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More on the effects of the Norwegian sex purchase ban

In this post on the effect of the sex purchase ban in Norway, I promised to return to the 2010 Annual Report of the Pro Centre. The Pro Centre is an Oslo-based agency which acts as both a national resource centre on prostitution and a health and social services provider to sex workers. You can read a full description of the Pro Centre’s remit here.

The Report is here. Unfortunately, it’s all in Norwegian, so I need to start off with a couple disclaimers. First, what follows in this post is a Google Translate job, and I can’t be sure Google got everything right. Second, my attempts to clean up Google’s translations may not be strictly accurate; this should not be seen as an absolutely authoritative translation. Finally, on many pages there were whole lines that turned into gibberish when C&P’d. If the context suggested that a gibberish line might relate to the sex purchase ban I retyped it myself for translation, but if it didn’t, I skipped it. Thus it’s possible that I have inadvertently omitted some relevant elements of the report.

All that said, there was enough repetition of the key points that I think it’s extremely unlikely that what follows actually misrepresents the report in any significant way. I will post any needed corrections, if an actual Norwegian speaker can bring them to my attention.

Now then. The report is broken down into different sections that cover the different areas the Centre works in. Each section has a different author, and not all of them have anything to say about the law. Among those who do, however, there doesn’t appear to be any disagreement about the law’s effects. The issues that they raise are grouped together below.

Have sex workers left the industry because of the law?

I’ll start off with this one, so yous don’t think I’m cherry-picking only the comments that criticise the law. This is, in fact, an area in which the law might be said to have had some positive effect. The Centre does believe that at least some sex workers have chosen to leave the trade; this is stated on page 15.

But there’s a pretty big caveat: these are indoor, Norwegian workers, and what it says about them is:

These women often have more options than prostitution and grab them now.

This seems to vindicate one of the points that I made in this post: the sex workers who can leave when their industry is criminalised are precisely the ones who always could leave – that is, not the trapped and desperate ones that abolitionists are concerned with.

As for the outdoor Norwegian workers, who have considerably fewer options? Many have disappeared from the street – but the report challenges assumptions that this means they’ve quit sex work:

Many have found other ways to get in touch with customers…Many have gained regular customers as they make agreements by mobile phone instead of meeting them in a prostitution district. (page 78)

Similarly, on page 88 it says that many sex workers are simply no longer operating

in the centre of town. Pro Centre are told that much of the drug trade and prostitution is happening in neighbourhoods, in people’s homes and close to the council flats

And on page 72 it says:

We have information that activity has continued to grow out in the more public spaces, such as in bars, clubs and other meeting points. There are fewer and fewer people working together in an apartment, to be less visible to neighbors and the outside world.

In other words, the market is reorganising to avoid detection. This makes it pretty much impossible to assume that a decline in detected cases actually means people have left the industry.

Some, however, are no longer earning enough through sex work – and it’s primarily the most vulnerable:

These are women with extensive and complex problems…When criminalisation was adopted in 2008, they became further marginalised…it was difficult for the most vulnerable drug users to obtain income by prostitution (page 33)

So what became of this group?

Some have found it necessary to finance their drug consumption in a criminal manner. (page 78)

That’s pretty much what I argued in this post would happen, isn’t it?

For non-Norwegians the report finds that the law has had some impact, but clearly not what was expected. On page 80, in relation to Nigerian street workers, it is acknowledged that:

the number of Nigerian prostitutes in Oslo has gone down considerably

However, also speaking of Nigerians it says on page 76:

We had an expectation that they would leave the country after criminalization, because they basically have few rights in Norway. This assumption is only partially suggested.

Since the law was brought in primarily as a xenophobic response to the appearance of Nigerian sex workers, Norwegians might see it as a success to the limited extent that it did persuade them to leave the country. But of course, “leaving the country” is not the same as leaving prostitution – so at best we can say that the law seems to have had some displacement effect on this group (and, as I’ve noted elsewhere on this blog, at least some were merely displaced across the border to Sweden). In fact, the report acknowledges this on page 41 when it says:

We thought last year that may of the foreign women would disappear… for example, to travel for prostitution markets in other countries.


Far from most of them have gone

Going on to consider Thai sex workers, the report does say (page 77) that the law “probably” contributed to many of them seeking routes out of prostitution – but the way in which it did this is pretty rotten. I’ll discuss that further in the section on violence against sex workers.

On page 75 it notes more generally that

In recent years we have also had many foreign visitors who have few or no rights in Norwegian society. Alternatives to prostitution are therefore limited.

Again, this shows that laws that aim to eradicate prostitution by eliminating demand simply will not work for certain particularly vulnerable sectors of the population, because there is nothing else for them to do.

And apparently, even some of those who might be otherwise-employable are remaining in prostitution for lack of opportunities. Page 55 contains a letter written to the Department of Justice by a woman who decided to try to leave the industry after the law came in. She writes:

I got in touch with Pro, to take advantage of these “opportunities” to get another job. This was the promised support, and I was so stupid that I believed…Now it’s demanded that I should take a course in what I would say has no meaning to me in my situation. For a course of 18 months I will have nothing but to get a job in a supermarket. So I prefer to work as a prostitute…I had begun to believe in this and that it would give me the opening I need to change my lifestyle, but now I feel that this is in no way within reach.

