General information: situation on trafficking in human beings
Sweden is mainly a country of destination in terms of trafficking in human beings, mainly for the purposes of sexual exploitation, forced labour, forced criminality and forced begging.
Trafficking in human beings, procuring, the purchase of a sexual service and the trafficking in children under 18 years of age for different purposes are prioritised areas of prevention and intervention in Sweden. Prostitution and human trafficking for sexual purposes are considered human rights violations and breaches of Swedish gender equality policies.
The annual number of cases of trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation has been constant the past three years. Since coming into force on 1 January 1999, approximatively 10 500 cases have been reported under the act prohibiting the purchase of a sexual service.
The annual number of cases of labour trafficking has been relatively constant the past four years and trafficking for forced begging has constantly decreased since 2017. The most commonly identified form of trafficking of children is for the purpose of sexual exploitation, but some children are also exploited for forced labour, criminality or begging. Trafficking for forced criminality involving children under 18 years of age has witnessed a minor increase during the past two years.
Institutional, legal and policy framework
Swedish Police Authority - National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings
In 1997, Sweden was the first country in the European Union to appoint an independent National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings, placed at the Swedish Police Authority, following a joint declaration, the Hague Declaration, of the European Union also in 1997. This Declaration recommends that all EU countries states appoint National Rapporteurs, who are “to report to governments on the scale, the prevention, and combating of trafficking in women.
The National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings investigates, monitors and analyses the character, scope and scale of prostitution and trafficking in human beings for all forms of exploitation to, within and from Sweden. The National Rapporteur publishes annual reports with comprehensive recommendations to the Government on the prevention and combat of trafficking in human beings. The 21st annual report for the year 2019 was released in November 2020. Under the Regulation (2014:1102) with instruction for the Swedish Police Authority, the Police Authority is tasked with being the National Rapporteur on issues relating to human trafficking.
Swedish Police Authority - regional anti-trafficking groups
Investigations of human trafficking crimes are prioritised in the operational policy of the Swedish Police Authority.
Operational activities to combat and prevent human trafficking and related crimes are primarily conducted at the regional level. In five of the seven Police Regions, there are special groups working to combat human trafficking. In most Police Regions, action plans have been developed and adopted to strengthen the work to combat human trafficking. Special contact persons in the seven police regions report data and other information regularly to the National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings to include them in the annual progress reports.
Swedish Prosecution Agency - National unit against organised crime
The National Unit against organised crime investigates cross-border crime and organised or other forms of serious crime at national level, as well as specific offences such as war crimes and human rights offences. The most common types of crime investigated by the unit are cross-border drug crime and human trafficking.
The Gender Equality Agency as the National Coordinating Mechanism
The Gender Equality Agency, which was established in 2018, has the mandate to “contribute to the strategic, coherent and long-term governance and effective implementation of the national gender equality policies and strategies.”
The mandate of the Gender Equality Agency also includes the responsibility to analyse, follow-up, coordinate, produce knowledge and give support in order to implement the national gender equality policy objectives as set out in the National Strategy on Gender Equality. To enhance efficiency and coordination on the long-term, and to counteract fragmentation, the Gender Equality Agency has the responsibility for the coordination of the work to prevent and eliminate prostitution and trafficking in human beings for sexual and other purposes, and the national Victim Voluntary Return Project for victims of all forms of human trafficking.
The National Task Force against Prostitution and Human Trafficking (NMT)
The National Task Force against Prostitution and Human Trafficking (NMT) is coordinated by the Swedish Gender Equality Agency and consists of governmental authorities working against prostitution and human trafficking.
The Swedish Gender Equality Agency´s duties include coordinating the NMT. In addition to the Swedish Gender Equality Agency, the NMT includes:
- the Swedish Police Authority
- the Swedish Migration Agency
- the Swedish Prosecution Authority
- the Swedish Work Environment Authority
- the Swedish Tax Agency
- representatives from social services (regional coordinators and specialised clinics)
- members of the healthcare sector
The mission of the NMT is to strengthen the efforts to combat prostitution and human trafficking and to develop and streamline collaboration in the efforts to combat trafficking in human beings.
