Saturday, September 10, 2011

My Swedish experience...

It was always a dream of mine to visit Sweden. Many reasons of course, a minor one being a nobel prize (not yet sure in which category, when in middle school it was maths, in high school chemistry…in college environment…now it is between peace and literature!!!). Well fantasy apart the anti demand legislation was my greatest attraction. The Swedish model to address sex buyers is one of its own kind in the world and I wanted to understand it firsthand. So when Bonnier Media University invited me for GRID 2011, I was on top of the world. Finally I was going to Stockholm.
For those of you who have never heard of GRID, this is an annual meet for a selected group of Bonnier employees worldwide. The conference brings also handpicked speakers from diverse fields to make a TED like (18mins) presentation. This time I was one of the 12 speakers.
Sweden is a beautiful place and for the most unknown reason I instantly felt very comfortable( there are many countries I feel not so very comfortable too).
But the greatest highlight of my visit was to meet senior police officers to understand the anti demand legislation. Meeting officer Kajza and Officer Simon was an eye opener of a different kind. In Sweden the legislation has criminalized buying sex. Any man or woman who buys sex is arrested and prosecuted. The officers are trained for intensive surveillance. It becomes very important to catch the buyer in the act itself so that the officer can be a witness also in the court and there is no scope for acquittal.
In Sweden there is prostitution and sex trafficking. Most girls trafficked to Sweden are from Baltic countries. In most sex trafficking cases the victim girls are also witnesses and are provided safe shelter through the Social Service Department. What is incredible is that in a year’s time the cases are completed. The compensation is a sizeable amount and ensures that victim can be reintegrated back to society comfortably. The prostitution cases of course has mostly the officers as the witness.
The specialized prostitution unit has dedicated officers who have extraordinary commitment. It was very interesting to note that Officers worked with a lot of autonomy and freedom. Once appointed in a particular unit there was absolutely no transfer until the officer himself or herself does not request for it.No officer was transferred for taking up controversial cases. In fact a minister and prominent business-man were also arrested. In India this would have definitely ended with the officer transferred to some remote area…Timbuctoo etc!
What struck me is the political and public will to address the problem. In ten years since the legislation has come into existence street prostitution has reduced by 70% and sex trafficking by 50%. It was very impressive.
Of course I had a lot of concerns. What happens to the women/girls after the buyers are arrested? I strongly felt just addressing the demand is an incomplete solution. Providing support to women/girls for a safe exit from prostitution as a supply-focused intervention was as important as addressing demand. Maybe in the form of protection services and economic opportunities.
For all of we know the woman/girl may shift to Belgium or Germany to prostitute as she does not find buyers here. If just addressing demand can get such great results just imagine if both ends are addressed what a fool proof impact it will have.
It was truly an enriching experience to learn this model. I wonder how much we can replicate this in India with all the vested interests and poor political will.
The rest of the trip was filled with meeting some very beautiful people. I am not sure how much I gave in GRID but I definitely know that I gained a lot. Renewed energy…better focus and some new direction…