Norway prepares to punish sex purchasers, at home and abroad 

13th January 2009, Comments 0 comments

The new law aims to clean up the streets and protect the prostitutes by outlawing the buying of sex.

Oslo -- As Norway welcomed the New Year, it announced plans to introduce a new law making the purchase -- but not the sale -- of sex a criminal act, even threatening to put Norwegians who buy sex abroad behind bars.

"We think buying sex is unacceptable because it favors human trafficking and forced prostitution," Deputy Justice Minister Astri Aas-Hansen said.

Street prostitution has become ever more visible in Norwegian cities in recent years, with prostitute support organizations estimating that the country of just 4.6 million people has as many as 3,000 sex workers.

The new law, which is modeled on similar legislation from Sweden, aims to clean up the streets and protect the prostitutes by outlawing the buying of sex. The sale of sex will remain legal.

Procuring, or "pimping," and human trafficking are already illegal in Norway.

Norway will go even further than its Scandinavian neighbor however, making it illegal for Norwegian citizens and residents to purchase sexual favors even abroad, although Aas-Hansen insists catching johns in foreign countries "is not a priority for Norwegian police."

Prostitutes' customers could be slapped with fines proportionate to their revenues, be sentenced to up to six months in prison, or both.

In extreme cases, especially when the person providing sexual services is a minor, the prison term can stretch up to three years.

Norwegian media has reported that street prostitution has dropped considerably in the run-up to the introduction of the new law, but Bjoerg Norli of the Pro Centre, a prostitute support group, insists that the decline is an illusion brought on by plunging winter temperatures. "The women are waiting to see what will happen,” she said. “They have not decided yet whether they will leave or stop selling sex or continue and establish indoors."

When the center-left coalition government first said that it was planning to draft the law, it drew protests from support groups like the Pro Centre who claimed it would make sex workers more reliant on pimps to get customers and would force them to work in more secluded places, making them more vulnerable to rape and attack by clients.

"That's the risk,” Aas-Hansen said. “Some of us feared the situation of the prostitutes would get worse." However, Aas-Hansen noted, after much debate the law was equipped with mechanisms aimed at helping the prostitutes.

Under the new law, prostitutes will have access to free schooling, police assistance and detoxification treatment for those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Norli was not convinced, however, saying that while those wishing to quit the profession would surely receive plenty of help, the new law would make life much more difficult for sex workers who felt they had no alternative. "I'm sure it's going to be a lot about helping the women who would like to quit and get extra schooling or assistance to get a job," she told AFP. "Our experience is not that a lot of women are leaving prostitution, but that some of them have left (the country) because of the law"

The Pro Centre suspects many of the Nigerian women, who make up one of the largest groups of foreign prostitutes in the Scandinavian country, will simply leave Norway and continue prostitution elsewhere in Europe, moving the problem somewhere else. For those who stay behind, everything will just be made more difficult.

"Our greatest concern are the Norwegian women who are drug dependent,” Norli said. “They really don't have an alternative. They won't have any income source with the new law."

The Norwegian law is modeled on a law adopted in Sweden in 1999 that has been hailed by police and even some sex worker support groups as highly effective at reducing prostitution.

Finland introduced a similar law in 2006, while Scotland also criminalized the purchase of sex in 2007.


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