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Police turn blind eye to Swedish 'slave trade'

Published: 25 Jul 2014 15:18 GMT+02:00

Gothenburg police busted a large Romanian pimping network in 2011, but it wasn't long before new brothel-keepers from various countries took over. Now the problem is back with a vengeance, with police admitting they lack the resources to address it - and are thus forced to ignore the reports.

"We haven't worked with the issue at all for a year now," Stefan Adamsson, police officer in the Gothenburg trafficking unit, told The Local. "We would need to be three times as many police to be able to do anything about it."

Newspaper Expressen reported earlier this week that human traffickers had gone from "just" selling sex to selling women as lifelong slaves.

The newspaper's sources said the cost for a slave - "for life" - is €2,000 ($2680). For 700 kronor ($100) one can rent a couple of girls for a day, for cooking, cleaning, or anything else. "Do what you like with them," one seller reportedly said. 

"It has really always been a form of slave trade," Adamsson told The Local. "It's just a different name. Some are sold to work and some are sold for work, but they are just different forms of human trafficking."

Human trafficking is an acknowledged problem in large Swedish cities, with well-established red-light districts in Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmö. However, there are no clear statistics on how widespread the black-market business actually is as much of the trade is conducted online. 

A report from Lund University in 2012 found that one in ten of the 5,000 Swedish men surveyed had paid for sex at some point during their lives. That number is lower than many places in Europe, Adamsson said, with rates as high as 60 percent in Spain and Italy, but still high enough to be of definite concern. 
 
While 85 percent of those who had purchased sex said they had only done it abroad, it is difficult to find statistics for how many purchases actually occur in Sweden - since buying sex has been illegal since 1999.
 
It is not, however, illegal for a person to sell sex in Sweden. The women who prostitute themselves, whether of free will or out of force, commit no crime. But it is a crime to pimp or procure - as Adamsson said many men do with their "girlfriends". 
 
"Particularly when it comes to the girls from Romania, it's frequently their boyfriends who are the pimps," Adamsson told The Local. 
 
"They say it's temporary and 'It will be you and me when we get back to Romania'. They do it for the men they love, who promise a better life."
 
In November last year news station TV4 reported that sex trafficking was on the rise, with a quarter million sex purchases in Stockholm alone over the course of one year. The report stated that a sum of about 400 million kronor was exchanged online for sex sales, and that there was no way of knowing how many more purchases occurred on the streets. 
 
"It's like ordering a pizza," Per Hjort, a Stockholm detective, told TV4 at the time. "You call and say what you want, and for how long, and then the girl comes to your place."
 
The situation is similar in Gothenburg, but police have other priorities. Persistent and war-like gang violence has kept the police force busy. In September last year the police launched 'Operation Trygg' (Operation Safe) to combat the shootings. Still, there have been more than 20 shootings in Gothenburg this year alone. 
 
"Management has decided to prioritize not letting these young people tear each other apart," Adamsson said.
 
"We have a pile ten centimetres high of tips and reports [about human trafficking], but we don't have the time or resources to handle it so we can't even look. We can read them of course, but then we just feel frustrated because we can't do anything."
 

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Solveig Rundquist (news@thelocal.se)

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