Sexually exploited youths in the Swedish legal system : Conditions of victimhood

Abstract: This thesis explores how the Swedish legal system, specifically the police and district courts, understand and construct cases of human trafficking for sexual purposes and procuring with under-age victims. It draws on police investigative interviews and court decisions in 22 pronounced district court sentences, involving 36 female youths. Theoretically the thesis primarily builds on social constructionism and the sociology of childhood. Methodologically it builds on coding of forensic interviews, narrative analysis and discourse analysis.Study I explores the informativeness of 24 of the 36 adolescents when interviewed by the police. It shows that the adolescents were informative yet evasive, specifically when asked open questions. Experiences of violence and force as well as interviews conducted soon after the police intervention further contributed to evasiveness. Also evasiveness seemed intimately connected to circumstances in each unique case.Study II scrutinises the image of the ideal trafficking victim by asking how the issue of responsibility is handled when police interviews turn to prostitution. It also analyses which interactive and narrative conditions, related to agency and stake, apply for talk in this specific institutional setting. The findings suggest that in order to sort out the ‘real’ victims, the interrogator needs to pull apart the two categories ‘victim’ and ‘prostitute’ even if there may be problems with this clear-cut distinction since the categories tend to blend together. Further, in this institutional setting to talk about sex can be problematic as it may undermine the victim narrative instead creating a subject with interests.Study III explores how Swedish district courts assess the credibility of alleged victims of human trafficking for sexual purposes and the reliability of their testimonies. The findings indicate that the judges base their assessments on the Swedish Supreme Courts’ criteria of how to understand reliability and credibility but they seemed also to be influenced by extra-legal factors relating to victims’ behaviour. Further, the findings imply that the judges used the Supreme Court’s criteria to argue both for and against credibility. By so doing, their arguments supported the decision reached irrespective of how the adolescents reported or what impression they made.In brief this thesis can be said to point to a legal dilemma when law on paper is applied in practice as each unique adolescent must be recognized by the authorities as fitting the administrative category ‘victim’. When put into practice, categories are rarely neat and clear hence such categorizing becomes a phenomenon negotiated in interaction. Also, this legal context sets up limits and possibilities for the adolescents’ agency and this too can be said to have a bearing on if she is, or is not, constructed as a victim. In short, this thesis shows certain conditions of victimhood.