Alliance Sweden is an organization that is probably best known
outside of Sweden. Its spokesperson Pye Jakobsson
is in a high position in several international organizations and is often
hired as an adviser to other organizations. 1
This is because Pye Jakobsson has managed to portray Rose Alliance as
if it represented women in prostitution in Sweden.
"Us sex workers", she says
when debating prostitution. She makes it sound like she can speak for
all women in prostitution.
As tends to be the case whenever a women publicly claiming that prostitution
and pornography is what women want, she's not beeing scrutinised. The
media are usually pleased to redistribute her story of the "happy
Around the time of New Years in 2013 was probably the first time we heard
It started when the freelance journalist Kajsa Skarsgård
revealed that Rose Alliance was financially supported by the Dutch organization
Mama Cash – an organization advocating
for decriminalization of prostitution and for it to be seen as "sex
During 2011 to 2013, Rose Alliance received about 95 000 euros in financial
But that wasn't all of it. The money came indirectly from the Swedish
government, since Mama Cash received 31 million SEK from SIDA
(Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency).
Thus: the Swedish government, having criminalized sexual purchases, is
handing out money to an international organization that not only campaigns
for decriminalization, but also is financially supporting Swedish opponents
of the Swedish legislation.
NO SUPPORT FOR WOMEN IN PROSTITUTION
This revelation led to an ex-member of Rose Alliance decided to tell people
her story of how the organization actually worked.
Anna Berg (assumed name) told that she approached
Rose Alliance for support, because she wanted to meet other prostituted
women, and also find a place where she didn't have to lie about what she
did. But the organization wasn't supporting women. They had a safety guide,
and that was it, Anna explained. 3
– Rose Alliance is a political organization,
not an organization helping women, Anna told the Swedish newspaper
She also said that only a few people are running the organization.
– Rose Alliance basically is Pye Jakobsson.
ON DOUBLE SEATS?
Anna also said that Pye Jakobsson is actually not at all "one of
the girls", as she herself puts it, but rather belongs to the other
It turned out that Pye Jakobsson has been on the board for the strip club
Flirt Fashion in Stockholm since 2001.
Anna explained that Pye Jakobsson also was planning the women's schedules
and helped recruiting new girls to the club. 4
Anna's story raises a lot of questions. It is of course a very serious
matter if someone claiming to work for women's rights in sex trade is
actually working as a sex industry executive – including work in
When Pye Jakobsson was asked about Anna's testimony, she replied that
she hardly saw herself working as a boss, even if she did arrange schedules
and place new girls. But she claimed to not have actively worked in recruitment,
instead "just" having placed the new girls into their schedule.
And being on the board, she explained, was only "to
help out an old friend". She emphasized that she hadn't got
any board remuneration. To her, it therefore didn't matter that she was
on the board of a sex club that profits from using women in the sex industry.
NOT THE FIRST TIME
Regarding the recruitment issue there is one person's word against another's.
But a simple background check reveals that it is not the first time that
Pye Jakobsson has functioned as an executive in the sense of arranging
When the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet
charted the "sex clubs" of Stockholm, 15 years ago, they visited
one of them, called Erostop. There, journalist Richard Aschberg interviewed
Pye Jakobsson and wrote about her thusly:
"Pye Jakobsson, 32, handles schedules
and other things around the strippers at Erostop." 5
Pye Jakobsson's role appears to have been something of a "madame",
a woman with prior experience as a stripper, who then later does executive
work for, and is friends with, the owner – that is: the profiteer
of the sex industry.
When I write this article, a year after the reveal, Pye Jakobsson is no
longer on the board for Flirt Fashion.
Rose Alliance has participated in the Stockholm Pride parade during the last few years, claiming to be ”queer”. Prostitution being a rather extreme example of heteronormativity (the majority of all prostitution worldwide consists of men sexually exploiting women) has not stopped the Pride board from welcoming them.
OR FORCED PROSTITUTION?
But it's not just in the matter of Pye Jakobsson's background that Rose
Alliance doesn't hold up to closer scrutiny. It also goes for the basis
of their operations: all their talk about free
In public debate, Rose Alliance is sometimes confronted with tangible
facts about what women in prostitution are subjected to, every day and
worldwide. The spokespeople of Rose Alliance will then claim that they
are only talking about women who want
to be in prostitution and who enjoy
it – because, they say, there are already other laws protecting
against rape or human trafficking, for example.
But this way of dividing prostitution into voluntary or forced does not
reflect reality. To the contrary, there is a clear connection between legalized prostitution and human trafficking
– among other examples there is the fact that trafficking tends
to increase in countries where prostitution in itself is legal. 6
Futhermore, in Sweden legal demands for proof in human trafficking cases
are so difficult to meet, that in fact many cases of trafficking are sentenced
as procuring. 7 And procuring is a crime that Rose
Alliance wants to have removed.
DIFFERENT MESSAGES IN DIFFERENT CONTEXTS
Sadly, answering like I just did here means that Rose Alliance is given
the interpretative prerogative. My response was about why their reasoning
is wrong, which is based on assuming that Rose Alliance actually means
that they oppose trafficking, as they have been claiming in public debate.
