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Paedophiles slip through net despite sex laws

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12:23 CEST+02:00
The number of sex crime cases handled by the Swedish police in the first six months of 2005 has quadrupled compared to the same period last year. Police officers say that new investigation methods are behind the improvement.

But at the same time, the police's ability to clamp down on paedophiles using the internet to lure young girls into having sex with them is hampered by unclear laws.

In the last six months, there have been 325 reports of men breaking the laws against buying sex. That compares to just 156 in the whole of last year.

"Without having read the statistics, I believe that it is due to the sex-procurement networks which have been discovered, both in Stockholm and out in the rest of the country," said Anders Gripenlöf, from Stockholm police's prostitution group.

Gripenlöf told Swedish radio that he did not believe the rise reflected an increase in the use of prostitutes.

Indeed, since new sex procurement laws were introduced in 1999, street prostitution has more or less disappeared. While it has been replaced by more organised brothel operations, that has proven easier for the police to deal with.

"When we find a brothel and there's a suspicion of trafficking, we monitor it to see who's behind it," said Gripenlöf.

"We watch the sex clients come and go - that way we get a whole stack of those who visit these brothels."

But things are rather less clear for prosecutors attempting to crack down on paedophiles. It has emerged that adult men who are using the internet to contact underage girls and asking them if they want to have sex may not actually be breaking the law.

"According to today's law, it's probably not a crime for an adult to contact an underage person on the internet and ask them if they want to meet to have sex - assuming there is no promise of payment and no meeting takes place," said James von Reis at the public prosecution authority in Gothenburg.

He added that the law is unclear when it comes to people buying photographs of underage people who willingly supply the pictures themselves.

The issue has been brought to the fore by a case in Malmö. A suspected paedophile is said to have been in contact with around 150 young girls, primarily through internet chat rooms.

The allegedly posed as a woman called "Alexandra" and claimed to be a model. He asked girls if they wanted to be models and asked them to send pictures of themselves. Then, "Alexandra" would invite the girls to meet her male friend - the man himself.

Ninety girls have so far been identified and around forty have been interviewed by police. Some twenty girls have claimed that they had sex with the man.

"Almost all the girls with whom he has been in contact are under 18," said the prosecutor Ulrika Rogland to Dagens Nyheter.

"Many of them are under 15. The youngest girl was 11 when she met the man and had sexual intercourse with him."

Police found 15,000 pictures and 150 films on the man's computer and are now trying to establish whether or not he sold on the images.

The man is in custody on suspicion of serious sexual abuse, sexual abuse of a minor and sexual coercion. A court case is expected in the autumn.

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, SR

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