Left Justified: The solution to prostitution

Sweden seems to have a solution for prostitution: arrest the john and treat the prostitute. But wait a minute! Wasn’t Sweden one of those countries where prostitution was legal?

Yes, they, along with two or three other European countries, had tried to regulate the “industry” by allowing it to exist. But Sweden found that legal “ladies of the night” increased mob activity, drug use and slavery. As we discovered here in Rockford, women are kidnapped and forced to prostitute themselves in foreign countries.

According to the study “Sweden’s Prostitution Solution” from the Women’s Justice Center in Washington, D.C., Sweden passed groundbreaking legislation in 1999 that (a) criminalizes the buying of sex and (b) decriminalizes the selling of sex. “The novel rationale behind this legislation is that prostitution is male violence against women and children,” says the study.

In just five years, Sweden has dramatically reduced the number of its women in prostitution. In the capital city of Stockholm, the number of street prostitutes has been reduced by two-thirds, and the number of “johns” has been reduced by 80 percent. (Johns are the people who buy sex, I guess mainly guys named John.) In addition, the number of foreign women now being trafficked into Sweden for sex is nil. The Swedish government estimates that in the last few years, only 200 to 400 women and girls came in annually, a figure that is negligible compared with the 17,000 females trafficked into neighboring Finland. No other country has come anywhere near Sweden’s promising results.

According to Swedish legislation, “prostitution is a form of exploitation of women and children and constitutes a significant social problem. Gender equality will remain unattainable so long as men buy, sell and exploit women and children by prostituting them.”

A third and essential element must include ample social service funds that help anyone who wants to get out of “the business.” Here in Rockford, there are no such services aimed at helping women on the street. T.H.A.T. (Total Health Awareness Team) Place offers a drop-in center and a chance to pick up condoms and other health materials. But if any woman requests help, the Genesis House in Chicago provides the nearest program for comprehensive services.

Rockford Rescue Mission, as well as other programs that work with women and drug abuse, find that the services demanded are much more complex when they are engaged in prostitution. Money is needed for more professional counseling services. Perhaps we could get the john to pay for it. I advocate for high fines to help fund rehabilitation of the street sex provider.

Despite Sweden’s extensive planning prior to passing the legislation, nothing much happened at all. Police made few arrests of johns, and prostitution in Sweden, which had previously been legalized, went on pretty much as it had gone on before. But the Swedish learned quickly. The police themselves got in-depth training that “prostitution is a form of male violence against women, the exploiter/buyers needed to be punished, and the victim prostitutes needed to be helped.”

The failure and futility of the revolving door of arresting and re-arresting prostitutes is all too familiar the world over, as well as here in Rockford. Legalizing prostitution showed a dramatic increase in all facets of the sex industry as well as the involvement of organized crime and child prostitution. There was an explosion in the number of foreign women and girls trafficked into the region and an increase in violence against women. The Swedish government may have been influenced by its parliament being composed of nearly 50 percent women.

For more information, you can contact Women’s Justice Center, at www.justicewomen.com on the Internet.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

From the April 27- May 3, 2005, issue

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