National Referral Mechanism
In 2016, Sweden established a National Referral Mechanism (NRM) to improve referral as well as increase the protection and assistance of victims of trafficking.
The NRM is based on a manual, which outlines the responsibilities of each authority regarding the referral of victims of human trafficking. The manual is divided into six steps, aimed to support professionals and NGOs when they have identified a victim of human trafficking. Assistance to victims is provided directly by social services in the municipalities. In addition, NGOs can assist victims in collaboration with municipalities, or directly and via the Support Programme.
Regional coordinators – special victim services
Regional coordinators - social workers with special competence, employed by municipal social services agencies in the seven police regions, support local actors in cases involving trafficking in human beings and related crimes.
Regional coordinators are an important part of the support and protection process to assist victims of human trafficking. They enhance the collaboration between professionals that encounter cases involving trafficking in human beings in their daily work. The regional coordinators are financed through the Gender Equality Agency in collaboration with certain municipalities and County Administrative Boards.
The regional coordinators have the following areas of responsibility:
- They assist public authorities, such as the police and municipal social services, by providing support and expertise in human trafficking cases.
- They assist victims of human trafficking and ensure that they receive the protection and support they are entitled to throughout the entire judicial process.
- They coordinate inter-agency support initiatives, e.g. between social services, the Swedish Migration Board, health and medical care providers, police and sheltered accommodations, and provide support and make decisions when victims apply to take part in the Victim Safe Return Program.
- They act as a link to the national efforts to prevent and combat trafficking in human beings.
National Support Program for Victims of Human Trafficking
The Civil Society Platform offers a National Support Programme (NSP) to complement the support offered by public authorities by providing a formal support and protection process.
Only NSP certified agencies and sheltered accommodations can apply for a vulnerable person to be granted access to the programme. When granted, the agency involved can apply for financing of the support measures in cases where authorities do not provide financial support.
Support is individually adapted to the needs of the victim with the aim to provide an individual with an improved living situation. NSP provide financial support for a limited number of days, e.g. 30 days - equivalent to a reflection period in cases where no police report has been filed with the associated reflection period, with the possibility of an extension for 90 days. A child allowance may be provided as needed, along with certain allowances which are granted to meet additional needs. If the Victim Safe Return Programme is not an option, the NSP can provide supplementary integration efforts, or attempt to arrange return through their own contacts.
Assisted voluntary return and reintegration for victims of trafficking and foreign citizens in Sweden
Since 2012, individuals, who are victims of human trafficking, regardless of purpose, are offered to participate in the repatriation programme of the International Organization for Migration for voluntary return to their home country. The programme is aimed at identified and probable victims of human trafficking and is funded by the Gender Equality Agency. The support, based on individual needs, may involve counselling in Sweden and psychosocial support, as well as protection and assistance for reintegration after arrival in the country of origin.
The regional coordinators often encounter men, who purchase sexual services, who have exploited victims of trafficking and prostitution, and who have been reported by the police for violating the Swedish legislation that prohibits the purchase of a sexual service.
In collaboration with local social services-based programs individuals who purchase sexual services are offered treatment/counselling with the purpose of making them reconsider their actions and change their behaviour. The offers of counselling are not linked to the criminal process.
Multi-agency initiative against trafficking in human beings
A multi-agency initiative to combat organised crime is in place since 1 July 2009, and coordinated by the Police Authority since January 2015.
The initiative was launched after a government decision to commission the then National Police Board to coordinate and ensure effective and sustained operations to combat organised crime, which includes trafficking in human beings. Authorities and organisations who also participate in this initiative are the:
- Swedish Prosecution Authority
- Swedish Economic Crime Authority
- Swedish Security Service
- Swedish Tax Agency
- Swedish Prison and Probation Authority
- Swedish Enforcement Authority
- Coast Guard
- Migration Agency
- Social Insurance Agency
- Public Employment Service
The focus is on combating serious organised crime, including trafficking in human beings, that threatens society, as well as on combating organised crime in the local community with focus on vulnerable geographic areas. Trafficking in human beings is targeted at the local level through local and regional multi-agency cooperation. Such actions may include joint inspections of certain enterprises, such as body care facilities, are carried out where reports or intelligence have revealed suspicions of prostitution and/or trafficking in human beings for various purposes.
