i was deeply disappointed when several weeks ago i read (1, 2) about Swedish officials struggling to produce their final evaluation of controversial sexköpslagen. obviously i read earlier reports attempting to assess the impact of the law against buying sex published by swedish and norwegian governments (Kännedom om prostitution 1998–1999, Kännedom om prostitution 2003, Kännedom om prostitution 2007, Purchasing Sexual Services in Sweden and the Nederlands. Legal Regulations and Experiences) and was extremely eager to see the final evaluation. i admit that lecture of earlier reports as well as my broader studies into the available literature on the subject left me feeling that most of the critique of the law presented by academics and sex workers themselves was not wholly unreasonable. which means that in my view most of the pessimistic prognoses as to the impact of this moralistic legislation was sadly true. not to mention that it entrenched my somewhat racist and totally unreasonable beliefs in that people living in northern part of Europe are rather strange folks.
nonetheless, the report was published on 2nd of july and in accompanying press release Swedish Ministry of Justice announced that
“(…) criminalisation has contributed to combating prostitution and human trafficking for sexual purposes.”
also we are told that
“The ban has proved to act as a deterrent to sex purchasers. The Inquiry could find no indication that criminalisation has had a negative effect on people exploited through prostitution.”
the original version of the report can be accessed here (pdf) while the 15 pages long English summary (pages 29-44 of the original report) can be accesed here (pdf). in this entry i hope to shed some light on the report itself however I hope to achieve this by listening to and commenting on some glorious fanfares that immediately announced to the world that the law presents one great and unequivocal success against evil forces of patriarchy and male domination over women. and that’s how we stumble upon the greatest fan of snoop dogg among lesbian-feminists, julie bindel and her commentary “Legalising prostitution is not the answer”.
in the article (which by the way was published by the guardian on the same day as swedish report) our feminist diva provides her fans as well as other casual readers with her invaluable insights into the background and realities of work as a researcher in the context of prostitution and trafficking. so, we learn that:
“It is rare to have academic consensus on controversial areas of study, but currently in the UK it seems that the vast majority of academics studying prostitution and the sex industry are in agreement. It is almost impossible to find even a handful involved in this massively expanding area of study that will deviate from the opinion that the sex industry should be legalised or decriminalised, and that penalising sex buyers has a negative effect on those selling sexual services. Most academic studies produced in the past few years conclude that little harm is caused to those involved in prostitution, despite the thousands of testimonies on record of survivors of this abusive trade.”
without single qualm she then proceeds to mercilessly criticise, mock and sneer at all the pimps, traffickers, punters and at all other kinds of rapists who backed by hordes of ignorant academics dared to reject her holy principles and her sacred quest to crush the patriarchal oppression of women in prostitution. finally the readers are told:
“No one working in or on it [prostitution] is devoid of a view regarding this important topic, which is why it is somewhat frustrating that so many academics seem happy to be selective about the “evidence” supporting their claims that the Swedish model has been a disaster. Similarly, these same academics regularly accuse authors of research that reaches different conclusions from theirs of being biased.”
after cynically listing few of the numerous doubts expressed by opponents of the law she exaltedly shakes above her head 300 pages long copy of the Swedish report (even though she probably read no more than fifteen pages of its English summary) pointing at it as a solid and undeniable proof against all those of small faith and most certainly fable mind who expressed any doubts about the sexköpslagen.
“However, today’s report, a comprehensive evaluation of the Swedish law, conducted by an independent commission appointed by the government, and led by the chancellor of justice (the highest legal officer in Sweden) shows that legislation criminalising demand has been a resounding success. The evaluation concludes that, since the law came in to force in 1999, the number of women involved in street prostitution has halved, whereas neighbouring countries such as Denmark and Norway have seen a sharp rise; that there is no evidence of an increase in off-street prostitution; and that, despite a significant increase in prostitution in the neighbouring countries during the past 10 years, there is no evidence of a similar increase in Sweden.”