This is just one person’s experience, of course, and it can’t be verified (then again, anti-prostitution material is full of such individual anecdotes). But it does point up another way in which abolitionist ideology often fails to recognise the reality of sex workers’ experience. If you assume that sex work is so awful that nobody would possibly do it if they had another option, it follows that any alternative would be preferable, and therefore it isn’t necessary to provide decent alternatives. But in fact, even a lot of sex workers who’d like to get out would rather stay in than take some of the crappy options available to them. Offering them useless courses that lead only to shit jobs is as insulting to them as it would be to anyone else.

So onto a related issue…

Has the law reduced the overall amount of prostitution?

As always, this is a question that really can’t be answered with certainty, because there never was a way to accurately measure the number of sex workers and there certainly won’t be now that the industry has been driven underground. The best that the Centre can do is estimate, based on the numbers it encounters.

On page 76 it says:

The foreign contingent has not declined to the extent that we had expected, and we observe that there are constantly new people….This group [Eastern Europeans] has had a rise since 2009 and is up on the same level as 2008 [before the law was introduced].

In relation to the indoor market, page 15 states:

we saw a drastic decline in the number of ads in 2009, while the figure rose again in 2010 and is now at the same level as in 2008…

On the same page, speaking of the foreign workers who “tour” the country for a short period of time and then leave, it says that this sector:

increased sharply in 2010.

In terms of the street sector, the findings vary by city. Page 14 states:

In Oslo, we estimate that street prostitution is made up of 670 different people (an increase of 34% from 2009, but 46% fewer than in the peak year of 2008). In Bergen, [an outreach agency] mentions that they have had contact with 101 different people in 2010 (a 15% decrease from 2009)…In Stavanger, [another outreach agency] reports that they have been in contact with 36 different women in 2010 (an increase of 16% from 2009).

So of Norway’s three largest cities, one noted a large drop in street prostitution immediately after the law was enacted but the numbers have since begun to increase significantly; one is seeing a decrease since last year, and the other seeing an increase. With no real pattern, these figures must cast doubt on claims that the law is “working” to reduce prostitution.

And speaking of the sex workers who come to use the Pro Centre’s services, on page 79 the report says:

We observe that despite the statutory prohibition there are more and more new users here, especially foreign women.

On page 56 it says:

A total of 632 people used the Pro Centre’s health services in 2010. This is an increase of 13% from 2009…We have seen the largest increase in Romanian women.

Again, this doesn’t prove that the number of sex workers in Oslo, or even the number of Romanian sex workers, is actually increasing. But it certainly doesn’t support claims that the numbers are decreasing because of the law. Those tempted to make such claims need to explain exactly how they arrive at them.

Has the law led to a decrease in trafficking to Norway?

Again, it’s impossible to accurately measure this, but the report suggests the law might have had some effect. On page 80 it says:

In 2010, we worked with fewer people vulnerable to trafficking than in 2009.

This is partially attributed to the decline in Nigerian sex workers in Oslo (noted above), about whom it says

Nigerian women are the vast majority of people trafficked at the Pro Centre.

But of course, we don’t know if they were simply trafficked to a different country, in which case it couldn’t be said that the law had any beneficial impact from their perspective. Furthermore, the report goes on to suggest that trafficked persons may now be declining to come forward, because of the consequences they face for doing so:

…it is known in the community that the help you get will pretty much be temporary. Some are actually more afraid of their situation after having taken the temporary help than they were before. They experience an even more unsafe situation when the aid ceases. They get a reputation in the community as being informants. In addition, there is a perception that the police use them, and [Immigration] then throws them out of the country…Several feel that they gave up all control over their own lives from the moment they began to receive assistance as victims of trafficking and were granted reflection. Some have said that they regret the choice they did, and that they never would have done the same again. More tell us that they felt they had more opportunities for the future and more control over their own lives when they were still under the control of traffickers, than they have as identified victims of trafficking.

You have to admit, that’s a pretty horrific situation for trafficked persons to be in. It’s not the fault of the sex purchase ban, of course. However, as I’ve said before, it can be easy to lose sight of all the other aspects of trafficking that need to be dealt with when outlawing prostitution is treated as the solution to the problem.

And Nigerians aren’t the only people who the Pro Centre thinks are being trafficked into Norway. Back on page 15, where the report (as already noted) refers to a sharp increase in “touring” sex workers, it says:

We are in no doubt that some of the traffic on the market, particularly from Eastern Europe, is well organised.

So, as all of the above shows, there’s not a lot of evidence in this report to justify claims that the law has had the positive effects it was intended to have. But what about the negative, unintended effects?

