Last week the Swedish police reported an increase in human traffickers taking advantage of people renting out their homes through online marketing platforms such as Airbnb. This is an obvious nightmare for anyone whose bed has been used to host this kind of sexual exploitation, but an even more nightmarish situtation for people being prostituted, often having to face numerous sex-buyers every day.
The vast majority of people exploited in prostitution are trafficked into it. Therefore, when people rent apartments through these sites, with the intention not to live there themselves but instead to use the home to run a brothel, they are in fact intentionally luring innocent people into contributing to what is best described as transnational organized crime.
Traffickers are often quick at adapting their way of conducting their illegal activities to the current situation in the country in which they operate. Sweden's sex purchase act, which criminalizes the buying of sex rather than the selling (the 'Nordic model' if you will), has come to be regarded as the archetype for preventing prostitution and trafficking of human beings for sexual purposes. Knowledge among Swedes about severe crimes such as these is comparatively high, and the same goes for support for the aforementioned law.
It is safe to assume that hotels have been considered up until now as one of the preferred arenas for traffickers organizing prostitution. However, due to professional and effective cooperation between the hotel sector and the authorities, many cases of sex-purchase offences have been exposed and reported to the police.
Because of the significant increase in knowledge among hotel staff to be alert to possible prostitution at their workplace, traffickers now seem in desperate need of new venues to ensure the continuation of their criminal activities without being detected by police. This, combined with the fact that people renting out their apartments simply aren't aware of the increasing potential risk of their homes being transformed into a temporary brothel, creates a worrying situation in need of serious measures.
To tackle this new trend in Sweden in a satisfying way, the police badly need more resources. This has even been pointed out many times by the police themselves. This is no exception. Even though officers are fully aware of the current situation, a lack of resources is holding back effective action.
Also, online prostitution is unquestionably a phenomenon which by its nature extends to all parts of the country. Therefore, it is of utmost concern that the prostitution units within the police department are mostly stationed in big cities.
Maria Ahlin, left, and Sudeshna Chowdhury of Freethem. Photo: Freethem/Ulrika Norman
Besides being adopted and continuing to be adopted by other countries, Sweden's sex purchase act has also been saluted internationally by many, the European Parliament being just one example. But for Sweden to still proudly carry its recognized crown, it is now time to ramp up.
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We urge the Swedish government to provide proper funding to authorities, first and foremost to the police and to the National Board of Health and Welfare, so that they in turn are able to act proportionally in combatting prostitution, sexual exploitation and sex-trafficking of human beings.
We know from decades of research that prostitution is harmful both to the individuals involved and to society as a whole. No country would accept having, let's say, only a few police officers focusing on drug-related issues, therefore no country should ever accept the same priorities when it comes to preventing prostitution and sex-trafficking of people.
This is an opinion piece written exclusively for The Local by Maria Ahlin and Sudeshna Chowdhury, president and political representative of international youth movement Freethem, preventing prostitution and exploitation.