in her usual style she is more than happy to dump on her readers buckets of unsubstantiated rhetoric based on misguided analysis of cherry picked factual data. however in this case I have to admit that my own article on the subject would look exactly a like and that’s because dates are the only numbers that can be found in english summary of the report! it’s 15 pages are simply speaking composed of number of loaded and vague statements referring to some data which is never given up for the reader to asses and which often seem to contradict statements made in other places or data published in earlier reports or the very conclusions drawn by the authors. one might wonder whether the report was not written a decade ago together with the law impact of which it purports to evaluate. and it seems that i am not the only one brought to such a conclusion and for example Laura Agustín writes on her blog:
“An astounding absence of objective and unbiased guiding principles, a lack of solid evidence and a confusing methodical picture that could mean outright guesswork.
‘Sources’ are mentioned, but absolutely nothing is explained about methodology.
there is nothing about how interviewees were chosen, why they were relevant, what questionnaire was used or how interviews were analysed.
Sexworkers themselves are listed as sources, but they seem to have been forgotten until quite late. They are called, in a discriminatory manner, ‘exploited persons’ (p. 126-127). A total of 14 persons from two organisations filled out a questionnaire (…).”
indeed, the authors of the report noted on the page 34:
“Even though there are many reports, articles and essays that address these phenomena, knowledge on the scale of prostitution and human trafficking for sexual purposes is consequently limited. This particularly applies to knowledge of people who are active as prostitutes in arenas other than street settings and on the Internet, and knowledge of the prevalence of prostitution outside metropolitan areas.
The empirical surveys that have been carried out have, in some cases, had limited scope, and different working procedures, methods and purposes have been used. In light of these and other factors, there can at times be reason to interpret the results with caution. However, despite these reservations, we still consider that it is possible to draw conclusions based on the material to which we had access, and the results we are presenting based on this data give, in our view, as clear a picture as is currently possible to produce.”
this of course would not shake julie bindel’s belief in unequivocal character of the report and its undeniable conclusions, so she goes on:
“The commission, which took evidence from women currently in prostitution, those who had left the sex trade, police, social workers and other key stakeholders, also found that the law functioned as a barrier against the establishment of traffickers and pimps in Sweden, and had led to a reduction in organised crime.”
it is worth mentioning that in published in 2007 evaluation, authors expressed their concerns about this methodology:
‘The people involved may have had vested interests in promoting certain information based on their mission, ideological grounds, orientation, experience, need for funding, etc’
but julie bindel continues her tirade and states:
“No doubt critics of this law will soon be arguing that the research that formed the basis of this evaluation is flawed and biased. But the commission was careful to include a wide range of views, including Pye Jakobsson, who has worked in the Swedish sex industry for several years and has actively campaigned against the criminalisation of punters, and other pro-prostitution activists.”
this statement is particularly unfortunate because as Laura Agustín points out:
“The report’s claim that sexworkers are not marginalized is bafflingly arrogant, ignoring what many sexworkers say about how the law increases stigma and therefore their marginalization in society. See this video with Pye Jakobsson of Rose Alliance, as an example.”
and in a footnote:
“I asked Pye Jakobsson, president of the Swedish sexworker organisation Rose Alliance, about her contact with the inquiry. She says they were sent a questionnaire last January and put in online, but very few sex workers took an interest in filling it out, because the questions were ‘idiotic’.”
furthermore on pages 129-30 of the report we could find the real gem:
“Those individuals who are being exploited in prostitution say that criminalization has strengthened the social stigma associated with selling sex. They describe themselves as having chosen to prostitute themselves and don’t see themselves as being involuntarily exposed to anything. Even if it’s not forbidden to sell sex, they feel hunted by the police. They feel as if they’ve been declared incapable of managing their own affairs in that their actions are tolerated, but their will and choices are not respected. Further, they believe it is possible to distinguish between voluntary and forced prostitution…(These) negative effects of the ban that they describe can almost be regarded as positive when viewed from the perspective that the aim of the law is to combat prostitution (SOU 2010:49,129-30).”
