Norwegian city to teach prostitutes language

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Prostitutes in Bergen are to be offered free Norwegian language classes to get them off the street and into society

Oslo  -- Foreign prostitutes working in the Norwegian city of Bergen are to be offered language courses and information about their legal rights.

"With better knowledge of Norwegian it will be easer to cope in society and have a better life," Red Cross official Lene Steimler told the online edition of the Bergens Tidende newspaper.

More than half the estimated 400 to 550 prostitutes in the city come from outside Norway, many from eastern Europe and Nigeria.

The courses are due to start in September. Steimler is coordinating them with city officials. One of the aims is to increase the sex workers' trust in the police and health services in order to assist integrating the women into society and away from the streets.

"Self-defence training is also being considered. When it becomes illegal to buy sexual favours, prostitutes will go underground and the risks will increase," Steimler said.

Norway is at present planning to introduce a bill making it illegal to pay for sex. It will apply inside the Scandinavian country and to Norwegian residents when they are outside Norway. Similar legislation is already in force in Australia with regard to sex tourism.

A ban has been debated for several years, and is likely to pass in parliament since it has the backing of the ruling coalition as well as the opposition Christian Democrats.

As in neighbouring Sweden, prostitutes who offer their services will not be punished but are instead seen as victims to be helped.

Researcher May-Len Skilbrei, who has studied prostitution and trafficking, said knowledge of Norwegian might help the prostitutes seek other job opportunities.

 Although pronounciation is hard, Norwegian is a relatively simple language for beginners, sharing a number of characteristics with English.

It could also protect them, since they will be able to communicate with their neighbours and no longer feel isolated, she said.


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