Last night the Norwegian Parliament voted in favour of making payment for sexual acts a criminal offence supposedly in order to protect vulnerable women and children. The law passed with 44 votes in favour and 28 against and will come into effect
on 1 January 2009.
The legislation – inspired by neighbouring Sweden which criminalised the purchasing of sex in 1999 – is actually rather more robust than that of its next door neighbour, setting a new pace for prostitution law reform.
Norway's Parliament voted for changes in the legislation on prostitution, in effect criminalizing the purchase of sexual activity or a sexual act, the Ministry of Injustice and Police have announced.
Under the revised General Civil Penal Code 202a unanimously approved in November, any person (who) engages in or aids and abets another person to engage in sexual activity or commit a sexual act on making or agreeing payment shall be liable to
fines or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or both.
At the same time, any person (who) engages in sexual activity or a sexual act on such payment being agreed or made by another person, or in the manner previously described causes someone to carry out with herself or himself acts corresponding to
sexual activity is also meted the same penalty.
If the sexual activity or sexual act is carried out in a particularly offensive manner and no penalty may be imposed pursuant to other provisions, the penalty shall be imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year.
Section 202a is expected to be implemented on January 1, 2009 and will be also applicable to acts committed abroad by any Norwegian national. The provision applies to any person, regardless of citizenship, living in Norway.
After sweeping the streets of Norway's capital Oslo clear of prostitutes last year, city police were a bit shocked to discover that the girls are back and their numbers are just as high as they were before the removal effort.
Norway passed a ban on the purchase of sex services in 2008. But the Aftenposten newspaper reports that the number of sex workers on the capital's streets is almost back to its pre-ban levels. Local police were surprised by the finding, but
promised a quick reaction.
Oslo's Chief Inspector Oeyvind Norgarden told the Aftenposten The number is surprisingly high, and the customers must be caught. The police chief promises to increase the frequency of patrols along the city streets, even throughout the
night. One aim is to catch the customers red-handed in the illegal act.
Norgarden also claims his police will check out every prostitute they run across and check if their residence papers are correct. Most of Oslo's streetwalkers come from Eastern Europe and Nigeria, according to the police. If they are found to be
living in Norway illegally they can be deported.
The 2009 law criminalizing the purchase of sexual services in Norway has led to prostitutes being more dependent on pimps and encourages human trafficking, according to a new research study.
Prior to the 2009 Sex Purchase Act, Norway had one of Europe's smallest and least organized markets for prostitution. Women came voluntarily, rented apartments and sold sex from there - without the interference from any pimp.
The introduction of the law has made this process more complicated, according to a report in the Stavanger Aftenblad daily.
The women are very vulnerable towards the police and to a greater extent on the network and support that pimps can offer, said Guri Tyldum, a researcher at trades union backed Fafo to Aftenbladet.
Tyldum furthermore believes that the criminalization of prostitution has made it more attractive to traffickers. She said:
The criminalization intended to demonstrate that prostitution is not wanted in Norway. The risk is that the most dangerous and serious form of prostitution that remains.
Norway's Ministry of Justice has announced an evaluation of the sex purchase act.
The Norwegian 'Justice' Ministry is preparing to ban all forms of advertising of sexual services on websites. The ministry is working on the censorship law with the aim to promote a bill to the Parliament in the autumn.
Police inspector Vegard Munthe Ommdal claimed on TV2:
We primarily want to prevent human trafficking and pimping. And online advertising is a very important part of the business,
Ommdal thinks advertising on the internet must be seen as promoting someone else's prostitution.
Hege Grostad is a university student, sex worker,and lobbyist. She is at the heart of a grassroots campaign to decriminalise and regulate the sex industry.
It is a campaign being fought within Norway's well-developed welfare state, not over the morality of prostitution, but over sex workers' rights to pensions and health and safety protection. The most vocal proponents of change are a group of women
who claim they chose this career for themselves.
Selling sex is not illegal in Norway but, since 2009, buying it has been. The industry has become progressively criminalised, with police operations aimed at those who knowingly rent property to sex workers.