But do they? In other contexts, what they say sounds completely different.
Laura María Agustín, Ph.D and
living in Malmö, is another one of the few spokespersons for Rose
Alliance. This is what she writes about women in human trafficking, that
is: women locked indoors at all times and being
moved around as the traffickers see fit:
who live inside sex establishments and rarely leave until they are moved
to another place without being consulted receives the media’s usual
attention, it being taken for granted that this represents a total loss
of freedom. In many cases, however, migrant workers prefer this situation,
for any of a number of reasons: if they don’t leave the premises
they don’t spend money; if they don’t have working papers,
they feel safer inside in a controlled situation; if someone else does
the work of finding new venues and making arrangements, they don’t
have to do it; or having come on a three-month tourist visa they want
to spend as much time as possible making money." 8
GLORIFYING HUMAN TRAFFICKING
Euphemisms such as "migrant workers"
for which "someone else does the work"
of "making arrangements",
makes it sound like something completely different than sexual exploitation
in human trafficking, where locked in women are moved from place to place
without any chance to escape.
Others in Rose Alliance are also downplaying human trafficking.
In a radio show, Pye Jakobsson talked about her background as a stripper
I worked with lots of Brazilian women. Many of them would probably be
considered victims of trafficking today, because most had been tricked
into coming to Portugal by being offered work in restaurants. Once they
arrived in Portugal, there was no restaurant, their passports were taken
away, waiting for them to pay for the flight ticket. You didn't talk about
trafficking back then, and there was a bit more room for personal interpretation
of how you felt. Some girls went to the cops, some cried and became depressed,
and some sat down and said: 'Jesus, how could I fall for this, how stupid
of me!' and then they happily kept on working. And they thought: 'When
I get back to Brazil I won't tell anyone about this, but while I'm here
I'm certainly gonna earn as much money as I can!'" 9
This extreme oppression of women, girls being tricked, robbed of their
passports, and exploited in human trafficking for sexual purposes, tranforms
into a personal "interpretation"
in Pye Jakobsson's description.
When I was doing research for this article, I discovered that Pye Jakobsson
is very evasive while responding to interviews, both about her own background
and about Rose Alliance's.
Despite the fact that a simple check confirmed that Rose Alliance was
founded in 2009/2010, Pye Jakobsson now and then states that the organization
has been around since the early 2000s.
But that goes against what she's been saying at other occasions about
her attempts to form SANS and ROSEA; that she has repeatedly failed founding
a "sex workers' organization". This is how she describes the
attempt to found one in 2004:
it didn't go that well. We thought we needed allies with us. Like, our
friends. Soon, the organization was filled with happy liberals who thought
it was great with lots of sex all the time, but the sex workers became
fewer and fewer." 10
When it comes to herself, Pye Jakobsson – both in interviews, as
a lecturer, and in debates about prostitution – describes herself
as a "sex worker". In international
lectures and interviews she has talked about prostitution as if it was
her own experience. 11
At other occasions, she has stressed that she was a stripper, not a prostitute,
she's never "sold sex". 12
In interviews she have said many times that she "stopped stripping
a few years back" – continuing to use the same words about
stopping recently despite several years passing between interviews.
LACK OF CREDIBILITY
Of course Pye Jakobsson has as much right as anyone else to talk about
prostitution no matter if she has personal experience of it or not.
The reason I write about this, is that today Pye Jakobsson is making an
international career for herself as a lecturer and as an advisor to international
organizations, including UN organs, in matters of prostitution, not stripping.
Her career is built on the image she has created for herself as the one
"speaking for the sex workers", and as a "representative
for sex workers" and as a "leader for the sex workers' organization
in Sweden", combined with the claim that society should listen more
to "sex workers".
Because of that, it matters that Pye Jakobsson is, in fact, not
a representative for women in prostitution, if she does not have such
experience. It matters that she is running an organization that is not
working to support women in prostitution, but actually is dedicated to
campaigning: propagating against the Swedish
Sex Purchase Act and for a total decriminalization of all laws regarding
prostitution. It matters that she and others in Rose Alliance claim
to make a difference between "sex work" and trafficking, but
in fact are downplaying human trafficking as well. It matters that she
is pretending that all women in Sweden with experience of prostitution
are agreeing with her, that she often hides the fact that there is another
organization for prostituted women in Sweden – PRIS
– that actually support women, both those in prostitution and those
wanting to get out of prostitution, and that sees the Swedish law as a
positive, but insufficient, marker that you do not have to suffer all
that prostition means for the victim. An organization that wants the Swedish
Sex Purchase Act to be adopted in other countries as well. 13
And most of all, it matters that Pye Jakobsson, while constructing this
image of herself, has also in practice been a part of the industry exploiting
women in sex trade.
Today, Pye Jakobsson is aiming for an international career as an expert
on prostitution and HIV prevention, the latter concerning how the world
can best prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.