Regional liaison groups
Seven regional liaison groups manage the multi-agency regional and local operations. The various institutions also develop trainings, handle security issues, analysis of the need for methodological support, legal reform, resource issues and other practical matters that concern interagency cooperation.
Swedish Work Environment Agency
The health and safety inspectors at the Swedish Work Environment Agency take part in joint controls to counter fraud, regulatory violations and crimes involving breaches of labour laws and employment standards legislation. In 2018, more than 1 100 joint controls were carried out, with over 1 800 joint controls by mid-2019. These joint controls resulted in the discovery of a number of victims of human trafficking for different purposes.
The Swedish NGO Platform Civil Society against Human Trafficking
The Swedish Platform Civil Society against Human Trafficking brings together approximately twenty different non-governmental organisations. These organisations often encounter victims and work to support victims of human trafficking and victims of related forms of exploitation. Support may entail offering safe housing, legal advice, interpretation and counselling, and outreach work.
Trafficking in human beings
Trafficking in human beings is, by its nature, a crime against the person and it is dealt with in Chapter 4 of the Swedish Penal Code on crimes against liberty and peace. It established that a person who, in cases other than those referred to in Section 1, by:
- unlawful coercion
- exploitation of another person’s vulnerable situation that severely restricts that person’s alternatives
- other such improper means that severely restrict another person’s alternatives
recruits, transports, transfers, harbours or receives a person in order for that person to be exploited for sexual purposes, the removal of organs, military service, forced labour or some other activity in a situation that involves distress for that person is guilty of trafficking in human beings and is sentenced to imprisonment for at least two and at most ten years.
A person who commits an act referred to in the first paragraph against a person who has not attained eighteen years of age is guilty of trafficking in human beings, even if none of the improper means described in that paragraph was used. This also applies if the person who commits such an act did not have intent but was negligent regarding the circumstance that the other person had not attained eighteen years of age.
If an offence referred to in the first or second paragraph is less serious, the sentence is imprisonment for at least six months and at most four years.
In cases where the victim is under 18, the perpetrator will be convicted of trafficking in human beings even if no improper means have been used in order to carry out the crime. Common to the circumstances mentioned in the provision is that they, in various ways, intend to control the victim’s free and true will, regardless of the intended exploitation.
According to chapter 6 of the Swedish Penal Code, anyone who encourages or improperly economically exploits a person having casual sexual relations in return for payment is sentenced for procuring to a term of imprisonment of at most four years.
If a person who has leased an apartment with a right of usage becomes aware that the apartment is being used entirely or to a significant degree for casual sexual relations in return for payment and does not do what may reasonably be expected in order to bring an end to the lease, and if this activity continues or is resumed in the apartment, then he or she shall be regarded as having promoted the activity and shall be sentenced for culpability in compliance with paragraph 1.
If a crime as referred to in paragraph 1 or 2 is regarded as grievous, then the perpetrator shall be convicted of aggravated procuring and sentenced to a term of imprisonment of a minimum of two and a maximum of ten years. When considering whether or not the crime is grievous, special attention shall be paid to whether the activity was conducted on a large scale, entailed significant financial gain or involved the ruthless exploitation of another person.
Culpability for procuring rests with the person, who promotes or exploits the fact that another person has more than one casual sexual relationship in return for remuneration. The act of procuring is aggravated if the crime relates to an activity that was carried out on a large scale, has resulted in considerable gain or involved ruthless exploitation. A crime of procuring may also be considered to be aggravated if it involves aspects of trafficking in human beings and the transportation of girls and women to Sweden from other countries for the purposes of prostitution.
Prohibition of the purchase of a sexual service
On 1 January 1999, as the first country in the world, Sweden passed legislation that prohibits the purchase of a sexual service. The legislation was later incorporated into the Penal Code as a criminal law offence (Chapter 6), with the following wording:
A person who, in other cases than previously stated in this chapter, obtains a casual sexual relation in exchange for payment shall be sentenced for the purchase of a sexual service to a fine or imprisonment for at the most one year.