Violence against sex workers

As with everything else, getting precise statistics is impossible. But the Pro Centre certainly seems to feel the law has made things more dangerous. On page 72 it says:

With the changes and restructuring that have continued to develop on the market, women and men in prostitution have also been considerably more vulnerable and exposed in multiple contexts. We know that they now to a much smaller extent have the opportunity to work jointly with others. Many also go alone to unfamiliar places to meet the customer, unless the conditions can be checked out in advance, which means greater risk for such exposure to violence…We still hear that more customers are increasingly requiring more specific services performed, lower payment and the aggression level has increased.

During the last months of 2010, there were several robberies…They used the same procedure every time, and threatened with both crowbar and knives…This led naturally to life becoming even more uncomfortable and difficult for many.

As for those Thai workers I mentioned before, who have been motivated by the law to leave the industry? The reason why is given on page 77:

Statutory prohibition has affected this group particularly hard both in terms of police actions and the people/groups that have exercised violence and robbery against them.

So the law’s consequences have actually terrorised them out of prostitution. Is that really the approach that feminist abolitionists think we should take?

And what about those who can’t be terrorised out, because they’ve nowhere to go?

Unsafe sex

The report is unequivocal about this: it has increased. This is attributed mainly to having too few customers for too many sex workers:

We get a lot of feedback from prostitutes that condom use is declining. The high number of pregnancies and the increase in sexually transmitted infections also point in that direction. Many people tell us that using condoms when they perform oral sex has become almost impossible. There are many women who perform oral sex on men without a condom, making it difficult for those who want to use condoms to negotiate this with the customer. There is also a known fact that one gets more money to have sex without a condom, so that in a market that has a greater supply than demand, an increasing number of our patients reported that they take “trips” [not sure exactly how to translate that] without a condom. (page 57)

It’s pretty basic economic stuff: reduce demand below supply and you create a buyer’s market, where the seller is the one who has to make the concessions. The consequences?

We have unfortunately seen a rise in sexually transmitted infections. In 2010 there were 24 positive for chlamydia, compared with 8 last year. (page 59)

And it’s not only STIs that they’re seeing more of:

We have seen a continued increase in the number of unwanted pregnancies…This may be a consequence of the new sex purchase law which came into force in 2009, because we found that women were more hesitant to accept condoms. (page 61)

Of course, a dangerous consequence of unwanted pregnancies is:

Some women tell us that they provoke an abortion themselves using drugs or other methods. Such drugs are unfortunately easily accessible and can cause major health problems for women. (page 62)

And a further possible reason is suggested for the apparent increase in unsafe sex:

Several [sex workers] no longer wished to accept condoms when we arrived at visits. Condoms were the evidence police needed to prove prostitution. (page 11)

As “bad sex work policy” goes, does it get much worse than using condoms as evidence? Could they disincentivise condoms any more?

Worsened relations with police

The Nordic model was supposed to ensure that sex workers could still report crimes against them to police, since they wouldn’t run the risk of being arrested. What this assumption fails to take into account is that if your industry is criminalised, the police are not your ally. Their job is to stop you from doing your job. So why on earth would you want to alert them to the fact that you’re doing that job? This is a prime example of why policy-makers need to actually listen to sex workers, and not simply make laws on the basis of what seems intuitive to them.

In fact, the report confirms that the police are still targeting the most vulnerable. On page 78, describing drug-using Norwegian sex workers:

We still get feedback from the Norwegian users that the police chase them away from the prostitution district and threaten to punish them for invitation to criminal acts.

On page 89:

There have been a lot of police in the district in 2010, and some of [the sex workers] we have talked to have felt harassed by some officers. The women say they feel it is they who have been criminalised and not the customers. Several reported that they were expelled from the district for a day because they “encouraged criminal activity”.

And it appears to be sex workers in general (not just street workers) who the report describes on page 72:

There are sellers of sexual services, mainly women, who have been focused on by both the police and the community at large. We have received many inquiries from women who are both frustrated and angry over this. Many have expressed that they feel constantly monitored and pursued, which leads to a constant sense of anxiety and turbulence…They believe they are unlawfully criminalized and chased and find that the actions and attitudes they are faced with, is very offensive.

Which brings us to a related issue…

Has the law increased the stigma against sex workers?

I think that most people outside the sex industry have really no idea exactly how big an issue stigma is. I’ve seen a number of research pieces in which it is identified by sex workers as the single biggest problem they face – bigger than violent customers, bigger than pimps, bigger than STDs and all the other things that non-sex workers think of.

Stigma is a problem for sex workers on a number of levels. It’s a mental health issue in and of itself. And it also contributes to all the other “negative effects” I’ve outlined above. It puts sex workers at greater risk of violence, by suggesting they are appropriate targets for abuse. It puts their health at risk by discouraging them from seeking needed health services, or from disclosing their occupation to their health service provider. It makes it harder for them to negotiate safer sex, or for better working conditions with their brothel or agency, by portraying them as the weaker negotiating party. And it damages their relationships with police by making police think they don’t merit protection from harm, because after all, they should be used to it. (I could write a whole blog post about how the radical feminist view of sex work contributes to this stigma and therefore to the harms that sex workers face. And maybe someday I will.)