One thing having contributed to this new career is that she has been cooperating
since 2012 with HIV Sverige, where she
has been employed for a study. This included Jakobsson asking about "health
and safety among sex workers". On the Rose Alliance website, they
encouraged the visiting "sex workers" to reply to an internet
questionnaire. Beside this, they interviewed a total of eight (8) women,
two (2) men (who also bought sex) and one (1) transgender person. Despite
this being far from a scientific study, Pye Jakobsson is presenting and
using it as if it was. 14
And the myth of the happy hooker seems to still be strong enough that
few even consider questioning what they are being served.
A FALSE IMAGE
In Sweden, Rose Alliance's claims about what they are and what they do
are accepted without question both by media and by cooperating organizations.
And for the common Swede Rose Alliance isn't very well known. So Kajsa
Skarsgård's revealing articles passed mostly unnoticed.
By making people believing that she is a speaker for prostituted women
and referring to Rose Alliance's claim of "organizing the Swedish
sex workers", Pye Jakobsson has instead been given international
influence. Apparently, this also goes for large international agencies
such as the UN, for which Pye Jakobsson has presented herself as an advisor.
Today, Rose Alliance is a driving force in international debate, where
they are spreading the message that the Swedish Sex Purchase Act is not
working at all. Even then, Pye Jakobsson tries to appear as a speaker
for all prostituted women in Sweden: "We
sex workers consider..."
In this way, Rose Alliance is spreading a completely false image of both
what people in general and what women with experience of prostitution
think about the Sex Purchase Act in Sweden – a law that actually
enjoys solid support among the people in Sweden.
According to four various studies over the first ten years more than 70
percent of the people in Sweden support the Sex Purchase Act, among women
80 to 90 percent. The support is also stronger among younger people of
both sexes. 15
IN WHOSE INTERESTS?
So perhaps the most important question is this: who profits from Pye Jakobsson's,
Laura Agustín's and other Rose Alliance members' campaign?
According to Pye Jakobsson herself, Rose Alliance today, aside from its
campaign against all legislation concerning prostitution, is primarily
working towards HIV prevention.
And it is via HIV prevention that UN organs such as UNAids and UN Women
have made statements on decriminalizing prostitution in all the countries
of the world. It makes you wonder.
Is HIV prevention something that the prostitution lobby has decided to
generally use in their advocacy? Are there more people like Pye Jakobsson
in international settings, meaning so-called "representatives for
sex workers" from other countries, who are running their lobby campaign
in similar ways?
And are they scrutinized as little by the media as they are here?
Translation to English: Annina Claesson
This article was first published
in Swedish in
Kvinnofronten's Internal Newsletter, no. 4, 2013.
1. Pye Jakobsson was when this article was written • a member of
the board in NSWP, the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (from 2014
she's President of NSWP) • consultant for Harm Reduction International.
• member of GCWA, the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS, advisory
group, since March 2013.
2. SWE: Kajsa Skarsgård:
Lobby för sexarbete får Sidabidrag, SIDA:s tidning Omvärlden,
3. SWE: Kajsa Skarsgård: Intern
kritik mot organisation som ska hjälpa sexsäljande kvinnor,
tidningen Dagens Arena, 13/1 2013.
4. SWE: Kajsa Skarsgård: Frontfigur
också i styrelse för strippklubb, tidningen Dagens Arena,
5. SWE: Sexklubbsägare
– och familjefar, Aftonbladet kartlägger sexklubbarna,
24 juni 2000.
6. Seo-Young Cho, Axel Dreher & Eric Neumayor: Does
Legalized Prostitution Increase Human Trafficking? World Development,
vol. 41, 2013.
7. SWE: Kajsa Wahlberg:
Lägesrapport 13. Människohandel för sexuella och andra
ändamål. Rikspolisstyrelsen 2012.
Disappearing of a Migration Category: Migrants Who Sell Sex, by Laura
Agustín.In Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Vol.32, No.1,
9. SWE: Vintersurr
på Radio 1, Pye Jakobsson, 13/12 2011. My translation.
10. SWE: Vintersurr
på Radio 1, Pye Jakobsson, 13/12 2011. My translation.
11. SWE: Carina Edlund & Pye Jakobsson:
annan horisont – sexarbete och hiv/sti-prevention ur ett peer-perspektiv,
no date given,
Conferência Internacional PREVIH, Intervenção
de Pye Jacobsson, da Rose Alliance, no Painel IV da II, 3/7 2013,
prostituée suédoise: "pénaliser le client n'est
pas la solution, 28/6 2012.
12. SWE: Äntligen
med Gert Fylking, Radio 1, 26/8 2011.
13. PRIS' goals at their website: www.nätverketpris.se/goals.html
14. Conferência Internacional PREVIH, Intervenção
de Pye Jacobsson, da Rose Alliance, no Painel IV da II, 3/7 2013.
prostituée suédoise: "pénaliser le client n'est
pas la solution, 28/6 2012.
15. SWE: Jari Kuosmanen: Tio år med lagen.
Om förhållningssätt till och erfarenheter av prostitution
i Sverige, in Prostitution
i Norden – Forskningsrapport, TemaNord 2008:604.