this.

Well welcome back to Voice for Values radio. I’m speaking with Ruth Nordstrom all the way from Sweden. She’s talking to me about the Nordic model of prostitution policy which makes it a crime for someone to purchase another person for prostitution, for sexual services and Ruth you were saying on the other side of the break that legalising brothels and you’re using the example of Holland and Amsterdam, there hasn’t improved the wellbeing of women in this industry. It hasn’t achieved what policymakers and politicians told us it would achieve in terms of providing safety and a so-called good working environment for young women in this so-called industry.

Ruth Nordstrom: That’s right. I actually had an interesting discussion with a taxi driver here on my way to the airport and he really defended the decriminalisation and legislation legalising prostitution but after a while, after 45 or 50 minutes talk or so, he was actually convinced that the Nordic approach on prostitution really is pro-women and helping women to actually get the safety and the help they need to see that there would be a voice for them.

Lyle Shelton: Good on you, Ruth. Well if you can convince and Australian taxi driver, you should be able to convince our parliamentarians I would think. Ruth, I read somewhere, I think you said or reported this, that the European Union has the highest number of sex slaves per capita in the world. The European Union, the so-called west civilisation. How can this be and what has the Nordic model done in terms of reducing sex slavery in those Nordic countries that have adopted it?

Ruth Nordstrom: That’s correct. According to Swedish government reports and an assessment of the legislation in 2009/2010, that’s ten years after the introduction of the Swedish ban on purchasing sexual services, we found out that legislation has become a very important tool to prevent and combat human trafficking. We also found out that there’s been a significant normative effect, especially among young people, now 70 per cent of the Swedish population supports the ban. Also we found out that street prostitution has reduced by half since the introduction was made in 1999. And if you compare that to other European countries, for example Germany or the Netherlands, according to the European reports on this area, you could see that in Germany, it’s the same thing that happened in he Netherlands that legislation neither by itself was the solution to trafficking nor guarantee for the improvement of sex industry workers or prostitutes or their working conditions. Germany has been called Europeans biggest brothel and it’s very disturbing to see that the law enforcement officers working in the red light district have almost no access to the brothels as prostitution is legal and inspections by the police are trying now for specific reasons to go there and if you compare that to Sweden you see that in Sweden you see that police officers have direct access to actually support the women in prostitution and help them. They can also discover victims of human trafficking very easily so I think it’s very important to also have this action plan against sex trafficking. In Sweden, the action plan against sex trafficking is very closely linked exactly the same action plan that is against prostitution because in Sweden we see prostitution as a form of violence against women.

Lyle Shelton: You’re miles ahead of the rest of us on this, Ruth. What are the other countries in Europe saying about the Swedish or the Nordic model? I know that France I think has recently adopted it. Canada, which of course is not in Europe but they’ve adopted a similar sort of policy. You mentioned Iceland and I think Finland so this is catching on. What are the Germans and the Dutch saying?

Ruth Nordstrom: Well I think after the European report a couple of years ago, there have been discussions. I’ve also met with several persons involved in the processes over there and of course we hope that according to the European report as I mentioned, the Council of Europe actually recommended all member states in the Council of Europe to adopt the Nordic model and of course we hope that. France is the most recent country to adopt the Nordic model and we surely hope that more countries in Europe will adopt it and I think one of the most important things is to see that legislation has proved and ineffective way and it’s unable to protect the victims involved or to break the ties between prostitution and organised crime.

Lyle Shelton: Yeah. That’s right.

Ruth Nordstrom: It’s extremely important.

Lyle Shelton: We’ve seen that here in Australia. The state of Victoria where I know you’ll be this week, they legalised brothels back in the 80s. Queensland followed in the late 90s, early 2000. New South Wales has had a legal brothel regime for some time and we’ve seen that legalising brothels has just grown the industry and has led to calls from the pimps to be allowed to have more girls to operate their brothels. It’s just been a disaster and yet we still can’t seem to convince Australian politicians that there’s a better way. I know you’re meeting with politicians in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, I believe and Adelaide. What will be your message this week as you speak to Australian politicians to try and disavow them of this idea that somehow you can make this industry safe?

Ruth Nordstrom: Exactly. Well I think it’s very important to focus on the Nordic approach because according to the Nordic approach, there’s a shift in the perspective. If there is no demand, there will be no prostitution. Exactly. It’s very basic but still we need to focus on it and to see the effect and according to the Nordic model, we have to focus on reducing the demand for prostitution and that is also reducing the demand for human trafficking and if prostitution has nothing to do with sex trafficking, what exactly are women trafficked for?

Lyle Shelton: Yes. Very good.

Ruth Nordstrom: According to European Union data and according to all these reports coming out from the Council of Europe or from the EU, most of the trafficked women are trafficked for sexual exploitation and trafficking is also profit-driven and it has a direct link with the prostitution market.

Lyle Shelton: Sorry our time is running short. There’s never enough time on Voice for Values radio but look that’s exactly the message that our parliamentarians need to hear. Ruth, thank you for coming to our nation to help educate politicians about the Nordic model and we look forward to the day when states in Australia start to implement this policy and I’m sure we’ll look back in time and see the visits like yours as pivotal in that. Ruth, thanks for giving of your time on Voice for Values radio today.

Ruth Nordstrom: Thank you very much.