While the Nordic model is ostensibly supposed to stigmatise the buyer and not the seller, Swedish sex workers have long claimed that they feel targeted under the law. It is quite clear from reading the Pro Centre report that the same has occurred in Norway. On page 11 it describes how immediately after the law came into force:

…the evening news showed a female hotel owner in Halden with a big grin, saying she and her male employees who pretended to be whore customers now managed to get all the women they thought were prostitutes thrown out of the hotel…it was like a kind of invitation to the common man, the police and the media, actually all of us, a joint volunteer effort to combat prostitution. You can guess how this went over. Women in prostitution were scared.

On page 73, it says:

Stigmatisation of people with experience of prostitution has, if possible, become even stronger in the past year. Many feel, as mentioned, that they have become a sort of fair game

Page 64 also mentions increased stigma as a consequence of the law, in the context of explaining why many sex workers are alienated from the public health system. Alienating people from the public health system is bad. Seriously, folks, it’s not rocket science.

Nationality discrimination and loss of home

Page 11 notes that

Many women had their tenancy terminated because the police threatened the landlords with pimping charges if they let to prostitutes.

This seems to be hitting foreign sex workers (and perhaps not only sex workers) particularly hard:

On suspicion of prostitution activity, the potential landlord is contacted and warned of the danger of pimp charges if the lease does not immediately cease. It has thus been difficult for women of foreign origin to hire a private residence when Landlords have been skeptical. The fear is that there will be prostitution there, and that the landlord is thereby risking pimp charges against him. (page 71)

It seems that women travelling alone are also stigmatised in this manner:

Women’s identity documents have been checked against police records when they are booked into a hotel. (page 72)

The report concludes with a review of other recent literature from Sweden and Norway, including what looks like a very interesting report titled Local Consequences of the Sex Purchase Law in Bergen. Here’s a bit from its summary (page 104):

The report’s finding is that the sex purchase law has had serious consequences for women who sell sex in Bergen…The market to make money by organising others’ prostitution has increased. The report also reveals that women feel more unsafe than earlier, and that drug use on the market has increased. In relation to the number selling sex both on the street and indoors, there was a sharp decline in the number of women who offered their services immediately after the Act’s implementation. A short time later, an increase in the number of women could again be registered.

I’ll close this with a quote from the report (page 33) that sums up exactly what is wrong with the sex purchase ban. We can’t really say that it has had the effect of reducing the overall amount of prostitution or trafficking; it may have resulted in some women leaving the sex industry (although not necessarily for better alternatives, or in a very nice way) – but it will always leave some of the most vulnerable behind, and

it is they who do not leave prostitution that are left holding the bag.

When will the Nordic model be seen for the health and human rights debacle it evidently is?

About Wendy Lyon

Fighting a lonely battle for evidence-based policy and the proper use of apostrophes.

31 responses »

  1. The law has seemed to have less of an impact in Norway than sweeden and seems if the numbers of “working girls” hasnt fallen at all.

    In Norway as opposed to sweden the law was to help stop trafficking not as a gender equality issue.
    In relation to Nigerians (which seemed to be of particular concern). This could be helped with imposing laws that only EU/EEA citizens with PPS numbers can work in the industry this would limit the amount of trafficking overall and decrease the amount of african sex workers.

    New Zealand has a similar law.

    • Hmm, I don’t see how that would stop trafficking. Traffickers aren’t exactly known for their concern about work permit restrictions, in fact they thrive in such circumstances because they can more easily control people who don’t have permission to work.

      In any case I wouldn’t support prohibiting Nigerians (or anyone else) from working in the industry. That only creates a two-tier system and ensures that the excluded group remains marginalised and vulnerable.

  2. Paul
    I thought the 6 months consultation after the attorney general reviews the potential legislation for constitutional and other problems.
    Are they not meant to publish actual papers on the consultation

    • I thought the 6 months consultation after the attorney general reviews the potential legislation for constitutional and other problems.
      Are they not meant to publish actual papers on the consultation

      Apparently, the consultation document has yet to be published so the consultation period may not even have officially started.

      Alan Shatter had this to say when announcing the public consultation last month.

      “I am concerned to ensure that public debate on this issue is open to the widest possible audience. I therefore intend to arrange a consultation process to help inform the future direction of legislation on prostitution”

      It seems to me that everything is to play for. We may be heading in the Swedish direction, we may be heading in the direction of maintaining the status quo ante or we may be heading, however unlikely at this time, towards a New Zealand decriminalization approach. No wonder the Senators wanted to shut down the consultation phase a few weeks ago and move straight to execution.

      I agree with what Guest said in another comment. The Achilles Heel of organizations such as Ruhama and the Immigrant Council of Ireland, who play an important part in the Turn Off The Red Light campaign, are the association of the founders of these organizations with the Magdalene laundries. That history must be highlighted. 

      • Paul your more optimistic than I am.
        I see us having too big problems.

