TRURO – If you ask Dan Taylor, he’s concerned about prostitution and human trafficking happening just outside his door.
Taylor, a detective constable with the Truro Police Service, confirmed it’s happening within the town and calls it an issue.
“We have a residential population of escorts, they call themselves, and we have a transient population. Both groups are a concern to us,” he said. “The residential population considers themselves independent.”
Taylor was one of a group of people who participated in a presentation on prostitution and human trafficking, hosted by Simon Häggström of the Swedish National Police.
Following the presentation, Taylor said the police service has met victims as young as 15, and said there are escorts of varying ages, including in their 40’s.
“You saw the backpage ads?” he asked, referencing to a photo of a website where people list their services, in which Häggström used as an example. “Truro is the exact same.
“We sometimes see a target of at-youth risk,” he added. “It could be those in a group home scenario, or even those couch surfing.”
In August 2015, the Truro Police Service made arrests in relation to prostitution, which ended in a seven-month custodial sentence, followed by 18 months probation for a charge of procuring sexual services. In that case, the victim, said Taylor, was a 15-year-old.
Along with police officers, others attending the presentation were social workers, as well as staff at the local sexual assault centre and Department of Community Services.
Jeanne Sarson and Linda MacDonald, with Persons Against Non-State Torture, were instrumental in having Häggström present to the group.
Häggström said prostitution and human trafficking isn’t a problem in Sweden compared to other countries in Europe thanks to legislation introduced in 1999.
“To buy sex, it’s illegal, and we have a strong pimping legislation,” said Häggström. “It’s cut the prostitution rate in half.”
He said the free movement in Eastern Europe has been an issue, because people can travel for three months without having to obtain a visa.
“It’s good if you’re applying for jobs. But for organized crime and traffickers, it’s a great tool for them. They can move (their girls) from country to country.”
The officer said Sweden is a rich country, while Romania is poor, and often used Romanian examples during his presentation.
“They’re recruited there and brought to Sweden where they’re sold for prostitution,” he said.
Three years ago, Canada implemented legislation similar to what is in place in Sweden, and Häggström said three delegations visited them to study the criminal buying of sex.
“Canada is one of the countries that has a similar model, so it’s important to share our experiences.”
In Sweden, the maximum sentence for traffickers and pimps in 10 years in prison. Häggström said they have no tolerance on pimping, and there are various activities – including buying food or condoms for their girls – that is considered illegal.
When it comes to online advertisements, Häggström said it’s a problem, as a lot of servers hosting the ads are outside the country in places, such as Germany, where prostitution is legal.
“So we go for the pimp, or the trafficker. Those are the ones being charged. Those are the ones who placed the ad.”
Because of the legislation in place, Häggström said they often get blamed for exporting prostitution and human trafficking to another country, but he says it’s just the opposite, that it’s working.
“Prostitution can’t go underground,” he explained. “The buyers and sellers need to find each other.”
Because of this, Häggström said he and his colleagues monitor websites on a daily basis, however it can be tough prioritizing cases due to a lack of resources.
“Buying sex is very shameful in Sweden,” he said. “We very rarely arrest the same john again. They’re risking losing too much – their family, their job, their social networks. They’re in the media.”