Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

"To be a sex worker in Sweden is dangerous"

by aden Sat Jun 10th, 2006 at 02:01:52 PM EST

Below are excerpts from an address by Rosinha Sambo to the Taipei Sex Worker Conference in 2001, titled "On the Situation of Sex Workers in Sweden."

As the Swedish prostitution policy model has come up in various ET threads on human trafficking and prostitution, I thought it would be interesting to hear some of the ET community's thoughts and responses to Rosinha's perspective of the Swedish model.

The full transcript and an audio file (Real Player) of her address can be found here.

To be a sex worker in Sweden, is dangerous.  It's a hell- mostly dangerous.  We don't know anymore, what, or how to do it.  What we have in Sweden, it's a law who doesn't make us any good, and doesn't give us any choice.  Government in Sweden wants to rehabilitate us, to rehabilitate the sex worker, just like we are victims of some kind of dangerous sickness.  Rehabilitate us as we could spread around this sickness.  

I have, in vain, tried to explain, for politics, feminists, and other ignorant intellectuals, that this is a work, and that's why this is also a choice. I have tried to explain that we should instead, have classes, on sex work. To do it more safe, and better- especially for the younger generation of sex workers in this country now.



All the Swedish Government does is abstract our work of trying to make it easier for the younger ones. It's very difficult in Sweden right now. Very, very, difficult.  Specially the health question.  The health question, it's in the air and nobody seems to care about it. The sex workers are victims of everyone's dangerous.

She have to protect her customers in order to keep them. She's exposed to all sorts of criminals, psychos, sadists, because she must protect the customer. Well, the problem is that Sweden lives on the looks- how does it looks like for the rest of the world. That's the most important for the Swedish, ah, Government. They wanna look good, but they don't really care, how are we do it. Well, the polity, the politicians, they know very well that sex work continues, and that they have completely failed in their ridiculous try, to get rid of us. This is how we know that. Only because they don't see us, it doesn't mean we don't exist. They know that.

But of course, Sweden is very far away from most of the rest of this planet, so not everybody go to Sweden every month to see how the hookers are doing.

Well, one of the worse consequences with this law, is that there comes a lot of underage prostitution in Sweden.  The Mafia come inside- the Russian Mafia that has nothing to do with Sweden... come into Sweden with a lot of kidnapped young girls, older womens, all ages.  A lot of Swedish hookers get killed because they can't call the Police any more. Because if they call the Police, the word goes around that they put a call to the cops, come by that they got problems, and they lose all their customers. So a lot of, um, women have got killed, and men. Prostitutes, sex workers. Just like me. Just like many of us. Others have moved. Others have, ah, start, to drink too much, lost their children, and so on, and so on.

Okay, for me, three years ago, before this law came, I was living with my two children. And now, I'm not. I have to put my children in Portugal, and be more careful before the Welfare comes and take them away, it's a little excuse. It's very easy for a prostitute to lose her children now in Sweden.

Swedish sex workers now go to Norway, the neighbour country, it's only some hours from Sweden when you go there through the train, and work there. But of course, if I live 6  or 5 hours, 7 hours, away from, ah, Norway, I can't go back home every day. And that means that I have to have a baby-sitter. And that means that I have to trust that baby-sitter very much.  

...And also it overloads the Norwegian sex market.  The Norwegian hookers are getting crazy....their prices in Norway have caved down, because of the Swedish law... Norway finds itself, with Danish and Swedish hooker.  And they don't know what to do anymore, in Norway... It's a problem, it's a big problem...

...the Swedish Government is being very selfish here.  Because as long as they look good, out to the other, with their fellow conservative idiots of the rest of the world, they're happy. They don't care about putting the problems in the neighbour's garden.

But the normal sex worker, who has children in Norway, and bills to pay, is resenting very much because, she doesn't get enough money any more to pay her bills because there comes a lot of other people that was not there before and ah, make the market much cheaper, and ah, customers disappear, is tough. Complete tough.  And it will happen the same in all countries that are neighbours to countries who copy the Swedish model.  It's a dangerous model, for the neighbours.  For us is very terrible, for us, the sex workers, that live in these countries, with these laws, like Sweden have right now. For us it's terrible.