        1. Is the link real or otherwise between sex work and trafficking.
        2.It the belief held that “something has to be done about prostitution”

        I dont think the government wants to legalise sex work like in New Zealand or in Germany. it may want the issue to go away but thats not going to happen

  3. paul and guest
    share your views.
    But am worried reason isnt been looked at in this debate

    I see two main problems for us getting our point across

    1. The link that is been made between trafficking and sex work
    2. The belief held may that “we need to end/stop prostitution”

    Will the Swedish model work…hell no it hasn’t worked in iceland, Norway or Sweden why would it work here.

    But the sex workers groups like SWAI and TOBL are new here in Ireland and so far havent been able to seek general support or political support here.
    Ireland has had a Ostrich attitude to the sex industry for years look at the situation with porn videos/dvds.

    Another problem is the lack of members on the pro sex workers side to speak publicly.
    The government may see this as an easy issue who is really going to publicly oppose these laws

  4. I read this in the Department of Justice report on prostitution/sex work published last month.

    16: Enforcement.

    The Swedish experience indicates that enforcement of the ban is resource intensive and that the level of detections is dependent on the allocation of resources and local policing priorities. For these reasons, the level of detections varies over time and between locations.

    It is unlikely that outcomes would be any different here. A ban, if it were well enforced, could have beneficial effects, including deterring human traffickers. However, it might also be argued that policing operations to target the purchase of sex – which would be a minor offense – would divert law enforcement from
    operations targeting serious and organised crime, including human trafficking.

    According to the EU/IMF deal signed by the last government last December, there is a commitment to cut gardai numbers from 13,500 to 12,000, including 1,000 this year. Justice Minister Alan Shatter has had no choice but to pick up that baton.

    So, it seems to me this could be a significant spanner in the works to advancing a Sweden style sex purchase act for the Republic of Ireland at least in the short term, at least as long as we’re under EU/IMF direction.

    • I’ve been told (though it’s second-hand information) that a lot of Gardaí who are actually involved in police work do not want the Swedish law to be brought in precisely because they think they are already too under-resourced for the amount of real crime they have to deal with, and they do not want to have to waste valuable time stopping consenting adults having sex. I think it’s an argument worth highlighting.

      • I agree
        As far s i can tell in Sweden there is not distinction made in arrest for those who engaged in street or indoor sex workers. My guess is most arrests and definitely convictions relate to the street scene.

        In Ireland any law would have to be seen as tackling indoor sex work as
        A. This makes up the biggest quantity of sex workers in Ireland
        B. Street prostitution is already illegal.

        I read somewhere (maybe on this blog) reports from Sweden of police listening out side doors and through letter boxes to people having sex just to get proof of a crime.

  5. Paul your more optimistic than I am.
    I see us having too big problems.

    1. Is the link real or otherwise between sex work and trafficking.

    The UN Convention against Organized Crime distinguishes between human trafficking and human smuggling linked to informal labour migration. I’m willing to be corrected here but it seems to me that the vast majority of illegal migrants who arrive in the Republic of Ireland are smuggled here and not trafficked here. How many illegal migrants are there in the country? What percentage of total sex workers in Ireland are illegal migrants? 

    When defining human trafficking, the Palermo Protocol on trafficking refers to the exploitation of the prostitution of others and other forms of sexual exploitation, not prostitution in and off itself.

    2.It the belief held that “something has to be done about prostitution”

    Something had to be done about prostitution, according to the powers-that-be, since the foundation of the state. Frank Duff and his Legion of Mary led a successful campaign to have Dublin’s Monto red light district closed down in the 1920s. I read that as a result organized prostitution didn’t exist in the country until the 1970s. 

    • The UN Convention against Organized Crime distinguishes between human trafficking and human smuggling linked to informal labour migration. I’m willing to be corrected here but it seems to me that the vast majority of illegal migrants who arrive in the Republic of Ireland are smuggled here and not trafficked here.

      Unfortunately the distinction between trafficking and smuggling isn’t actually as clear as that. The idea is supposed to be that “smuggling” is voluntary on the part of the migrant, and a breach of the state’s immigration laws, while “trafficking” is coercive and a breach of the person’s human rights. But the Palermo definition of trafficking also takes into consideration the fact that sometimes consent is present in these cases too, so where exactly do you draw the line? An example, which is very common in real life, is a person who agrees to remit some of their earnings in their new country to cover the cost of their entry and work papers. This is debt bondage, and it’s recognised as being a form of trafficking, but there is no real coercion involved. Often this person will be seen as simply an illegal migrant worker, particularly if they are male and working outside the sex sector. But if the same person was a woman in a brothel she might well be considered a trafficking victim.

      • Unfortunately the distinction between trafficking and smuggling isn’t actually as clear as that. The idea is supposed to be that “smuggling” is voluntary on the part of the migrant, and a breach of the state’s immigration laws, while “trafficking” is coercive and a breach of the person’s human rights. But the Palermo definition of trafficking also takes into consideration the fact that sometimes consent is present in these cases too, so where exactly do you draw the line? An example, which is very common in real life, is a person who agrees to remit some of their earnings in their new country to cover the cost of their entry and work papers. This is debt bondage, and it’s recognised as being a form of trafficking, but there is no real coercion involved. Often this person will be seen as simply an illegal migrant worker, particularly if they are male and working outside the sex sector. But if the same person was a woman in a brothel she might well be considered a trafficking victim.

