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Police specialist slams new prostitution laws

New punishments for anyone caught trying to buy sex from a victim of people trafficking, introduced in Finland last year, could actually make it harder to catch traffickers and pimps, say experts.

Rikosylikonstaapeli Kenneth Eriksson
Detective chief sergeant Kenneth Eriksson Image: Markus Heikkilä / Yle

New laws which outlaw buying sex from a victim of human trafficking or someone who is controlled by a pimp have made it harder to catch the criminals behind people trafficking operations, according to two specialists.

Under the new punishments, introduced in summer 2015, it is the punter’s responsibility to know whether the person they are buying sex from has been trafficked or is being controlled by a pimp. There is no defence for someone claiming not to have known that the person they were buying sex from was a victim, under the new rules.

However, some experts have criticised the law as being counter-productive. Jaana Kauppinen, who runs the organisation Pro, which supports sex workers, says the new law has been a failure.

”When even the attempt to buy sex is a punishable offence, then the client has broken the law even if he turns and walks out the door and would have wanted to inform the police. The buyer no longer has the chance to look out for signs of human trafficking in those initial stages,” she says.

Prior to the new rules, someone paying for a prostitute could only be charged if they could be shown to know that the sex worker was controlled by a pimp or had been trafficked.

Informants less likely

Detective chief sergeant Kenneth Eriksson, who has worked with sex workers for almost twenty years, says that prosecuting someone who gives police information about a human trafficker is nonsensical.

“Of course there is always that risk that a client is scared of being prosecuted for visiting somewhere to buy sex. Some people could from now on keep quiet, although we do have clients calling us sometimes and passing on information, still now.”

“If a client sees a sex worker is in some way being controlled and informs police, I would go so far as to say, at least with the situation in the capital, that that client should not be prosecuted. He has brought the problem to the authorities’ attention,” Eriksson says.

Eriksson says one sign that should set off alarm bells of possible exploitation is if the sex worker does not speak any other language than their mother tongue.

Sex bought online

Eriksson says that nowadays most sex is bought online, and estimates that every day around 300 sex workers are active in the capital, with only a few selling themselves on the street. Most workers come from eastern Europe, with some from African countries. The number of Russian sex workers has dropped, as the money that can be earned in Russia is now comparable to that in Finland.

Eriksson says the economic downturn has also impacted on the sex industry, resulting in customer numbers going down.

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