I went to, high school, but I still feel like I graduate. I graduate in prostitution. I know more about prostitution.  I could say, I'm a doctor of prostitution. And that's why I'm sitting here, talking to you today. And that's also why, I wanna call a very huge SOS to Sweden, because all countries, trying to copy Sweden in this obviously terrible, and worthless, and fruitless law. I want to call your attention, because Sweden, it's, a very strong example, where that position can bring us to.  Where the law, so-called law and order can bring us to.  Well, if they won't step back, we shouldn't step back either. If they are a model now, and they want to continue to be a model, we will let them be a model, and make sure that they will fail internationally.  

And, that they will recognise their mistake, because, as a model they are being watched, and everybody will see them fail. Well, every country that have learned of Sweden, and is trying to hound us away from the face of the earth, they should only need to see that it doesn't work like this, and that, we can only do from Sweden.

All countries have their eyes on Sweden, in this issue, and that's why I'm here, for one more time to appeal to all my colleagues, from all over the world.

Display:
It is hard to know where to start to comment, and none of us has much information about it, except Deander. So I'll stick to what I know...

I had a couple of acquaintances who are now ex-hookers. They are both  Russian, smart and funny - and of course worldy-wise. Both operated in Helsinki, now back in Russia. They never had any bad words to say about their work in Finland ie no bad experiences from their point of view - but terrible, indescribable things happened to them in Russia, both before and after Finland.

One girl still calls me now and again since I helped her kick a mild heroin addiction. She thinks I saved her life in some way - I didn't. I just knew the right people. But I am happy to have helped, and happier still that she now has a more normal but hard life in St P.

They too called what they did 'work'. They mostly worked Helsinki hotels - visiting business men etc. They said the men were OK, treated them well, and it wasn't so very much different from any weekend when a Finnish girl goes out to find someone to sleep with - except for the money.

They introduced me to a few of their friends including one who 'specialized' in disabled people. She was more of a therapist than a hooker, and could easily have been a doctor in another life.

Many years ago I brought a Thai drag show to a Helsinki night club. The 'boys' were outrageous, but a lot of fun to be with. My wife and I had some of them over to our weekend cottage several times and we laughed with our guests a lot. They were so sweet and so enthralled by a different culture. At the end of the 3 week booking we had a private party at the club for the 'boys' and their new friends. It was quite fantastic - a whole range of quite ordinary Finnish men, mostly professionals who were similarly smitten by these full of life exotic boys. It was a great party - but the last sad farewell dances brought tears to my eyes.

Love, sex and friendship are all intertwined together. They are also deeply entangled in all our lives. Few of us have really worked out how to unravel them in terms of being happy. But dignity of behaviour seems to be the key.

I try not to judge people by what they have done or what they are, if I can understand their motives. There are good people everywhere if you ignore the labels.

I know that forced prostitution and enslavery are terrible things. I do not condone them in any way, and doubt if I would find any 'good people' anywhere involved in those uncivilized activities.

In my opinion, however, foregiveness is much more than saying 'you did wrong, now you must change. Goodbye' Foregiveness is about identifying goodness and encouraging it and helping to find reasons to be 'good'. The Finnish penal system has changed very succcessfully over two decades from a punishment-based system to one of involvement, care and education, both during prison time and after it. It is humane and shows respect for life. It also saves a lot of money in the long run.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Jun 10th, 2006 at 03:19:53 PM EST
Sven,

I was thinking about your comment throughout the day yesterday and today, and it sent me back to read through the comments on Poemless' "define whore" post.

In that thread you said

What is missing is dignity. Dignity has nothing to do with money or status or location or religion or the lack of it. Dignity is the personal sense that your place in the cosmos is right and of value to you and those that you love. And that all your actions have a personal meaning.

Dignity, one might say, is religion without the rites. Dignity is essentially graceful.

Poemless summarized your perspective as

I don't believe he's [Sven] saying prostitution is a "good and progressive force," but rather that tolerance is.

Here you spoke in terms of forgiveness. You mentioned the Finnish penal system.

Have you ever written about, or thought about writing about, how these ideas of tolerance, dignity, and forgiveness could be applied to actual government policy? I skimmed through your diaries and didn't see anything -might have missed something though.

I would be very interested in hearing how you perceive some of these values might be integrated into public policy on prostitution, human trafficking, and immigration. Of course, these are the subjects that are of interest to me.

How does one take these values and integrate them into legislation? Not that they are outright absent from the legislation, but there seems to be a disconnect from the policies on these matters and the realities of those the policies are intended to help. Do dignity & forgiveness -to use your words, have anything to offer in helping to span this perceived disconnect?