What is stated in the first paragraph also applies if the payment was promised or made by someone else.
The offence applies to all forms of sexual services, whether they are purchased on the street, in apartment brothels, in a hotel or a massage parlour, in someone’s home, or in other similar circumstances. Attempts to purchase a sexual service are also punishable under the criminal law provision.
The offence also criminalises the act by a third person or group of individuals, who purchase a sexual service for someone else. This situation can, for instance, occur when a sexual service is offered as a gift to a future groom in the context of a stag party, or when businesses offer a sexual service as a business benefit for male business associates.
On 1 July 2011, amendments to the offence came into force. The amendments included an increase in the maximum sentence from six months to one year in prison.
Exploitation of a child under 18 years of age through the purchase of a sexual act
Chapter 6.9 of the Swedish Penal Code establishes that:
Someone who, in a case other than as intended previously in this chapter, induces a child below the age of eighteen to carry out or endure a sexual act in return for remuneration shall be sentenced for the exploitation of a child through the purchase of a sexual act to a custodial sentence of a maximum of four years.
What has been stated in paragraph 1 also applies even if the remuneration has been promised or given by someone else.
New rape legislation applicable to trafficking in human beings
On July 1, 2018, new rape legislation came into force based on consent/voluntary participation in a sexual act, set out in chapter 6 of the Swedish Penal Code. The amendment to the legislation also includes a new offence – “grossly negligent rape” (“oaktsam våldtäkt”), which applies to certain serious sexual crimes.
It is no longer necessary to prove that the perpetrator used violence, threats, coercion against the victim, or that he abused the particular vulnerability of the victim, to get a conviction. It is also no longer required that the person, who carried out the sexual act is the same person as the one, who carried out the violence, threatened or coerced the complainant.
A perpetrator, who carries out a sexual act against a person, who does not participate voluntarily due to violence, threats or coercion, or who, for some reason, is in a particularly vulnerable situation, can be convicted of rape, sexual assault and for grossly negligent forms of this crime, if the perpetrator had knowledge or intent, or was grossly negligent as to whether the complainant participated in intercourse or in any other sexual act equivalent in seriousness to intercourse voluntarily.
This extended criminal liability can also be applied to human trafficking for the purpose of prostitution.
A person can never be considered to have participated voluntarily if the perpetrator, for example, improperly exploit that a person is in a particularly vulnerable position or circumstance. This means that an express or implicit decision to take part in a sexual act is only voluntary if the person is capable of expressing her own will. Being in a particularly vulnerable situation voids fully the possibility of voluntary participation. A person may, at any time, regret her or his decision to participate in a sexual act. Importantly, this also applies when the person has been paid for a sexual service prior to the sexual act.
Hence, a prostitution user can be sentenced for any of the above mentioned offences, including grossly negligent rape instead of or, importantly, in addition to the purchase of a sexual service.
New legislation: Human exploitation
In July 2018, a new criminal offence of “human exploitation” came into force (Swedish Penal Code, chapter 4: On offences against liberty and peace, section 1b):
A person, who, by coercion, deception or exploitation of another person’s position of dependence, defencelessness or difficult situation, exploits another person in forced labour, labour under clearly unreasonable conditions or through begging is guilty of human exploitation, and can be sentenced to a prison term of, at the most, four years.
A person, who commits such an act against a person, who has not attained eighteen years of age, is held responsible even if no unlawful coercion, deception or exploitation of another person’s position of dependence, defencelessness or difficult situation took place.
This also applies if the person, who commits such an act, did not have intent but was negligent regarding the circumstance that the other person had not attained eighteen years of age.
