– Norway : « Now, can we finally embark on the remaining work, or what ? »



Now, can we finally embark on the remaining work, or what?

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The right to decide over your own body is a human rights principle. But the right to decide over your body does not exist if the collective “we” are unable to point out the structures in society that puts the individual’s needs ahead of the weakest who are entitled to protection. It is our responsibility to see the world as a whole and not picking out individuals who represent the exception to the prevailing structures. So, it was with great pleasure that the Norwegian women’s movement received the evaluation of the sex-purchase law on Monday. The evaluation considers the decline in the overall prostitution market to about 25 percent, had we not had the sex-purchase law, the increase in the market is estimated to 45 percent in comparison with today. Moreover, the evaluation also concludes that the law has influenced important pull factors, and probably reduced the extent of human trafficking to Norway. The police in Bergen believes that the sex-purchase law is the best weapon for combating human trafficking. The police in Oslo say they’ve never met a buyer who admits that he has understood that he bought sex from victims of human trafficking. None of the police stations are reporting that the market has “gone underground”:

“Prostitutes must be visible to the customers. The concept of going underground is therefore not right”

Now, a few days afterwards, it seems as if the politcal party “Venstre” (liberal party) is now sitting on the fence.  However, it is less certain what the two coalition parties will do (the Conservatives and the Progress party). The only thing I’ve managed to pick up is what the representative from the progress party stated at the presentation of the evaluation. The link to the video has been removed, but it was something like this: “Yes, it (the law) works if you by work mean that you want a downturn in the market.” Really? What else would you want?  If you ask me, it will be pretty short sighted of the Progress Party and the Conservatives if they now decides to go for a solution that will unleash last year’s 8th of march parade on them, again. In only five years we have had a ban in Norway, it was a flimsy basis that the team of the evaluation had to rely on. Therefore, even if the evaluation only had proven just a tendency towards a “functioning” law, that in itself should’ve been enough to allow it to work for a longer span of time. However, Now that the testimonies are so obvious that they are, against all odds, you have to be pretty stupid if you do not take notes. It seems that parts of the Conservative Party (the mayor), has already understood this point, and we welcome mayor Fabian Stang to the club of those who want to preserve the law and move on.

Not to brag or anything…

… But it was not everything in the evaluation that came as a shock to some of us who have been involved in this debate for some time. When Vista Analyse concluded on monday, that the sex-purchase law has contributed to lower demand, it was perhaps received by some of us mostly as a confirmation on the thoughts we already had. Anyway, it was a relief to read a review which clearly states the important functions of a law that has recently been criticized for not “working”. Perhaps we can now proceed to deal with what the evaluation also emphasizes, we must strengthen the relief measures: “The support system has a number of good social measures, but it is far from sufficient to give anyone who wants a real option to prostitution in terms of other work, with corresponding earnings”

 Let’s look a little closer at what the evaluation actually says:

The purpose of the law

The 1th of January 2009, Norway introduced a new sex-purchase law based on the model from Sweden. It was particularly human trafficking the former government wanted the new legislation to reduce. The evaluation states: “The objective of the penal provision (sex-purchase law) was to help change attitudes, reduce demand and thus the market for prostitution, and help to prevent men and women driven to prostitution or subject to trafficking”. It is basically these objectives that two economists, a sociologist and political scientist now have tried to evaluate, eventhough the law is barely five years.

For the Women’s front of Norway it’s been a relatively easy piece of math to understand: if you cut demand, you necessarily cut in offer too, and the consequences requires resources. Who is to blame when a 15 year old girl sells her body in exchange for a new cell phone? Is it the parents? Is it the girl herself? No. The blame lies solely on the man who buys her body. And the blame should be clearly presented to the society if we are to curb the recruitment to the business and change attitudes.

“It’s hard to measure how many people did not end up in prostitution because of the ban, but prevention is one of the most important reasons to keep this law”

And here’s a point: It’s hard to measure how many people did not end up in prostitution because of the ban, but prevention is one of the most important reasons to keep this law. We believe that the sex-purchase law has been a step in the right direction, and that belief is now largely confirmed by this evaluation.

The international market also affects Norway

One of the key points of the evaluation is a point that have often disappeared from the polarized media debate we have had lately. Namely that we had, just before the law was introduced, a financial crisis in Europe. A financial crisis affects also, like to any other international market, the offer and demand in the sex market. “The financial crisis and the economic situation in the EU and the rest of the world has significance for the overall prostitution market in the world, as well as how attractive the Norwegian market is perceived by prostitutes and traffickers” and “With persistently high unemployment and weak economic growth in Europe, the supply side in Norway, measured in number of prostitutes selling sexual services is expected to increase.”