One of the people who replied to Sirocco's post on Kos posted a link to the ballot in Berkeley that was trying to repeal CA prostitution laws.

It is interesting to read the arguments. Both groups present their argument as arguing for the person working in prostitution.

Thoughts?

by aden on Sun Jun 11th, 2006 at 10:40:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'll admit, it is difficult to understand her point in this.  Lost in translation, if you will.  Can you clarify it for us?

I basically agree with Sven's comments.

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Sun Jun 11th, 2006 at 12:11:05 PM EST
Yes, there is some "lose of translation". It took me a few reads of the transcript and several listens to the audio to understand better her points.

I believe Rosinha is making several points on how the Swedish laws are affecting those working in prostitution in Sweden.

I interpret Rosinha as saying that Sweden's approach to prostitution is pushing prostitution into the underground, or into the shadows of the society, and thus makes the conditions for those working in prostitution much more "dangerous."

"She have to protect her customers in order to keep them. She's exposed to all sorts of criminals, psychos, sadists, because she must protect the customer... A lot of Swedish hookers get killed because they can't call the Police any more. Because if they call the Police, the word goes around that they put a call to the cops and they lose all their customers. So a lot of women have got killed, and men. Prostitutes, sex workers. Just like me."

The younger people who are entering into prostitution are becoming more vulnerable because of the lack of education about issues facing those in prostitution.

"I have tried to explain that we should instead, have classes, on sex work. To do it more safe, and better- especially for the younger generation of sex workers in this country now. All the Swedish Government does is abstract our work of trying to make it easier for the younger ones. It's very difficult in Sweden right now. Very, very, difficult.  Specially the health question.  The health question, it's in the air and nobody seems to care about it...Well, one of the worse consequences with this law, is that there comes a lot of underage prostitution in Sweden."  

This is only a guess, but what she may be referring to when she says "abstracting our work" is that some in the counter trafficking movement have framed the work of some health care and social workers as work that "legitimizes" prostitution and that "provides medical services and condoms to enslaved people and ignores the slavery." But I am only guessing here.

The combination of pushing prostitution into the shadows and the vulnerability of younger people entering the prostitution scene has contributed to the entrance of human traffickers into Sweden's prostitution scene -Russian organized crime in this case.

"The Mafia come inside- the Russian Mafia that has nothing to do with Sweden... come into Sweden with a lot of kidnapped young girls, older womens, all ages."

The Swedish laws are making it harder for those working in prostitution to raise their children. She ties that into the prices of prostitution falling in Norway because of an increase in people working in prostitution coming from Sweden.

"I have to put my children in Portugal (her father's family is in Portugal -edited out)...before the Welfare comes and take them away... It's very easy for a prostitute to lose her children now in Sweden.

Swedish sex workers now go to Norway...of course, if I live...7 hours I can't go back home every day. And that means that I have to have a baby-sitter...I have to trust that baby-sitter very much....it overloads the Norwegian sex market....their prices in Norway have caved down, because of the Swedish law... the normal sex worker, who has children in Norway, and bills to pay, is resenting very much because, she doesn't get enough money any more to pay her bills."

Rosinha states that the conditions of those working in prostitution are not really of concern to the Swedish government. What is more important is Sweden's global political image.

"Well, the problem is that Sweden lives on the looks- how does it look like for the rest of the world. That's the most important for the Swedish Government. They wanna look good, but they don't really care, how are we do it. [I think that should be "how are we doing."]

But of course, Sweden is very far away from most of the rest of this planet, so not everybody go to Sweden every month to see how the hookers are doing."

She closes her address with a request to bring more attention to the ramifications of the Swedish approach.

"...that's why I'm sitting here, talking to you today. And that's also why, I wanna call a very huge SOS to Sweden, because all countries, trying to copy Sweden in this obviously terrible, and worthless, and fruitless law. I want to call your attention, because Sweden, it's, a very strong example, where that position can bring us to.  Where the law, so-called law and order can bring us to...

All countries have their eyes on Sweden, in this issue, and that's why I'm here, for one more time to appeal to all my colleagues, from all over the world."


by aden on Sun Jun 11th, 2006 at 05:14:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
All the Swedish Government does is abstract our work of trying to make it easier for the younger ones.

My guess would be: 'abstract' --> 'obstruct'.


The world's northernmost desert wind.

by Sirocco (sirocco2005ATgmail.com) on Sun Jun 11th, 2006 at 05:56:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That would make sense.
by aden on Sun Jun 11th, 2006 at 06:48:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for the post. I agree with the writer's point of view, and posted a similar opinion piece, by a Swedish gay prostitute, at Booman Tribune almost exactly a year ago. I might as well repost it here.