        It seems to me that trafficking and smuggling are distinct offenses.

        Trafficking seems to be related to the word “traffic” which implies movement. However, trafficking may not involve any movement across international borders. As far as I can see, trafficking means someone is forced to do something like slave labour or have organs removed or something else done against his/her will. It’s a very serious crime. It’s a crime against the person.

        The use of the word “smuggling” is also problematic. Smuggling is used with the passive voice. We say “He was smuggled into the country”. We don’t say “He smuggled into the Republic of Ireland”. We have to add the reflective pronoun. “He smuggled himself into the Republic of Ireland” or we could say “He smuggled his way into the Republic of Ireland”. It seems to me however that one can smuggle oneself into a country. It might be difficult to smuggle oneself into a developed world country like the Republic of Ireland. I haven’t studied this. I think there are direct flights to the Republic of Ireland from non-EEA countries such as the USA, maybe Canada, also Dubai? Also, can someone from outside the EEA zone, arrive in an EEA country, pretend to be tourist, go to the Republic of Ireland until their tourist visa expires and then continue to stay? Then, the offense of smuggling would have been executed, no?

        Anyway, smuggling, as far as I can make out, is an offense against the state, not an offense against the person. You enter a state and you stay without the permission of the state.

        It seems to me that most smuggling would require outside assistance. In that case, there are two guilty parties, the guy who is smuggling himself and those who are assisting him/her to get smuggled. If a person just smuggles himself, then he/she is the only guilty person, obviously.

        How to distinguish clearly between trafficking and smuggling? It seems to me to be easy. What you do is you introduce a new intermediate offense called “smuggling for the purposes of trafficking”. “Smuggling for the purposes of trafficking” is different to smuggling because here only those organizing the smuggling are guilty of a crime; the person being smuggled, of course, has no say over the matter. It would be an aggravated offense, where one is punished like one is punished if he/she is found to be involved in trafficking. Of course, one can also introduce another offense called “smuggling of a minor” which again would be similar to “smuggling for the purposes of trafficking”. Again, only the person organizing the smuggling is guilty of the crime. The minor is not held responsible whether he/she consents or not.

        Consider two scenarios:

        1) A person is kidnapped in one country, she/he is smuggled across an international border and then she/he is coerced into slave labour in that country. The offenses of “kidnap”, “smuggling for the purposes of trafficking” and, finally, trafficking” are committed.

        2) A person is tricked into believing that a nice job awaits him/her in another country, she/he agrees to be smuggled across an international border and then she/he is coerced into labour that he/she didn’t want to do initially. The offenses of “deception”, “smuggling for the purposes of trafficking” and, finally,”trafficking” are committed.

        Anyway, the effect of introducing these intermediate offenses is that the boundaries of the offenses of smuggling and trafficking become demarcated. That is good. I think when there is a perception that one offense segues into the other that is not good. I think when one conflates smuggling with trafficking that is just as dangerous as conflating sex work with trafficking.

        Regarding the example you give of the man who still has to pay money when he arrives at his country of destination to cover entry and work papers, I agree that that is a form of trafficking, whether he accepts that he’s a victim of trafficking or not. Obviously, he is. If he refuses to pay any more money, presumably, the criminal organization has a network of goons to enforce any sanctions against him or anyone else of like mind.

  6. One criticism I have of the Turn Off the Blue Light campaign is that they need to go on the offensive more. They’re criticizing the danger of a Sweden style Sex Purchase act being introduced to the Republic of Ireland. Anyone who has at least two brain cells to rub together can see that it is a stupid law. I think TOBL need to do more than just rubbish this proposal. They need to come up with an alternative. They need to be proactive and not reactive.

    Clearly, the status quo in the Republic of Ireland isn’t pretty either. I read that even one person brothels are being shut down and the sole operator/sex worker is being prosecuted.

    The general consensus is that the New Zealand style Prostitution Reform Act would be a progressive measure if enacted in the Republic of Ireland. What TOBL and affiliated groups need to do is take the New Zealand acts such as Prostitution reform Act 2003

    and the Criminal Records (Clean Slate) Act 2004

    and amend them to the Irish context. Perhaps, they can contact Catherine Healy, the National Coordinator of the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective, to ask for her input into how to improve the Act further in the New Zealand context. A lawyer or parliamentary draftsman can be asked to tweak the New Zealand legislation to the Irish context incorporating improvements on the New Zealand model. Wendy Lyon was discussing on the TOBL forum how the New Zealand act can be improved by, for example, allowing non-resident migrants to work as legal sex workers, and thus eliminating the illegal sex work sector altogether, and allowing local authorities to distinguish between managed brothels and small owner operated brothels for the purposes of zoning or locating brothel location.

