Prostitution and trafficking in human beings
Prostitution and human trafficking for sexual purposes receive particular attention in the Swedish government’s ten-year national strategy for the elimination of men’s violence against women. The Swedish Gender Equality Agency plays a major role in coordinating the national work against prostitution and trafficking in human beings.
In Sweden, preventing and combating prostitution and trafficking in human beings form part of the national strategy to prevent and combat men’s violence against women (2017-2026). It is also regulated by the National Action Plan against Prostitution and Trafficking in Human Beings.
Human trafficking for sexual purposes is considered one of the worst forms of men’s violence against women. Human trafficking occurs in many forms, and girls, women, boys and men fall victim to this type of crime in several different ways in Sweden.
To prevent and combat trafficking in human beings, including the demand for the purchase of sexual services, is a prioritised issue for the Swedish government. This work involves increasing the detection of cases and offering protection and support to those subjected to it.
Sexual exploitation of children, prostitution, and trafficking for all purposes, exist because of the demand of the services. The work within the field, must include prevention, focusing on decreasing the demand.
According to the Swedish Criminal Code, prostitution is when a person is buying or selling sexual services for compensation. The compensation can be money, but also goods or services, like alcohol, housing, gifts or travel.
It has been forbidden to buy sexual services in Sweden since 1999, when the Sex Purchase Act was introduced. Sweden was the first country in the world to criminalise the buying of sexual services.
Sexual exploitation of children
A child can never agree to prostitution. For minors, under 18 years, it is always considered sexual abuse.
If any form of compensation has been given, it is considered sexual exploitation. It can imply raping a child or abusing a child through the purchase of a sexual act. It can also imply sexual abuse that is being broadcast or transmitted digitally.
Sexual exploitation can take place online and offline. Children subject to this can be in Sweden or abroad. According to the convention on the rights of the child, all children have the right to be protected against all forms of violence, sexual abuse, and trafficking in human beings. Sexual exploitation constitutes a serious crime against the rights of the child.
Trafficking in human beings for all purposes
Trafficking in human beings means that offenders, through false promises or direct threats, recruit and move people to use them. When children are involved, false promises or threats are not required, to be considered as trafficking.
Trafficking in human beings often involves crossing borders, but it can also take place within one country.
It is one of the most serious forms of organised crime. It constitutes a cynical exploitation of human beings, and a serious offense against human rights. According to the UN, trafficking in human beings for all purposes constitutes the third most common criminal activity on a global level, following trade in narcotics and arms.
Trafficking in human beings abuses the right of the victim, the right to decide over his/her life and body. Millions of people in the world are subject to trafficking every year, and a third of those are children. 7 out of 10 subjected are girls and women. The majority of them are being exploited sexually.
Besides prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation, many victims of trafficking are victims of forced labour, military service, forced begging, criminal activities, trafficking in organs, or other forms of exploitation.
National Coordination Against Prostitution and Trafficking in Human Beings
The Swedish Gender Equality Agency is tasked with coordinating the activities against trafficking in human beings at a national level. The task involves developing cooperation between authorities and other actors, as well as with international actors, and assisting authorities with methodological support and capacity development.
The Agency has the authority and responsibility to act against trafficking for all purposes, including:
- sexual purposes
- removal of body organs
- military service
- forced labour
- forced begging
- criminal activity.
National support structure
Part of the national coordination at the Swedish Gender Equality Agency is the National Task Force against Prostitution and Human Trafficking. The National Task Force consists of government agencies that work against prostitution and trafficking in human beings, and serves as a strategic and operative resource for the development of the coordination of government agencies and NGOs.
The goal is to prevent prostitution and trafficking for all purposes in Sweden. An important part of the work is to improve the protection of victims and increase the prosecution of perpetrators.
A special support structure designed to assist the government agencies has been developed within this government agency framework. The support structure includes a telephone helpline +46(0)20-390 000, a return programme, and a number of regional coordinators against prostitution and trafficking. We also provide the National Referral Mechanism.
- Voluntary Return and Integration Programme
The Swedish Gender Equality Agency coordinates and develops actions to ensure that people subjected to trafficking and exploitation can return home in a safe way. The Voluntary Return and Integration Programme is managed by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Helsinki and is funded by the Swedish Gender Equality Agency. The regional coordinators are the focal point in Sweden for applications to the Voluntary Return and Integration Programme.
- Regional coordinators
The regional coordinators are employed by the social services and form part of the national coordination against prostitution and trafficking in human beings. They offer practical consultation and guidance both to individuals who seek help and to professionals.
Contact information to regional coordinators
- National Referral Mechanism
The National Referral Mechanism offers guidance for professionals and contributes to increased cross-agency cooperation. It was revised and published in 2019.
National Referral Mechanism (pdf, 5MB)
Before you go
Before you go is a campaign that informs labour migrants and displaced persons on the risks of trafficking in human beings and labour exploitation, and where they can turn to for support. The information is available in Bulgarian, English, Polish, Romanian and Ukrainian.
To you fleeing Ukraine
In times of war and conflicts there may be people who wants to take advantage of vulnerable people. This information addresses refugees from Ukraine, in Ukrainian, Russian and English, about the risks of trafficking in human beings.
Publication date: 9 June 2021
Last updated: 30 March 2023