SOCIETY by Peter AbetzNews Weekly
How Australia can combat prostitution and trafficking
, September 13, 2014
Australia, instead of legalising prostitution, should emulate the remarkable success of Sweden, Norway and Iceland in combating prostitution, people-trafficking and organised crime, says Western Australian state Liberal MP, Peter Abetz.
My interest in prostitution legislation arose from living in Victoria when it was legalised in 1984. The reasons the government gave for this measure were that it would supposedly to do away with illegal prostitution, prevent police corruption and create a safer work environment for prostitutes.
Within a few years it was clearly evident that not one of these goals had been achieved. In 1984, there were, according to the police, approximately 50 brothels operating in Victoria. Today, after 20 years of legalised prostitution, there are over 100 legal brothels, and over 400 illegal ones, not to mention the escort agencies and solo-operating prostitutes.
In the 1990s, after moving to Perth, I was asked by a former madam, Linda Watson, to provide counselling to the women she was helping to leave the sex industry. (In 1997, she became a Christian and set up an outreach called Linda’s House of Hope to provide rehabilitation for women involved in drugs and prostitution).
Hearing the stories of these women, and seeing their struggles in trying to re-join mainstream society, gave me a unique “insiders’” perspective on the sex industry. It is a far cry from what the Scarlet Alliance and the promoters of prostitution would have you believe.
The Netherlands legalised prostitution in 2000. It was left up to local government to make laws as to how they wanted to regulate it.
Here the result was a rapid increase in demand, which could not be met by recruiting local women
desperate enough to work as prostitutes. Organised crime saw a great opportunity, and began trafficking women from Russia, the Baltic states and Asia.
In 2009, police in the Netherlands informed me they estimated 85 to 95 per cent of women involved in “window” (brothel) prostitution were trafficked women.
Police have had great difficulty in investigating and prosecuting traffickers, because of the complete conspiracy of silence among the women, who know that if they “squeak”, their family members in their home countries are liable to be murdered as punishment.
Despite the legal nature of prostitution in the Netherlands, and the claim that legalising would make the industry safer, over 100 prostitutes have been murdered since legalisation. Back in 2005, the Mayor of Amsterdam was prepared to admit that legalising prostitution had been a social failure.
Finland has introduced laws which legalise prostitution, but which make it illegal to have sex with a trafficked woman. This has proven, however, to be totally ineffective in combating the scourge of human-trafficking. The sex industry there, I was told by authorities, is supplied with between 15,000 and 17,000 trafficked women each year.
Germany legalised prostitution in 2006, and is now known as the bordello of Europe. Authorities estimate that around 200,000 prostitutes work in Germany, with the bulk of them coming from Russia, Eastern Europe, the Baltic states and Asia.
The German news magazine, Der Spiegel, ran a series of articles in May 2013, which concluded that legalising prostitution had made the German state a complicit partner in human sex-trafficking.
The chief of the organised crime fighting unit in Stuttgart told me that, since the legalising of prostitution, his unit felt they were fighting organised crime with one hand tied behind their back, as the legal brothel provides the perfect place to launder the proceeds of other organised crime.
Prostitution has been around for a long time, and no matter what scheme for dealing with it is implemented, no society has ever been able to totally eliminate it.
It is the same with domestic violence. No society has succeeded in eliminating it either. But, as a society, we say that it is totally unacceptable conduct. Every Western nation has passed legislation criminalising it, and, while this has not eliminated it, it has reduced it and provided the victims with protection under the law.
Feminists used to argue that it was a woman’s right to sell her body if she chose to do so. This line of reasoning led to the legalising of prostitution in the states of Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, and in many European countries.
However, the feminists in Europe have had a major change of heart. And that change of heart is spreading throughout the world. They now see prostitution as vulnerable women being exploited by the men who buy sex.
After all, no woman aspires to be a prostitute. The only reason a woman enters prostitution is because she is desperate for money, and thinks she has no other means of meeting that need.
This change of thinking led to the development of a different way of dealing with prostitution. It was first passed into law in Sweden in 1999, and now is known as the “Nordic model”.
What the Swedes did was quite simple: they made it illegal to buy or attempt to buy sexual services. Their law is deliberately gender-neutral. It applies equally to men and women. To attempt to sell sexual services is not a criminal offence. The person trying to sell sex is seen as a desperate person, who is in need of assistance. The person buying sex from desperate people is seen as exploiting their vulnerability, and therefore liable for criminal prosecution.
Now in place for over 15 years in Sweden, it has had a profound effect on Swedish society. When the law was implemented in 1999, the police knew of 500 brothels operating throughout Sweden. They are now all gone.
As in all parts of the world, the prostitution industry has turned to the internet to ply its trade in human flesh. Sweden is no different. But what is different is that the police trawl the internet for the advertisements.
When they find one — and there are, at any moment, between 100 and 200 advertisements on the internet offering sexual services in Sweden — the police notify social workers, who then establish contact, and urge the women involved to enter rehabilitation, as most people in the sex industry are also caught up in drugs.
If this fails, the undercover police stake the place out, and warn or arrest those who come to buy sex. Each year, around 300 men are arrested and fined for buying or attempting to buy sexual services.
When the Swedes introduced this legislation, it had barely 30 per cent community support. Today the figure is close to 80 per cent.
The legislation has had the effect of changing Swedish culture. It is no longer “cool” to visit a prostitute.
Remember how it was cool to smoke in the 1970s? It is no longer so. Education campaigns and new laws brought about a cultural change. The Swedes have used these same techniques to bring about changes in attitude to prostitution.
The result is that street prostitution is half of what it was in 1999. Brothels no longer exist. Prostitution is now a tiny “industry”.
There are women who are advertised on the internet, and then there are massage parlours which do genuine massage, but offer a “happy ending”. But men now often report to police that they have been offered a “happy ending”. This leads to police action, and the premises are closed down.
All this has added up to Sweden having a much smaller problem with human-trafficking than other nations in Europe. It has also made Sweden less attractive for other organised crime.
Norway has seen what happened in its neighbour, Sweden, and has implemented the Nordic model, as has Iceland.
Last year, Germany and the Netherlands sent official delegations to Sweden to take a close look at this model.
In October 2013, France passed Nordic-model-type legislation through its lower house by a two-thirds majority. The Senate still needs to pass it. Just the public discussion around the issue has resulted in a major decline in the number of men visiting prostitutes, so much so that prostitutes are complaining that the bill has “damaged” their business!
In February this year, the European Parliament passed a non-binding resolution, urging all member-states to seriously consider the Nordic model, as it is the only model that has resulted in reduced prostitution and human-trafficking.
In June this year, the Canadian government introduced to its parliament a prostitution bill modelled on the Swedish legislation.
The tide throughout the world is turning. Nations are increasingly facing the reality that legalising or decriminalising prostitution is a failed social experiment.
As Western Australia is considering how to address the proliferation of prostitution, our legislators are faced with a choice.
We can be among the last to join the throng of the Netherlands, Germany, Finland, Victoria, NSW, Queensland, New Zealand and others by adopting the failed decriminalising /legalising approach.
Or we can be at the forefront of useful social change in our nation by joining the growing number of nations that are implementing the Nordic model, which has proven to be the only approach in the world that has massively reduced human-trafficking and prostitution.
I hope my fellow members of parliament will have the courage to be innovators and to spare our state the agony that legalised prostitution and human-trafficking inevitably bring.
Peter Abetz MLA is Liberal member for Southern River, Western Australia.