    At the end of last year and the start of this year, I was writing quite a few emails to the Irish Labour party advocating that certain new policy ideas and principles be adopted by their political party. Some TDs replied to me, for example, Michael D Higgins. He wrote back to me in February this year to thank me for writing and also to ask me to send relevant legislation forward to him. Apparently, he thinks I am a legislation draftsman. Here’s the thing: If you write to a TD with a raw idea, it’ll go in one ear and out the other. If you write to a TD to say “We are fighting for the health, safety, human, civil and labour rights of sex workers in Ireland”, that’ll go in one ear of a TD and out the other. However, if you submit concrete legislation to a TD, they’ll sit up and take notice.

    I can make out a few lines of attack that can be adopted by the TOBL campaign and others. We can play the family values card. Guest wrote a excellent comment on this a few weeks ago. Paying for sex, whether in currency, exertion, drinks or other gifts, is a natural human condition. In palaeolithic times, caveman would present cavewoman with meat of auroch and, in return, she’ll reward him with sex. Whether it’s a gift, exertion, drinks, money or something else, it’s all the same thing. Sex work is natural. Anti sex work is unnatural. Sex work is pro family values. Anti sex work is anti family values. We can contrast our naturalism with the perversity of the Magdalene laundries. Both Ruhama and the Immigrant Council of Ireland are leading lights of the TORL campaign. Both these organizations were founded by and continue to be controlled by 3 of the 4 religious orders that operated the Magdalene laundries. The last laundry was only closed in 1996. In those prisons and temples of perversion, inmates, no matter what age, had to address nuns and other staff as “mother” and the nuns and other staff addressed an inmate as “child”. Imagine that: a nun in her 20s would address an inmate in her 70s as “child” and the inmate would have to address the nun as “mother”. That’s fucked up.

    Another potential line of attack was discussed in Wendy Lyon’s excellent article here:

    Sweden had has a Sex Purchase Act since 1999. Since then their politicians have been pontificating that they’ve broken the back of prostitution. It seems to me that such a act practically mandates a politician, if he/she supports the act, to say that it’s reducing or eliminating prostitution because the act is based on the mindset that the sex work industry can be destroyed as if by a legislative magic wand. Yet, as Wendy reports, in 2008, the Government ordered the police to mount a renewed crackdown on prostitution….after the politicians were already bragging that prostitution was being reduced if not eliminated. The subsequent Swedish police stats between 2008 and 2010 show that reported sex crimes, across all categories, increased significantly. Notably, recorded cases of the purchase of sexual acts by children increased by 402%, the purchase of sexual services by 569% and human trafficking for non sexual purposes by 563%.

    Another line of attack I have mentioned already. The previous government has agreed with the EU/IMF to reduce Gardai numbers from 13,500 to 12,000, including 1,000 this year. The Minister for Justice has no choice but to implement this. There’s a freeze on Gardai recruitment presently. Yet, the recent Department of Justice/Dignity Project (&) Report acknowledges that a serious implementation of a Sweden style Sex Purchase Act would be resource intensive. We certainly should be reminding the government of this. It could buy us some time.

    We can also play the international card.

    As Stephanie Lord and Wendy Lyon wrote in this excellent article here:

    It has been widely recognised in the HIV/AIDS sector that sex workers who are not able to control their working conditions, most importantly condom negotiation, are at a higher risk of infection. This is the reason why virtually the entire global health sector supports the decriminalisation of sex work and granting sex workers occupational health and safety rights. The World Health Organization, UNAIDS, the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights,the UN Secretary General,the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health – all of these have called for the removal of laws criminalising commercial sex between consenting adults, primarily because criminalisation is a recognised risk factor for HIV/AIDS.

    Clearly, the international health care consensus is on our side from the UN Secretary General down. The TORL will counter that we’re fear-mongering but I think it is better, on balance, to play the international card than not to play it.

    Also, as I mentioned in my other comment, we can also point out that the UN Convention against Organized Crime distinguishes between human trafficking and human smuggling linked to informal labour migration. Smuggling and trafficking are clearly two different kinds of crime. This webpage gives a good explanation on the differences.

    It seems to me that the vast majority of illegal migrants who arrive in the Republic of Ireland are, in fact, smuggled here and not trafficked here. I don’t know exactly what percentage of sex workers in Ireland are, in fact, illegal migrants. Does anyone know?

    Also, we can mention that the Palermo Protocol on trafficking refers to the exploitation of the prostitution of others and other forms of sexual exploitation, not prostitution in and off itself.

    We can also point out that previous governments, since the foundation of the state, have already tried quite vigorously to eliminate organized prostitution. Frank Duff and his Legion of Mary led a successful campaign to have Dublin’s Monto red light district closed down in the 1920s. I read that as a result organized prostitution didn’t exist in the country until the 1970s. It seems to me that the Religious Sisters of Charity, who run the Immigrant Council of Ireland, and the Good Shephard Sisters and Our Lady of Charity Sisters, who run Ruhama, are modern day versions of the Legion of Mary. Can’t we not learn from our own history instead of trying to import a Swedish solution?

