We often hear claims that women involved in prostitution in Sweden are treated brutally by the police, are routinely evicted from their homes, and have their children taken into care.
We put these claims to Merly Åsbogård, a survivor of prostitution in Sweden at our Trauma and Prostitution webinar in which she was a panellist. In this article we repeat the questions she was asked in bold, followed by her answers (edited lightly for clarity) in normal typeface.
In the UK, we hear claims that the policing of the Nordic Model in Sweden is brutal and puts the women at risk. Is that true?
No, that’s not true. The thing is, the Nordic Model is a model. It was written by wonderful experts, and we had a trial run with it for 10 years, I think, before they made the first evaluation, or five years maybe. It’s not bad. It’s not endangering people in prostitution. The policing side actually works well. For most of the time since the law came into effect in 1999, punters have been fined. But recently there have been some changes, an evolution of the law. In the last few years some punters have been convicted of rape and sentenced to prison when they haven’t been able to prove that the woman consented – for example, because she was a victim of coercion or trafficking. In addition, punters now always get a jail sentence if the victim is a child.
Of course, we need to make it work better. We’re not a perfect society, neither is any society, but we have the model. We have something really strong to work with.
You can’t just campaign for the Nordic Model, you also have to campaign for facilities: for trauma therapy, housing for people in prostitution, other securities for women at risk or women who have been injured. It’s not just one thing.
Are women routinely evicted from their homes for selling sex. Is there any truth in that?
No, they’re not. There’s no truth in that. What people have probably found is one of the housing laws when you rent a house. One of them states that if you’re involved in prostitution, you might get evicted. From my knowledge, no prostitute has ever been evicted for being a prostitute in their own home. They’ve gone in and broken up home brothels, and then they’ve taken away the contract from the person that has rented it out to traffickers. They have used that crossover, but it’s widely known that it’s never been used against the women involved in prostitution.
Finally, are children routinely taken into care because their mothers are selling sex?
No, that’s not true, but we do have strong child protective laws. I’m proud of that, but I have never heard of a single case where the prostitution has been the one single thing that’s resulted in the child been taking into care.
First of all, it’s really hard – in my opinion, sometimes too hard – to take a child into care in Sweden. We’re really for parental rights. If we were to have had one of those cases and if – let’s say – I was that mother and I was in prostitution, I was in drug abuse – is it my right to care for my child when I can’t care for myself? When we start spreading all these rumours, we have to also protect the children.
I’d want you to take my children away from me if I could not care for them. One of the biggest things for me right now is that, with PTSD and with trauma, you’re exhausted all the time. I feel like I’m exhausted and I’ve tried to search for help a couple of times. One time, a lady told me “Maybe we should take your kids”. She wouldn’t have any right to do that whatsoever, even if she tried. So, no.