(quoted after Bucken-Knapp, G. Evaluating the Swedish Ban on the Purchase of Sexual Services: The Anna Skarhed Report)
the last sentence of this quote is an invaluable display of authors intentions and the purpose of the report and the law itself. but also seem to fit neatly with convictions so often voiced by “j bizzel the gangsta lezzer” in her writings.
there is another interesting point made by the authors of the report; on the page 30 i found this curious remark:
“Our remit has been to evaluate the application of the ban on the purchase of sexual services and the effects that prohibition has had. (…) One starting point of our work has been that the purchase of sexual services is to remain criminalised.”
according to laura augustin “(…) explanation lies probably, and most importantly, in the government’s original directive to Skarhed: the objective was to evaluate whether the law has had any deterrent function, which was the original ambition behind the law, and to recommend how it could be strengthened to meet that ambition. The directive stated that the law is important and that the inquiry could not suggest, or point in any direction other than, that buying of sex should be criminalised.”
however, julie bindel talks about “an independent commission appointed by the government” and i will only add that it is a very interesting view on “independence” of this commission. is such “independence” normal in Sweden?
as for the very scarce claims made on the basis of actual data i will again quote laura augustin:
“(…) on the one hand, they haven’t a clue about how many sexworkers there are in Sweden, and, on the other, that the law has successfully reduced street prostitution by 50%. But she also said the increase of services offered on Internet sites is no different from nearby countries’, from which she concludes fuzzily that this shows that the law has not contributed to any increase in ‘hidden’ prostitution. This is clearly an attempt to head off arguments from the law’s critics. The only actual conclusion is that the decrease of street prostitution in Sweden is a real decrease resulting from the law. Causation by confusion? It is indeed remarkable what conclusions can be drawn based on not having a clue, i.e any figures, a point already noted in another government assessment of prostitution in Sweden in 2007 (Socialstyrelsen-National Board of Health and Welfare).”
in mentioned assessment from 2007, officials noted that:
‘we can discern that street prostitution is slowly returning, after swiftly disappearing in the wake of the law against purchasing sexual services. But as said, that refers to street prostitution, which is the most obvious manifestation. With regard to increases and decreases in other areas of prostitution – the “hidden prostitution” – we are even less able to make any statements.’
in terms of comparisons to other Nordic countries made by the report and their account in julie bindel article i will only say that if she would have waited with her article just one day she would have learned that at least in respect of Denmark the numbers on which the conclusions of the report were based are known to be false:
“The wrong numbers come from Reden in Copenhagen (…).
In the official statistics the number of visitors to Reden has been made equal with the number of sexworkers working on the street. But Reden has misreported how many visitors they have (…) [which is] documented in a number of answers to Parliament from former Social Minister Karen Ellen [here and here], and this is the background for, why SFI (a national social research institution) has now been asked to start over with a completely new counting.
Reden has claimed that there are more than 1200 sexworkers in the streets of Copenhagen. Estimates from the police and Reden International suggest that the number is only around 200.”
however, could such information really undermine jb’s firm opinion about the report? i don’t think so, julie bindel is not a type of person who could reject her views even if she would be drowning in contradictory information. sometimes i wonder how more delusional can you get?
finally, we are given her musings as to the brighter future:
“This evaluation report will enable those of us in the UK who are campaigning for a blanket ban on the purchase of sexual services and the decriminalisation of those selling sex to refute the claims made by lobbyists for legalisation. It may also lead a few prospective PhD candidates to use their imagination and not follow the current academic line, and to conduct some research that does not begin with the assumption that legalising this vile industry is the answer. I live in hope.”
i would like to make two points in relation to this paragraph. first, that imagination is a good thing for writing fairy tales and not for social research reports and it seems as in her work as researcher jb uses too much of it. secondly, i hope that in the uk the officials and the public might wish turn to more reliable and comprehensive source of information about prostitution than the Swedish report. i would even prefer if they would look for valid information there: