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Norwegian sex workers’ views of sex purchase ban

As supporters of the Swedish model never tire of pointing out, Norway and Iceland have also recently banned the purchase of sex. How’s that working out?

Well, in Iceland it seems to be a total flop, as Icelandic police have decided they have better things to do with their limited resources:

police authorities claimed they neither had the funds nor the manpower to fight prostitution which… is clearly thriving in Iceland in spite of it being illegal.

In Norway, a couple different media reports (both in Norwegian) claim a resurgence in that country’s sex trade; neither is particularly a credible source, but there doesn’t seem to be much actual research on the subject. The closest I could find, apart from the Pro Centre report mentioned below, was this police report (also in Norwegian) on human trafficking for sexual and other purposes, published in August of this year. Like the Swedish stats I discussed in this post, it shows higher numbers after the law’s introduction, though it’s equally impossible to be sure whether this reflects more victims or just better detection. It is silent on the amount of prostitution generally.

On this page, on the website of the Norwegian sex workers’ organisation PION, I found a statement about their own views of the law. Because of the importance of this information and the lack of an English translation on the site (at least that I can find) I have run it through Google Translate and copied the translation of the crucial bits below, with minor grammatical edits (only where obvious) and paragraph breaks added for ease of reading. Corrections from actual Norwegian readers are welcome.

It is difficult to estimate whether the law has helped to reduce the amount of sale of sexual services in Norway, but there is little doubt that the law has contributed to a significant weakening of prostitutes’ rights. The law has led to women in prostitution now experiencing a major invasion of privacy. This happens for example when the police reveal sensitive information to homeowners and hotels, or when the police deliberately carry out their operations with the press in tow so that the woman’s identity will be published in the media (pion Annual Report 2010).

Previous research and current surveying shows that women in prostitution are highly vulnerable to various forms of violence and abuse (Bjorn Dahl and Nordli 2008). The sex-purchase law has helped to raise the threshold to report violence and abuse, so abuse now increasingly remains unannounced and with impunity. There are also clear indications that the extent of violence has increased (PION Annual Report 2010).

Despite the fact that there is no prohibition against the sale of sexual services in Norway, women in street prostitution are chased away from the street by the police with the message that they encourage criminal activity. The health situation of many women in prostitution is exacerbated, in part because many are now reluctant to have contact with service providers. The buying-sex act seems to have contributed to the development of a service with significant health risks for women in prostitution, including sex without using condoms. There are reports of an increase in the number of pregnant women and STD, especially chlamydia and gonorrhea (Pro Centre Annual Report 2010).

A vulnerable group that has been further marginalized by the introduction of the sex-purchase law is female migrants, with and without legal residence status, who often lack basic knowledge of Norwegian, networks and relevant education. This is also the group that has experienced the biggest obstacles to getting out of prostitution and into regular employment.

The statement is titled Rejected and censored: PION’s contribution to women’s convention shadow report and it notes that opposition from certain other women’s groups (not identified) prevented sex workers’ views from being included in the said report. This silencing is something that sex workers around the world are all too familiar with.

I will return to the Pro Centre report at a future date.