The Aliens Act
The Aliens Act regulates temporary residence permits under its chapter 5(2005:716):
A temporary residence permit may be granted, at the request of the leader of the preliminary investigation, to an alien who has been living here, if this is required in order for a preliminary investigation or main hearing to be held in the criminal case. A temporary residence permit for a minimum of six months shall be given at the request of the leader of the preliminary investigation to an alien who is living here if:
1. this is required in order for a preliminary investigation or main hearing to be held in the criminal case,
2. the alien in question has clearly displayed a willingness to cooperate with the criminal investigation authorities,
3. the alien has broken off all contacts with the persons who are suspected of a crime that is the subject of the preliminary investigation, and
4. considerations of public order and safety do not require that the permit should not be granted.
In order to make it easier for perpetrators to be brought to trial, a provision granting temporary residence permits for foreign witnesses and victims was introduced into the Aliens’ Act in 2005 where this is considered justified, in order to carry out a preliminary investigation and main hearing in the criminal case.
On 1 July 2007, the provision in the Aliens Act was amended in order to harmonise with an EU Directive on the victims of trafficking in human beings. Witnesses are now required to cooperate with the criminal investigation authorities, and to break off all links with the individuals, who are suspected of crimes. At the request of the prosecutor that leads the preliminary investigation, a residence permit for thirty days can be issued if the witness wants time for reflection in order to recover and to make a decision as to whether she or he wishes to cooperate with the criminal investigation authorities.
If the alien wishes to have some time for consideration in order to recover and to make a decision as to whether he or she wishes to cooperate with the criminal investigation authorities, then a temporary thirty-day residence permit will be issued at the request of the leader of the preliminary investigation, as long as the conditions as stated in items 1 and 4 of paragraph 1 have been fulfilled.
A residence permit issued in pursuance of paragraph 1 may be extended, if so requested by the leader of the preliminary investigation, and if the conditions stated therein are still fulfilled. A residence permit issued in accordance with paragraph 2 may be extended, if so requested by the director of the preliminary investigation if, for particular reasons, there is a need for a longer period of consideration and the conditions as stated in items 1 and 4 of paragraph 1 are still fulfilled.
Policy framework – Prostitutions and trafficking in human beings for different purposes
National action plan to combat prostitution and trafficking in human beings (2018)
In February 2018, the government released a national action plan, which incorporates as central the principles of gender equality, ending male violence against women, and ensuring equal opportunities for women and men, and their right to bodily integrity. The national action plan is based on Sweden’s international human rights obligations under the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination of Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child with a focus on the best interest of the child in the development and implementation of the action plan.
The action plan includes 38 separate measures in eight priority areas involving ten public authorities:
1. Enhanced coordination between agencies and other stakeholders
2. Strengthened prevention
3. Improved detection of prostitution and human trafficking
4. Legislative measures
5. Stronger protection and support
6. More effective law enforcement
7. Greater knowledge and methodological development
8. Increased international cooperation
The national action plan is not accompanied by any earmarked funding.
National strategy against men’s violence against women (2017-2026)
In January 2017, the government launched a national, feminist strategy to prevent and combat men’s violence against women, combined with a comprehensive program of measures, and a focus on capacity building and collaboration between stakeholders.
The underlying presumption of the strategy is that prostitution and trafficking in human beings for sexual purposes are forms of men’s violence against women and girls, with the same root cause; systemic power differences between men and women in society.
Measures directed toward the prevention and elimination of prostitution and trafficking in human beings for sexual purposes have yet to be presented.
Package of measures for future work to prevent and combat men’s violence against women (2021)
In June 2021, the government presented a package of measures for future work to prevent and combat men’s violence against women. The package includes measures to prevent men’s violence against women, support and protection for victims, and stricter legislation against perpetrators. The package contains 40 action points; several that pertain to the prevention and combat of prostitution and trafficking in human beings for sexual purposes, including:
- Strengthening the support and protection of victims of prostitution and trafficking in human beings for sexual purposes, including through the collaboration with civil society, and, in line with international obligations, ensuring that those victims that intend to return to their countries of origin are granted safe return.
- The Crime Prevention Council is tasked to investigate and analyse the benefits of allowing individuals that are subjected to the purchase of a sexual service standing as complainants.
Cross-border cooperation to address trafficking in human beings
International police work against human trafficking is conducted primarily within the framework of Europol cooperation and the EU's multidisciplinary platform against criminal threats – EMPACT, but also within Interpol.