    Another smaller battle that the TOBL can wage is to have state funding for Ruhama removed for the purposes of providing outreach to sex workers since, as TOBL reports, they’re giving out cups of tea and not condoms and have this money given to the Sex Workers Alliance of Ireland instead or a similar organization that have the interests of the sex workers at heart. I think that this misplacing of government funds would be pretty scandalous in just about every other industrialized country in the world. If TOBL can win that smaller battle, that’ll be a serious blow to the TORL’s wider campaign to introduce a Sweden style Sex Purchase Act.

    When I want to advocate for something, what I do is write to all the Government party TDs and Senators. In relation to advocating for a New Zealand style Prostitution Reform Act, I address my emails to the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, and the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, and carbon copy the same email to the remaining government party TDs and Senators. I don’t bother with the opposition TDs and Senators. The TOBL campaign were reporting how Independent TD Mick Wallace was practically silenced this year by Ruhama after he dared suggest that a harm reduction approach be adopted in relation to sex work/prostitution. I suppose it’s kinda frightening. In the recent Senate debate and vote on a motion advocating that a Sweden approach to prostitution be adopted, only Fianna Fail Senator, Mary White, stepped out of her party’s line, questioning the effectiveness of a Sweden style Sex Purchase Act, and was consequently threatened with expulsion by her political party.

    Let me put it on the record here: I hate Fianna Fail. It’s not a party that’s into progressive ideas. I suspect many of you have cottened on to this too. As for Sinn Fein, last I checked, Aengus O’Snodaigh, Sinn Fein’s justice spokesperson, was picketing head shops last year. It seems to me to be only a short skip and jump before they would picket legalized brothels as well. As for the Independents, they seem to be more focused on the economic crisis than on social issues.

    So, anyway, I think it is more practical to email the government party TDs and Senators. Even if Mick Wallace wasn’t silenced by Ruhama and continued to speak about a harm reduction approach to sex work on the floor of the Dail, what good is that for us? Would he introduce a Private Member’s bill advocating for a New Zealand style Prostitution Reform Act? The New Zealand Prostitution Reform Act was originally a Private Members bill introduced in 1999. I think it is better to aim for the top. My thinking is if we can educate and turn Enda Kenny and Alan Shatter to the wisdom of a harm reduction approach inherent to the New Zealand legislation, then they can turn the country.

    (&) Dignity Project advocates for a Sweden, Norway, Iceland style Sex Purchase Act and gets EU funding – a scandal in and off itself.

    • In fairness to TOBL I think they have done quite a lot for the rather short period of time they’ve been in existence. See this post. I’m not sure they all agree amongst themselves what exactly the alternative should be to the Swedish law, though. It probably also doesn’t help that they’re constantly fighting smear attempts by people who can’t conceive of sex workers having minds of their own.

      I don’t know exactly what percentage of sex workers in Ireland are, in fact, illegal migrants. Does anyone know?

      It’s pretty much unmeasurable by definition.

  7. Excellent post
    When this first started in the new year I got very frustrated very quick, when I realised the sex workers where unable or unwilling to put their case forward in a public.
    While I do understand the reason for it I feel it has damaged our case

    TOBL have come a long way very quickly and what ever the outcome of all this is they should continue their work.

    I have mentioned to some in the past holding a international or european sex workers rights convention here with a march by sex workers around the world.
    I have this vision in my head of 1000 plus sx workers from around europe standing out side the GPO and speakers standing on a platform address the crowd.

    I am at a lost of what I can personally do to help bar write in letters.
    and would welcome any thoughts.

  8. It’s so strange to me that educated women in the first world would focus such a significant amount of energy toward battling the extraordinarily civilized Norwegian legislation concerning prostitution.

    Pretty funny, to call Norway a human rights debacle, don’t you think? Xenophobia has nothing to do with this legislation. Scandinavia never had feudalism, so they understand exploitation better than most places. And South Africa understands exploitation and dehumanization too horribly well. That’s why Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and South Africa have all passed Swedish Model legislation.

  9. What exactly is civilised about a law that further marginalises and stigmatises the most vulnerable sex workers, puts them at greater risk of violence and HIV, causes them to lose their homes and to turn to crime? Really now, do the sex workers described in this report sound as though they feel more civilised under the law?

    Xenophobia has nothing to do with this legislation.

    The article that I linked to shows that it did. Norway specifically declined to adopt the law for many years when Sweden was pushing it as an “anti-exploitation” measure – it was only when Nigerians started turning up on the street corners that the law was brought in. That’s a fact.

    South Africa has not passed similar legislation. It is still a crime to sell sex there.

  10. Paul, its very complex, you got to take a deeper look at the situation, agreed that the current law is not exactly great cause it fines and kicks out sex workers who operate in twos or threes for safety reasons.

    But at least sex workers who operate alone are legal in ireland, their clients/livelihood are not targeted.

    TOBL’s brothel keeping offenses report says otherwise.

    …..However in recent years there have been some cases where it would appear sex workers working alone have been convicted of brothel keeping.

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  15. This is a nice article… And for the government… Why not focusing on catching those real criminals instead of wasting time regarding sex workers. Sex workers are always there and will always be there. We can’t stop it! They’re just giving the customers need in exchange for her needs.


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