First the good news: the Swedish model criminalizing the purchase of sex – is gaining ground. In recent years, Iceland, Norway, Canada, and Northern Ireland has passed sex purchase laws, and France may too, while even more nations decide to increase focus on the demand – that is, on the responsibility of the sex-purchasing man. Finally, we are focusing on the real driving force behind the prostitution industry: the johns.
The European Parliament passed a Resolution last year concluding that the Swedish model was the most efficient in terms of curbing human trafficking. The European Commission also announced a research project of 2.5 million Euro to study the demand.
All this has meant that the pro-prostitution crowd has changed tactics. Now there is less visible agitation, blogging, and presence in feminist circles and LGBT-movements. By contrast, we see lobbying toward governments, the EU and organizations such as Amnesty International and the ILO. Additionally, the lobby creates its own organizations with names similar to anti-trafficking groups (see GAATW, the pro-prostitution lobby’s group, founded six years after CATW, the feminist anti-trafficking organization).
Now the bad news: it was precisely such a group that was awarded the EU project on demand. The project DemandAT at first glance appears to meet the EU’s criteria: it “shall explore the demand for trafficking.” Further, they write that “inadequate attention has been paid to the purchasers themselves” and that the intent is to do an “empirical in-depth analysis of the demand for human trafficking.”
However, a closer look at the chosen researchers reveals something mysterious. In fact, here we have Europe’s foremost advocates for the legalization of the sex industry, such as the Dutch politician and lobbyist Marieke van Doorninck. She has served on the boards of almost all the Dutch sex industry organizations, among others the infamous De Graaf Stichting, and has started organizations that call themselves “groups for sex workers’ rights” such as ICRSE, without having been in prostitution herself. We also find a representative of La Strada: an NGO of Dutch origin that focuses on promoting the legalization of prostitution in Eastern Europe under the pretense of reducing trafficking.
Sweden also has a representative, A PhD student from Lund University. She has not finished her dissertation and has not published any peer-reviewed journal article on the topic, or in any scientific journal at all for that matter. She has not done a study on trafficking or demand – the topics that the project will be about. So how come she was handpicked for the project? Well, her name is Petra Östergren, and she is the most vocal critic of the Swedish Sex Purchase Law for the last fifteen years.
Östergren has now received 300 000 Euros to lead the Swedish team on this grant. Together with known pro-prostitution lobbyists and researchers without expertise on the topic, she will assess demand measures taken against trafficking – specifically, the Swedish Sex Purchase Law. Is there anyone who believes that the result will be objective?
I emailed Albert Kraler, initiator of the project. I asked on what merits the researchers have been chosen. He answered that they were chosen on the grounds of previous studies. When I asked him to show which studies, and if anyone of the participants in the project has ever carried out a study on men who purchase sex, he writes that “we are not primarily interested in establishing why men pay for sex. Rather, we are interested in different approaches to regulating prostitution and the impact of these policies.” That is, they do not at all intend to do what is stated in the project description – they are going to do something else instead. When I ask again whether the project description is thus not correct, he angrily replies that “you appear to have strong opinions about it,” and that he “doesn’t want to spend time defending the project.”
He adds, however, that Östergren will not be alone in the Swedish group, but will be teamed up with Don Kulick. Although he cannot be found on the official papers of the grant, if true, this would mean that the man who has called sex purchasers “the queerest people right now” and who has gone from defending 400,000 Swedish men’s entitlement to purchase sex to more recently celebrating disabled men who travel to Thailand purchasing sex, would be involved. It’s hard to find a more vocal defender of the sex buyer in Sweden than Don Kulick.
That this group of well-known sex industry lobbyists will assess EU’s actions against trafficking is like a bad joke. The most prominent European researchers on the topic, Julia O’Connell Davidson and Sven-Axel Månsson, with over thirty five years of study precisely on demand, are completely sidelined. The other researchers in the DemandAT-group have literally never studied prostitution, focusing instead on migration, fishery, agriculture, and border control policy – something that has wholly different mechanisms than men’s interest in purchasing sex. And who will review the project? None else than the sex industry’s own NGO: GAATW.
Is the Swedish government aware that Sweden will be represented by people who not only oppose the Swedish law on demand for prostitution but also lack relevant expertise?
Are responsible EU Commissioners aware that European taxpayers’ money has now fallen into the jaws of some of the most unscrupulous lobbyists of our time?
Years ago, back when New Labour were desperately trying to justify the invasion of Iraq, I remember the arguments being compared to a monkey falling from a tree. He clings to one branch (WMDs), but that branch breaks, so then he grasps on to the next (humanitarian principles). The branches keep on breaking but he keeps on believing that this one, the one in his hand right now, will hold firm. Crash, crash, crash. He does not learn from experience because it is not in his interests to learn. It is in his interests to cling on for as long as possible.
I’m reminded of this whenever the topic of male and female brains arises.
The belief that male and female brains are inherently different has been around for thousands of years. The same cannot be said for any proof. We know that there is another possible reason — perceived reproductive potential — for the construction of two social groups, male and female, with one dominating the other. But we don’t like to talk about that reason. It doesn’t seem a good enough justification for what men have done to women over the years. It makes men look bad. It makes women look exploited. There must have been better reasons, right?
So a whole ideology — gender — is constructed to make the case that what appears to be male dominance and female subjugation isn’t dominance and subjugation at all. Sure, ladies, it looks like we’re denying you the same freedoms we accord ourselves simply for our own benefit, but it’s not what it seems. Your brains might appear to be just as complex and unique as ours but they’re actually ladybrains, glitter-strewn and princess pink. You don’t believe that? But there is proof.
So much proof. The trouble is, said proof never stays the same.
And so, let’s take a quick tumble down the branches of the Ladybrain Tree, reason by reason (although I’m sure there are more — add your own! Everybody else does!)