Every year, millions of people fall victim to human trafficking and cynical exploitation. The women and girls affected are sold nearly exclusively for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Sweden’s feminist government is working on a broad front to combat this violence that affects countless women and girls every year. Legislation that prohibits purchasing sex is an effective tool.

There have never been as many victims of human trafficking as there are today. Trafficking for sexual exploitation is most common, followed by trafficking for labour exploitation. Trafficking also takes place for several other purposes, such as harvesting human organs, forced marriage and begging. Trafficking is highly gender-segregated. Men and boys are largely sold for forced labour, while women and girls are almost exclusively sold for sexual exploitation.

The main reason why human trafficking exists is that there are people who are prepared to exploit other people for personal gain – human traffickers do it to earn money, those who pay for sex do it to satisfy their needs, and those who are ill do it to get a new human organ and so on.

People can fall victim to human trafficking for a wide variety of reasons, but the most common is that the victims find themselves in a very vulnerable situation on account of poverty or because they are fleeing from a conflict or natural disaster.

Human trafficking is a very profitable business with a turnover on par with global illicit drug and arms trafficking. One reason for the high profitability is that a single person can be sold and exploited over and over. Another reason is that the risk of being prosecuted is relatively low.

What, then, is being done about it and what more can be done to stop human trafficking? There are sound international regulations which, in principle, every country in the world has accepted. In addition, there have been education projects, information activities, etc. in progress for many years around the world, both to increase the capacity of the judicial system, citizens and others to combat crime and to prevent it. However, one major problem is that not all countries apply the regulations and that there is widespread corruption around the world, which allows human traffickers to operate fairly undisturbed.

Sweden’s strategy to combat human trafficking comprises a broad range of activities. Above all, it involves efforts by the Swedish Police and other law enforcement agencies in both national and international networks, as well as preventive measures in the form of knowledge dissemination to the general public and support to Swedish and international civil society organisations involved in combating human trafficking.

Furthermore, Sweden’s feminist government is working actively to reduce demand for human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Prohibiting the purchase of sexual services is a practical tool that entered into force in Sweden in 1999 and was then also introduced in Norway (2009), Iceland (2009) and Canada (2014). This prohibition has generally led to dramatically reduced demand for girls and women in prostitution, which in turn has led to the supply of prostitutes being much lower than in countries where purchasing sex is legal.

Swedish experience shows that the reduced demand means that Sweden is, in principle, an uninteresting market for organised crime that engages in human trafficking for sexual exploitation. Sweden is currently cooperating with other countries that are interested in introducing the same type of legislation. There has been cooperation with France (see separate article), Ireland and Northern Ireland, which have all chosen to introduce legislation of the same type as in Sweden.