Don’t let the silence speak!

Don’t let the silence speak is a campaign encouraging boys and men to speak up against friends and colleagues that talk about exploiting others sexually.

Three boys discussing in kitchen.

To stop sexual exploitation, we need to discourage the demand. In Sweden, prostitution and sexual exploitation is considered part of men's violence against women. Purchasing sex has been criminalised since 1999 and in 2022 the penalty was increased.

Since 2018 Sweden also has a sexual offence legislation based on the concept of consent. Despite this, one out of ten men in Sweden has, at some point in their life, paid for "sexual services". The same numbers are seen among boys and young men.

Focusing on the social consequences

Most of the men being caught seems to be aware that it’s illegal and they show a lack of empathy for the woman being exploited. We can therefore assume that targeting the sex buyers with traditional awareness raising campaigns will show a lack of effect. What men exploiting others sexually do seem to be bothered about are rather the social consequences, that others will find out, or that it will affect their relationships or their job.

Asking the bystander to react

The Gender Equality Agency therefore developed a campaign based on a bystander approach. The idea is to strengthen the nine out of ten men that didn’t "buy sex" and that already find it wrong, but that might not have considered why it is important to speak up about it. These men are easier to nudge into behavioural change, and thereby impact the social och cultural norms around sexual exploitation.

In this way the campaign addresses research-based risk factors for sexual violence and human trafficking. It also includes components to both increase knowledge, challenge attitudes and encourage action (behaviours). 

Campaign activities that reach both boys and men

The campaign includes two different videos and campaign sites – one targeting boys and young men, the other targeting adult men. The campaign was advertised in a variety of channels during the autumn of 2023 – in social media and cinemas as well as on YouTube and streaming services.

The message was: "If someone close to you talks about buying sex – speak up! Consent isn't something you can trade or pay for. Don’t let the silence speak! Speak up, and others will have the courage to do the same."

The campaign websites include information on why it is important to speak up, seven tangible tips on what to say or how to intervene (including arguments), FAQ on consent and prostitution, as well as contact details to organisations and services offering support to those exploiting others or those being exploited. 

Tools engaging young people 

In addition to the campaign the Swedish Gender Equality Agency published a knowledge overview as well as a brochure on sexual exploitation of children and youth. The agency also developed a pedagogical guide on how to use the campaign movie as a discussion starter in a group of young people to talk about consent, sexual exploitation and ways to be an active bystander.  

The campaign will be further developed, and hopefully translated into English, in 2024. 

More information

For more information, please contact the Swedish National Coordination Against Prostitution and Trafficking in Human Beings:

Prostitution and human trafficking

Publication date: 28 May 2024

Last updated: 28 May 2024