Combatting the Business of Human Trafficking in the United States Through Implementation of the Nordic Model

By Josefine Blick 

Human trafficking is one of the most profitable businesses that exists in the world today. According to the International Labour Organization, human trafficking generates approximately $150.2 billion annually in illegal profit  worldwide.[1] Forced sexual exploitation accounts for $99 billion of this yearly illegal profit, and developed economies like the United States and the European Union (“EU”) account for about $26.2 billion of that number.[2] In other words, people living in the United States and in countries that are members of the EU spend $26.2 billion per year buying humans for sexual exploitation.

Human trafficking is a business, and this business is growing rapidly due to the high demand for sex slaves in Europe and the United States.[3] And, because human trafficking is in fact a business, the United States needs to treat the practice as such in order to combat it.[4] It is crucial to remember that human trafficking is an economically-driven crime, where the end goal is a large profit. This business, like any other business, is driven by supply and demand.  High demand means high profits.  And high demand, coupled with a high profit and low risks, is what keeps this business running and growing. Dr. Alexis A. Aronowitz has suggested that a cost-benefit analysis is necessary when working against the crime of trading humans.[5] Countries like the United States need to focus on increasing the risks (costs) of being in this business, and decrease the demands at the same time. Decreasing the demand, in turn, will decrease the profits (benefits) to a point where the benefits are outweighed by the risk of getting caught and adjudicated.

One way of increasing the cost and decreasing the demand is to use the so-called “Nordic Model.” According to a press release issued by the EU Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, the Nordic Model is the best way to decrease the demand.[6] This model was originally adopted in Sweden in 1999, and is approaching human trafficking as a gender inequality and human rights issue.[7] The Nordic Model focuses on criminalizing the act of buying sex, and at the same time decriminalizing the selling of sex.[8] In other words, the focus is on punishing the customer that buys access to other people’s bodies while keeping the people that are being sold safe and immune from prosecution. A research study was conducted in Sweden by the Nordic Gender Institute regarding whether the law had an actual effect on human trafficking, and the results showed that the number of males that bought sex in Sweden had decreased from 13.6% in 1996 when the law was enacted, to 7.9% in 2008.[9] The EU has recognized the success of the Nordic Model, and in 2014, the European Parliament adopted a non-binding resolution encouraging the EU countries to adopt the Nordic Model, stressing the importance of legislation that targets the demand for human trafficking, not the victims of it.[10]

Another major component to the Nordic Model—and why it has been so successful in fighting human trafficking for sexual exploitation in Sweden and other countries that have adopted similar legislation—is the action plan which includes exit strategies for the victims of human trafficking.[11] Comprehensive social services are offered to victims that are trying to get out of the sex industry,[12] including access to educational training and job programs.[13] This is a crucial part of the Nordic Model because without the necessary education and job training, many victims find themselves right back where they started and thus run the risk of being re-trafficked.

By advocating for the implementation of the Nordic Model in the United States, and truly pushing the enactment of legislation that criminalizes the buying of sex rather than the selling, there is a great chance that the United States will see similar success in the fight against human trafficking as has Sweden and other EU countries that have implemented the Nordic Model.

 

[1] Special Action Programme to Combat Forced Labour & Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work Branch, International Labour Office, Profit and Poverty: The Economics of Forced Labour 7 (2014) [hereinafter ILO Report].

[2] Id.

[3] Louise Shelly, Trafficking in Women: The Business Model Approach, 10 Brown J. World Aff. 119, 121 (2003).

[4] Alexis A. Aronowitz, The human trafficking—organized crime nexus, in Routledge Handbook of Transnational Organized Crime 217, 229 (Felia Allum et al., eds. 2012).

[5] Id.

[6] European Parliament Press Release 20140221IPR3664, Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, Punish the Client, not the Prostitute, Press Release (Feb. 26, 2014).

[7] Equality Now: A Just World for Women and Girls, What is the Nordic Model? (last visited Mar. 26, 2017), http://www.equalitynow.org/sites/default/files/Nordic%20Model%20Fact%20Sheet_0.pdf.

[8] Id.

[9] Kajsa Claude, Targeting the Sex Buyer. The Swedish Example: Stopping Prostitution and Trafficking Where it all Begins, The Swedish Institute 11 (2010).

[10] European Parliament Press Release 20140221IPR3664, Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, Punish the Client, not the Prostitute, Press Release (Feb. 26, 2014).

[11] Equality Now: A Just World for Women and Girls, What is the Nordic Model? (last visited Mar. 26, 2017), http://www.equalitynow.org/sites/default/files/Nordic%20Model%20Fact%20Sheet_0.pdf.

[12] Id.

[13] See Claude, supra note 9 at 31.