Independent: Men interested in paying for sex duped into listening to harrowing true stories about trafficking
‘This publicity campaign exploits women’s experience of violence and trauma to promote the criminalisation of prostitution which in reality is making it more dangerous and difficult for women to work,’ says campaigner
The campaign, launched by a non-profit organisation called Talita which supports women who have been trafficked or exploited into prostitution, says it provides the chance to “Get in touch with experienced girls, today,” and “Real girls, no fake profiles” via a phone number.
But each name simply leads the caller to a recording of a woman who reveals she has been trafficked or abused while doing sex work. The scheme can be seen on billboards in Sweden as well as being featured in some of the Scandinavian nation’s biggest newspapers.
In one example, a woman called Abigail, who recounts her story for the campaign, speaks of the abuse she endured after being trafficked to Stockholm to work as a sex worker.
“I especially remember the encounter with the man, who I was forced to meet time and time again, he used to burn me with cigarettes and bite me so hard that I started to bleed,” she says.
While a girl called Sonia from Hungary explains how her life radically changed when she moved to Stockholm with a man.
“But once there he was transformed,” she adds. “He refused to let me go out, beat me when I did not do as he said, raped me and let other men have sex with me for money. I became more and more broken down with each passing day. The man I married had turned into a pimp. I never saw any money.”
The money the caller has paid to ring the fake call girl service is used to fund the charity. The campaign was created by a creative agency called Åkestam Holst which is known for creating a poster for Ikea which could also be used as a pregnancy test. It gave women who got positive pregnancy results a discount on a crib in a bid to help single parents and families struggling for money.
Josephine Appelqvist, the co-founder of Talita, said: “These are men from all kinds of backgrounds, cities and ages, and most of them think their actions are okay, even though it’s illegal to buy sex in Sweden. We wanted them to hear what their actions actually have contributed to. The stories, the experiences these women share, are horrific, but they need to be listened to.”
However, a leading campaign group which supports the decriminalisation of prostitution has hit out at the advertising campaign – arguing it “exploits” women’s genuine experiences of violence and bolsters discrimination sex workers routinely endure.
Niki Adams, a spokesperson for the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP), which is based in the UK, told The Independent: “This publicity campaign exploits women’s experience of violence and trauma to promote the criminalisation of prostitution which in reality is making it more dangerous and difficult for women to work.
“This approach is fundamentally flawed because demand for prostitution isn’t fuelled by men’s desire for sex but for women’s need for money. So if you want women to be able to escape violence they need money and assess to justice. And it is not true that sex workers were decriminalised under this law in Sweden which criminalises clients.
“Far from it, even this publicity campaign reports that the police raid brothels. It’s women that are terrorised by such raids, with migrant, trans and women of colour in particular then targeted for abuse and deportation.
“Services like Talita that claim to help women exit sex work but which are teeming with judgemental attitudes that reduce women to victims, just reinforce the stigma and discrimination faced by sex workers.”