Prostitution – Exchanges Cuba/Sweden

As part of a best practice exchange visit in Cuba, organized by Pr. Sven Britton from Swedish, Karolinska Institute and psychologist Ms Kristina Hillgren, a representative of Dianova in Sweden, Ms Cipriana de Arteaga was invited to Cuba to present the characteristics of the Swedish experience in the field of prostitution. Ms de Arteaga delivered a lecture on “Prostitution, Social Work and the Swedish Law” and participated in a panel discussion on “Drug and Alcohol Dependence among Women – Learning from Each Other” at the IV International Congress of Psychology – Santiago de Cuba. She also presented the “Swedish model” during a visit to the National Center for Sex Education, in Havana capital city.

In the past decade, human trafficking for sexual exploitation has increased dramatically; according to a report by the United Nations Office against Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the total number of victims of such exploitation are in the millions while it represents the fastest growing form of contemporary slavery. The industry of prostitution is also the fastest growing criminal industry, in a globalized world where free market not only concerns goods but also human beings.

Different approaches

Confronted to a “trade” which continues to flourish and which is set to outgrow arms or drug trafficking, the various nations’ policies and laws offer diverse responses, whether they consider that prostitution should be banned from social life or that it should be tolerated by society. To enter into detail, the legal response vis-à-vis prostitution varies according to three types of possible attitudes : prohibitionist, abolitionist or liberal approaches.

Prohibitionist approach – this type of response is implemented in most of the United-States of, in China, or in Sharia-based Islamic states. In such countries both prostitutes and their clients are considered immoral and all forms of prostitution is prohibited.

Abolitionist approach – In the countries having adopted such approach (e.g. United-Kingdom, France, Spain or Canada), the practice of providing sexual services in return for payment is no illegal per se, but most associated activities such as public solicitation, operating a brothel and other forms of pimping are criminalized. The prostitute is seen as a victim who should, as such, benefit from measures aimed at his/her reintegration. On the other hand, there is no legal provision or administrative control to regulate the phenomenon of prostitution whatsoever.

As a matter of fact, the abolitionist approach leads to a relative tolerance of prostitution: the prostitute nor his/her client are considered outside the law, while law enforcement efforts focus on  combating all forms of procuring, children prostitution and human trafficking.

Those who support prohibition or abolition of prostitution argue that keeping prostitution illegal is the best way to prevent the most abusive activities. The various countries where the latter approaches have been adopted argue that a system which allows legalized and regulated prostitution only leads to crime and abuse – development of another parallel criminal industry, as many women do not want to register and work legally in brothels, or as other women can’t be hired by legal brothels due to underlying issues, i.e. to preserve their anonymity or because they abuse drugs.

Liberal approach – In some countries, policy-makers tend to consider prostitution as a phenomenon impossible to eradicate, which accordingly should be organized and regulated in order to reduce its negative consequences, including organized crime. In such legal framework, prostitution is legal and well-accepted. Prostitutes may be employed by brothels, form unions and be protected by the country’s labor laws, provided they pay their taxes and undergo regular medical examinations.
A neoliberal trend is developing in liberal countries (Germany, Netherlands, Greece, Switzerland, etc.), grounded in the principles of individual liberty and the right to self-determination. According to supporters, everyone is free to utilize one’s own body and prostitution is a regular professional activity, among others. “Sex workers” have the same rights and obligations as everyone else – while the trend makes the distinction between freely chosen prostitution, and forced practice.

The Swedish Model

Finding a way out of prostitutionAfter many years of studies and analysis, the Swedish government introduced in 1999 a zero tolerance policy towards prostitution and human trafficking. The Swedish approach, which is fully accepted, consists of combating the demand for prostitution and accordingly to prohibit the purchase of sexual services. In essence this means that only the buyers of sexual services and not the women involved in prostitution, are criminalized. The principles behind this law is that prostitution is regarded as a violence which is intrinsically harmful not only to the individual prostituted, but to society at large, and thus represents a barrier to the goal of gender equality. In addition, various initiatives and empowerment strategies aim to support the prostitutes to provide them with opportunities to exit prostitution.

The Swedish government has had to educate the public in order to dispel the misconceptions about the myth of the “world’s oldest profession”. For example, Sweden conducted, in collaboration with other countries of Northern Europe, a vast campaign to combat prostitution and human trafficking, in the direction of public authorities, the media, NGOs and the public at large – as a result, in Sweden today over 80% of the population support the law and the principles behind its development.

According to supporters, since 1999, the number of women involved in street prostitution dropped by half, while the recruitment of new prostitutes has been virtually stopped. Moreover, police authorities have alleged that human trafficking is decreasing, because criminal rings consider overly complicated “to invest” in Sweden.
Other studies show a more mixed assessment: according to studies by the Socialstyrelsen (National Health and Social Affairs Department), the total number of prostitutes has not decreased nationwide, due to the fact that many prostitutes have left inner cities to work in suburbs, massage parlors or through the Internet.

Dianova in Sweden is working to help those who abuse or are dependent on alcohol or other drugs. As such, the organization has to deal with women who are involved in prostitution, and works with the Swedish social services dedicated to support them. Dianova in Sweden supports the Swedish Model and considers it appropriate to criminalize the buyer of sexual services to reduce the demand. On the opposite the organization recognizes the incongruity of penalizing the prostitutes, as they are the exploited victims of the phenomenon. It also supports any initiative to facilitate their reintegration, as well as any initiative to provide buyers of sexual services with therapeutic aid.