EMPACT is the EU model for multidisciplinary cooperation against serious and organised crime. It is a cooperative effort between EU law enforcement and other agencies and law enforcement authorities in countries that are members of the EU and other associated countries such as Norway, Iceland and Switzerland. In Sweden, in addition to the Swedish Police Authority, the Swedish Customs and the Swedish Economic Crime Authority also participate.
The National Rapporteur on matters relating to human trafficking and representatives from the National Operations Department Intelligence Unit have so far participated in three joint EMPACT anti-trafficking operations covering the entire EU.
The first operational effort against trafficking in human beings through EMPACT in Sweden, involved a joint operation in collaboration with the Swedish Work Environment Authority with a focus on forced labour and compulsory labour exploitation. The second focused on the exploitation of children. The third was aimed at initiatives combatting sexual exploitation. Both special efforts saw significant success.
Currently, the National Operations Department is involved in EMPACT Vietnam and EMPACT Etutu.
- Annual reports from the National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings
- Swedish Laws, Policies and Interventions on Prostitution and Trafficking in Human Beings: A Comprehensive Overview
Other relevant reports
- National Task Force against Prostitution and Human Trafficking (NMT) has a webpage with all major publications on trafficking in human beings from Swedish public authorities
- Report with data from the Swedish Platform Civil Society Against Human Trafficking (2020)
Relevant links to national authorities, institutions websites and other relevant contacts
Nongovernmental organisations providing victim support
ECPAT Sweden runs a hotline, which receives anonymous reports from the public and from hotlines in other countries via INHOPE – an umbrella organization for hotlines working to combat online sexual abuse of children. The reports may concern child sexual abuse material, trafficking in children for sexual purposes and offenders that travel to other countries with the purpose to sexually abuse children.
Safe Havens Trafficking center
Locations: Stockholm and Malmö
Area of programs: Drop-in center for victims of trafficking to access legal and social support to obtain rights and/or enter the Swedish national support system.
A preventive program for women in Thai-massage parlours to address their labour and human rights. To strengthen and give capacity to empower and equip them with life and leadership skills to report requests for sexual services.
The Helsingborg Model
A multidisciplinary approach to how a city/municipality can cooperate and network to prevent, detect and react against prostitution and human trafficking. The project is currently being documented and evaluated, so that it can be replicated in other cities in Sweden.
Safe housing for victims of all forms of trafficking in human beings
The Salvation Army in Stockholm and Jönköping-region is currently preparing to scale up safe accommodations for victims of all forms of trafficking to be able to receive larger groups for support. Pilot cases are received during 2021 with support from two experienced TSA-safe houses.
Talita is a non-profit organisation offering both emergency and long term support to women who have been exploited in prostitution, pornography or human trafficking for sexual purposes. The organisation uses a method for rehabilitation that consists of safe housing, trauma therapy, education, planning for the future, transition to independent living (studies/work) and integration into society. Talita operates in Sweden, Mongolia and Romania.
The Swedish Police Authority (Polismyndigheten) also appointed National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings
The mandate of the Swedish Police Authority is described in the Police Act (1984:387). Among other things, it states that the police shall prevent crime, monitor public order and safety, conduct reconnaissance and carry out criminal investigations.
The Swedish Prosecution Authority (Åklagarmyndigheten)
The Swedish Gender Equality Agency (Jämställdhetsmyndigheten)
To enhance efficiency and coordination in the long-term. and to counteract fragmentation. It is also responsible for the coordination of the work to prevent and eliminate prostitution and trafficking in human beings for sexual purposes, and the national Victim Voluntary Return Project for victims of all forms of human trafficking previously held by the County Administration Board of Stockholm, which has been transferred to the Gender Equality Agency.
The Swedish Crime Victim Compensation and Support Authority (Brottsoffermyndigheten)
The Swedish Crime Victim Compensation and Support Authority (Brottsoffermyndigheten) is subordinate to the Ministry of Justice and led by a Director-General appointed by the Government. Its overall aim is to look after the rights of all crime victims and to draw public attention to their needs and interests.
The Swedish Crime Prevention Council