Combatting human trafficking and sexual exploitation – Joint Op-Ed by Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and his Swedish counterpart Margot Wallström (8 March 2019)

This joint article presents the common strategy in the fight against human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Europe and in the world.

Today, on International Women’s Day, Sweden and France launch a joint diplomatic initiative to fight trafficking for sexual exploitation. We have agreed to develop a strategy with the aim to fight trafficking and prostitution – in Europe and globally.

Sweden pursues a feminist foreign policy; France has a feminist diplomacy. Together, we want to be in the forefront in the fight against trafficking. We hope that more countries will join us in this important work for human rights.

The link between prostitution and trafficking is well established within research. One figure is enough to make it clear: in large brothels in Europe, around 95 percent of the women come from other countries – often Eastern Europe and Africa.

Testimonies from brothels in Western European countries where prostitution is legal are horrifying. Research shows that the risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder is higher in prostitution than in war.

There are actors who wish to legalise prostitution. However, legal or not, prostitution always means that vulnerable people are forced to live under inhumane circumstances. France and Sweden have taken a clear position against normalizing prostitution as work. Our view is that prostitution is always exploitation of someone’s vulnerability – thus prostitution can never be considered a job. We do not accept the use of the term sex work and will fight against its usage.

France and Sweden have, together with numerous other countries, introduced legislation which makes the buying but not selling of sex illegal. Such legislation has been efficient to reduce the demand for prostitution, as well as making it easier to support victims to exit prostitution. In Sweden, where this legislation has been in place for 20 years, there is a comparatively low number of people in prostitution, and Sweden is considered a market of low interest for trafficking.

The aim of the diplomatic initiative that we launch today is to enhance the fight against trafficking for sexual exploitation. We will promote a a prostitution legislation of the same kind as in Sweden and in France.

This will be bolstered by spreading knowledge about trafficking and prostitution; by stimulating debates and discussion about gender roles and gender equality; by supporting women’s shelters and in other ways helping victims of trafficking to better lives; as well as a generous support to sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Our fight against trafficking will be pursued together with others. We want to cooperate with civil society, women’s shelters and other actors in order to make the policy as effective as possible.

It is nobody’s dream to end up in prostitution. Victims of trafficking live under horrifying conditions – in Europe, in the 21st century. We cannot let this go on.