Activist Spotlight: Pye Jakobsson, Co-Founder of Rose Alliance, Sweden, and President of The Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP)

18/03/2014 15:29 | Updated 17 May 2014



Since the mid-1990s, Pye Jakobsson from Stockholm, Sweden, has been a sex workers' rights activist and from the 1980s, she has been involved in HIV activism. Her focus is advocating for the human rights of marginalised groups and she achieves this by working with a number of organisations sharing those goals.

Pye is also a former sex worker with 24 years experience in various sectors of the sex industry and in numerous countries. Presently, she is taking a break from sex work while working in HIV-prevention.

Her current roles include Project Manager at Hiv-Sverige/HIV-Sweden, Co-Founder and Coordinator at Rose Alliance, an NGO by and for current and former sex and erotic workers in Sweden, and President of The Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP), which advocates for rights based health and social services, freedom from abuse and discrimination, and self determination for sex workers.

She helped set up the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers (ICRSE), one of the European networks of sex workers, sex worker organisations and allies that raise awareness of the human rights issues faced by sex workers.

Additionally, Pye is on the advisory board of the Global Coalition on Women and Aids (GCWA), and she is a member of INPUD (the International Network of People who Use Drugs) and she has a deep understanding and empathy for fellow sex workers who use drugs, as I was when I was in the sex trade, and like Pye, I share her concern for their rights.

"One of my main passions has always been around sex workers who use drugs, the double stigma and extreme prejudice towards that group is something I have experience of first-hand and I will always challenge the simplified explanations of why sex workers use drugs or why drug users sell sex." - Pye Jakobsson

A truly prolific activist, Pye is also a consultant for Harm Reduction International (HRI). She wrote the most poignant foreword to the HRI 2013 publication "When sex work and drug use overlap: considerations for advocacy and practice", which resonated powerfully with me as someone who has lived with the stigma and discrimination associated with selling sex as well as being a drug user, or my in case, a drug addict, as my drug taking was not controlled when I was using intravenously, and added to that, for me there is also the additional stigma and discrimination of suffering mental illnesses. Pye has deep insight into these issues faced, how they overlap, how that impacts our self-esteem, security, sense of belonging and potential feelings of alienation and not fitting in.

Following the European Parliament's vote in favour of the criminalisation of the purchase of sex in February and the same recommendation made in "Shifting the Burden", the report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade, Pye's voice deserves to be central in these discussions.

A resilient, focused, and dedicated critic of the Swedish model criminalising the clients of sex workers, Pye speaks out on the issues she has experienced and witnessed first-hand in Sweden. Most recently she took part in the discussion about the Swedish model on BBC Radio 4 - Woman's Hour, making extremely valid and highly concerning points, such as:

  • Centralising the voices of current sex workers and respecting diverse experiences and not discounting people by deeming them not representative as a silencing tactic.
  • There is very little knowledge of the outcomes of the law with the exception of a decrease in street sex workers, though this has now risen.
  • Regarding indoor sex workers, Pye has noted stigma has increased. The state agrees with this, but they see the increase in stigma of sex workers as a positive outcome.
  • On discussing the purported reduction in sex trafficking, Pye confirmed there is no proof of fewer clients and stated in Sweden they have the highest prices in Europe for sex work.
  • Countering claims of a reduction in murders of sex workers in Sweden, Pye exposed this is as a version of the truth, as there have been no murders of sex workers by clients in over 30-40 years, so the law criminalising the purchase of sex has not impacted this.
  • During the interview the murder of Petite Jasmine was discussed, who was a very dear friend of Pye's. The stigma created by the law led the Swedish authorities to remove custody of Petite Jasmine's children from her purely because she sold sex and placed them with the father, who was known to be violent. Offered no protection by the Swedish authorities, in 2013, Petite Jasmine was murdered by her ex-husband. Petite Jasmine's activism was dedicated to fighting against the Swedish model and it is upsetting to Pye when her experience is used by others to promote the model she detested and that stole her children and ultimately her life.

"Unfortunately a lot of my activism over the last decade has been against the "Swedish Model", not out of choice I can assure but out of necessity. I am so sick of talking about that stigma-enhancing piece of sh*t of a law but as long as Sweden is trying to promote it internationally I will continue to fight it. I have also worked really hard to establish a movement in Sweden, always a challenge and even more so in the current political environment. But I'm proud to say that we now have a really lively and great organisation, Rose Alliance." - Pye Jakobsson

Although my experience of selling sex was not positive as Pye's experience has been, the affinity I feel with her and our shared beliefs and convictions for human rights for sex workers, draws me more strongly to her and her activism from her heart with passion, care and concern for those she advocates for, far more than the many women I know and care for whose experience of prostitution is more in line with the trauma I experienced, but whose advocacy does not seek to meet the needs nor listen to the voices of current sex workers.

I am grateful to know other women formerly in prostitution, such as Jes Richardson and Meg Munoz, who share similar experiences to mine of being in the sex trade and Pye's approach to advocacy, who also believe decriminalisation is the best legislation for sex workers and sex trafficking victims. It is imperative to state that decriminalisation of consensual adult sex work does absolutely not decriminalise sex trafficking. There are laws in place to ensure this crime is punished, but most countries would benefit from re-evaluating and strengthening these laws, whilst ensuring they do not encroach on sex workers' rights, but encourage working with sex workers who are often better placed than law enforcement to identify and assist sex trafficking victims.

Pye and I have been discussing how the sex workers' rights and anti-sex trafficking movements could better achieve their aims working together, which is something I have also recently explored with Jes Richardson, a sex trafficking survivor, former sex worker and anti-sex trafficking and sex workers' rights activist who managed to escape her trafficker with the help of a sex worker, and Meg Munoz, a former sex worker, trafficking survivor, ally and rights advocate.

"I am concerned with labour exploitation in general. I have my doubts regarding if the trafficking terminology is really helpful as it conflates migration, sex work, bonded labour and slavery into something that is way too diverse experiences to be explained within the ideology that is often behind anti-trafficking efforts. I really do think that the framework of labour rights is much more useful here as it leaves room for a variety of scenarios. Without a clear distinction between sex work and forced labour we can never really address the exploitation that happens in the sex industry as well as in other industries." - Pye Jakobsson

To read my interview with Pye Jakobsson on the advantages of the sex workers' rights and anti-sex trafficking movements working together click here.