So: because the harder times in the world generally are pushing more women into prostitution out of economic desperation, the supply in all countries should be expected to increase, regardless of legislations: “Our review of market developments shows that the strong growth in the supply, as a result of an increasing number of prostitute from including Nigeria and Eastern Europe, contributed to a collapse of the supply power that previously dominated the prostitution market in Norway. Increased competition had thereby given a “buyer’s market” long before the sex-purchase law was introduced “

“The law has a calming effect on recruitment to the Norwegian prostitution market”

Nevertheless, the evaluation concludes that the law has contributed to less prostitution in Norway. So against all odds: “Loss of earnings in the prostitution market may also have increased motivation to participate in efforts to find alternative sources of income. The law has a calming effect on recruitment to the Norwegian prostitution market” and “without the law there is every reason to believe that even more foreign prostitutes had come to Norway”


The evaluation also finds that the demand (the John’s) in Norway is clearly reduced, “We find it very clear that the law has a demand-dampening effect” and “There has been a reduction in relation to the market prior to the initiation of the law, but also in terms of how it could be today without the sex-purchase law”. This could mean: If we had found ourselves in a situation of financial crisis outside of Norway that would have increased the supply side of the market, without the normative effect of the law that would put a damper on the demand, we could thus risked an explosion of prostitution. It is interesting when the evaluation shows to what happened in Germany / France, a situation that might not have been so unlike Sweden / Norway if we had chosen to legalize like Germany:

 “German prostitutes has not wanted to receive welfare benefits as other German workers. Instead, the German market has expanded in step with the French market being tightened”

Changing attitudes

The evaluation in Norway refers to the evaluation of Sweden from 2010 in the chapter about changing attitudes. The evaluation in Sweden concluded that people’s attitudes toward the purchase of sex has changed, and that change in attitude may have led to fewer new buyers and thus a gradual reduction in demand.

When the Norwegian evaluation refer to changing attitudes in Norway it is a bit more challenging task, because we are talking about a time frame so short as only five years. Yet they have found clear evidence that even in Norway there has been a change in attitude. “Prostitute we spoke with pointed out that there are now fewer “stylish lunch customers” who buy sex than before, there are fewer young men who buy sex, and it is relatively more foreign customers than before. More resourceful Norwegian men and young Norwegians, in other words, seem to have withdrawn from the market.”

Prostitutes situation

The fact that the prostitute will have to work longer and at a lower price than before, would of course have an impact on their own relationship to the law. Most informants from prostitution whom the evaluation have talked to, believe that the market has deteriorated and that there is greater competition for customers. Some believe themselves harassed by the law itself, but the evaluation also emphasizes: “Few of our interviewees have experience from before the law was introduced”. The evaluation goes quite far in emphasizing that prostitution has been highly stigmatized also before the law occured. Anyway, the evaluation also reports that several informants view the advocacy mandate of the law as a positive one: “It is undesirable, for example, that their own children will grow up thinking that it’s okay to buy a woman”

When the Women’s Front was in Malmö in June Dorit Otzen from Swan Group in Denmark talked a little about the situation there. Denmark is a country with a legalized prostitution market, and Otzen expressing concern for the following:

“In my opinion there is a clear connection with men’s ability to buy sex, and the fact that 33 000 women in Denmark each year are victims of violence. When men, mostly risk-free are exposing one kind of woman to abuse and violence, and at the same time see how women are subject to men’s power in pornography, it can be very difficult not to get a perception that women are something you can do what you want with. In Denmark, the women are exposed to more violence than before. How much more violence are we going to expose women to? “

“When men, mostly risk-free are exposing one kind of woman to abuse and violence, and at the same time see how women are subject to men’s power in pornography, it can be very difficult not to get a perception that women are something you can do what you want with”

Whether men’s attitudes to women in general have been changed as a result of the law is not evaluated in the new evaluation. But it would be interesting to delve further into. When it comes to violence against the prostitute, the evaluation states that the sex-purchase law has no measurable effect on violence and threats against prostitute: “There is no basis for assuming that the sex-purchase law has had significant influence of whether violence is being reported or not. However, there are several other reasons why violence is not reported. Should there be a lower propensity to reported violence than before, this may just as well be due to other factors, including a greater share of women controlled by traffickers, women who are in Norway illegally or women who come from countries where they have a negative experience with the police “

The upgrade

Although the evaluation concludes that the sex-purchase law is working, it is still unresolved parts of the evaluation that we need to work on. The first point is about the police forces experience with and knowledge of prostitution. I can confirm myself that the police academy of Oslo has little or no training on the topic. The evaluation states that: “It is stated that several of the prostitute, especially on foreign markets (in Oslo), are afraid of the police. This is because they’ve experienced encounters with police that enforces unnecessary harassment on the streets in form of searching for condoms, and the use of the clause of expulsion.” It should also be stated however, that the prostitute themselves expresses contentment with the police who work with and has experience with human trafficking. In overall the women called for better training of the police. And this is something my own quick and little research from the academy thus can confirm. From the street market in Oslo the women also calls for the expertise of the former STOP-group (which are no longer operable). The police themselves are also requesting more resources to enforce the law better.

“Women in prostitution have stated that they do not think the law has been followed up with sufficient resources to prevent men and women from being recruited to prostitution”

“Women in prostitution have stated that they do not think the law has been followed up with sufficient resources to prevent men and women from being recruited to prostitution”. Also from the initiatives that work with the prostitutes it is expressed that the strengthening of resources is absolutely necessary, it is a shortage of alternatives to prostitution. “Those in the support system that offers a way out, has never encountered desire to remain in prostitution by the prostituted. There is a strong desire to feel like a humanbeing again. “

We can not simply observe that the law works preventive and dampening of demand, and just let that be the end of it. Now that we all see that this clearly works, we need to use our energy to move forward and strengthen the support system and police resources. And frankly, if you STILL want to remove a law that to such a degree as this evalutation shows is advocating for essential human rights principles, then you can keep your head up your ass and blame the 8th of march parade on yourself!

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MADELEINE SCHULTZ © all rights reserved