Ase Michaelsen, MP for the Progress Party and a member of the Parliamentary Justice Committee, wants to decriminalise the buying of sex:
As the law might look nice on paper, but in reality it hasn't worked. If you have problems with violent customers, you're not motivated to call the police ... because you might risk that they will attempt to sabotage your business
The criminalisation of purchasing sex in Norway has hardly affected the number of buyers, according to reports from Prosentret, an organisation that provides help and advice to sex workers. Its director, Bjorg Norli, believes that criminalising
the sex industry has had a directly negative consequence on many of those who sell sex.
Norway's ban on buying sex has reduced demand for prostitution and has not increased violence against women, as some had feared, a study commissioned by the government said.
Norway criminalised buying sex in 2009, but critics said the law would push prostitution underground, making women more vulnerable and increasing the likelihood of violence against them.
The report based on six months of research says:
Street prostitution in Oslo, the country's biggest city, is down between 35-60% from before the ban, while the indoor market has shrunk by 10-20%.
This report does not find any evidence of more violence against prostitutes after the ban on buying sex entered into force.
The enforcement of the law, in combination with the laws against trafficking and pimping, makes Norway a less attractive country for prostitution-based trafficking than what would have been the case if the law had not been adopted.
However, the lower demand has resulted in lower prices, a problem for prostitutes who often come from poor countries and have few other options to earn a living.
Norway's ruling parties have favoured relaxing the law, but said any proposal to change it would be dependent on this study, which would form the backbone of the government's planned white paper, a precursor to any change in the legislation.
Comment: Censored whilst claiming to be uncensored
The Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) has published a statement in response to the recent release of a report by the Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public Security following an evaluation of the ban of the purchase
of sex which came into force in 2009 in Norway. The report has been heavily criticised by various sex worker rights groups for its poor quality and contradictory claims and findings presented throughout the report's 168 pages.
The report claims that a number of outcomes identified by researchers are positive (in terms of the stated objective of eliminating sex work) when in fact these outcomes affect the working conditions and incomes of sex
workers negatively to an unacceptable degree.
Some findings of the report include:
reduced power for sex workers and more favourable market conditions for clients - sex workers negotiating position has been weakened due to clients' fear of arrest resulting in fewer clients and lower prices. These factors
compound to reduce sex workers' incomes and their agency and autonomy with regards their choice of occupation;
more police surveillance as police need to find clients who are committing the illegal part of the transaction - sex workers have routinely reported increased police surveillance and harassment (although not considered in
this report) in Norway;
displacing sex workers from their homes and other places where they work. The police do 'education' of landlords and hospitality managers to allow them to recognise potential sex workers and to evict suspected sex workers
summarily from their homes or other rented accommodation;
the violence that sex workers are vulnerable to is reported as something that comes with the territory, and according to the authors sex workers are weary to report as it may come back to haunt them (due to the stigma
attached to being a sex worker affecting someone's chances of 'improving their life and situation'). That this is reported in such a tone is heavily problematic and should be of concern to human rights advocates everywhere. It effectively
condones violence committed against sex workers as sex workers are involved in an activity that is condemned by the state.
NSWP member, SWOP-NYC said the following about the report:
The most disturbing parts of the findings were the many noted increases in vulnerability, while acknowledging the on-going need for resources and services. The findings openly state that "there is a need for providing
more options for people that want to get out of prostitution. Language classes, work training and work options are considered to have clear positive effects and there is a need for more of such initiatives." But despite this need for more
options the study points out that for those in the sex trade, life is harder.
Pye Jakobsson, President of NSWP said:
This report shows the responsibility the police has in terms of the impact of their tactics and policing of the ban. Sex workers face tougher conditions in that outdoor sex work environments have become less favourable; sex
workers are more reluctant to report crimes of violence to the police, sex workers' income is reduced due to sex workers now having weaker negotiating power as clients are nervous, want to leave faster, and there are fewer clients. Indoor sex
work has also become more difficult as working together for safety is not an option due to third party laws; also distressing is the fact that sex workers working indoors are constantly in danger of being evicted from the premises they are
working in due to police 'educating' landlords and hotel managers on how to recognise sex workers and to evict them."
NSWP's statement strongly condemns this report published by the Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public Security as it fails to recognise the grave violations to Norwegian sex workers' human rights that are taking place
with state impunity under the current model that bans the purchase of sex. The statement further urges the Norwegian Government to listen to the experiences of sex workers and acknowledge that the criminalisation of the purchase of sex in Norway
is resulting in health and human rights violations of sex workers.