(Apologies to those who hate scrollbars -- it would be an absurdly long comment otherwise.)

Stop harassing my dear clients

    Expressen, 27.05.05

    JOHANNES ERIKSSON
    [From the Swedish by Sirocco]

    [SNIP]

    Riksdagen [the Swedish Parliament] passed the Sex Purchase Act in the late 1990s, swayed by the argument that it was needed to improve the social standing of women. Criminalizing sex would make women think twice before starting to sell sex, it was maintained. They would more easily resist pressure to offer sexual services, and those already in the sex trade would find it easier to quit (which they were all assumed to want). And perhaps most importantly, criminalization would show that society takes a moral stand against trade in sex.

    A majority of MPs bought this argumentation right off the shelf. For me and many other prostitutes, however, reality is a little too complicated for that.

    To begin with, one should bear in mind that the Sex Purchase Act criminalizes all commercial sex regardless of whether the parties are consenting. This came as a surprise to those of us who thought sex between consenting adults ceased to be a matter for the police when homosexuality was made legal in 1944. The explanation is the ever-repeated political cliché that prostitution always amounts to violence against women and is never done with genuine consent.

    I have sold sex to men for four years now and have no plans to quit. I chose to leave a stable but dull white collar career for the more uncertain, but all the more rewarding, prostitution. My new career in the sex industry has gone through various phases and not always been a cakewalk. I have at times worked for small money to pay my bills, debts, and other expenses, but usually I have made enough to afford all that life has to offer. And no matter how dire my straits, it was always a choice. Noone has forced me to do this. To me it has been purely a question of consensual sex between adults, and after four years in the business I daresay this goes for the great majority of prostitutes I have met - men, women, and those in between.

    My clients belong to every layer of society, though most earn above median income. Their reasons for seeing me vary: They may feel lonely or insecure, need adventure or relaxation, or - typically - be horny and unwilling to spend time, energy, and money on the non-commercial sex market. I have to be sure encountered the odd bastard, just like in my office job, but the vast majority of my clients are really, really sweet men who would never dream of threatening or beating me or anyone else.

    Unlike the government officials who penned the Sex Purchase Act, I have practical experience with the activity they have outlawed. And that is why their argument rings so very false to me and many other prostitutes. I have so far met noone who has abstained from selling sex due to criminalization, and those I know who quit did so for quite different reasons. On the other hand, many prostitutes and social workers can attest to how the Sex Purchase Act has done nothing but worsen the situation, especially for street walkers and those arriving through trafficking. And if prostitution is violence against women - how come the law also curbs activities like mine, where no woman was ever involved?

    [SNIP]

    I realize that the decision to sell - or buy - sex is incomprehensible to many, but for those of us who chose to enter the sex trade it has seemed the best available option. A lot of us would appreciate for the government to stop treating us as little children in need of being saved from ourselves and put the resources into more sensible undertakings than to punish people who have done no harm.

    Fortunately the world is slowly noting what is going on in Sweden. In Norway - despite intensive marketing from the Swedish side - there is now a broad political majority against criminalizing the purchase of sexual services. The difference is that the Norwegian debate lets prostitutes offer their views on how criminalization would affect them. I sincerely hope the Swedish government will do the same one fine day. The sooner the better - enough have been punished and tarred unnecessarily.

    JOHANNES ERIKSSON

Recently the pro-criminalization side has been gaining ground here in Norway as well, for no more principled reason than an influx of African prostitutes on tourist visas annoying the good citizens of our capital. There may soon be passed a ban here as well, I regret to say.

The world's northernmost desert wind.

by Sirocco (sirocco2005ATgmail.com) on Sun Jun 11th, 2006 at 04:40:04 PM EST
Sirocco, thanks for the article and link to Booman. I read through the comments that you received there and on Kos.
by aden on Sun Jun 11th, 2006 at 09:40:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]


Display:
Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]

Top Diaries

Does anyone care?

by Frank Schnittger - Oct 10
68 comments

Spain is not a democracy

by IdiotSavant - Oct 14
3 comments

The Blame Game

by Frank Schnittger - Oct 8
67 comments

EU-UK Relations: Trading Blows

by Oui - Oct 8
22 comments

John Major's Encore

by ARGeezer - Sep 27
29 comments