Monday, November 10, 2008

Update on prostitution law in Norway

Norwegian Parliament (Storting) in Oslo

As you may know the Norwegian government has been planning for a while to follow Sweden in criminalising the men who pay for sex. Influenced by radical feminism, the law aims to shift the responsibility wholly on to those who create the demand for prostitution and who use their money to abuse and exploit others. Like in Sweden the punishment will be a fine and/or term in prison of up to 6 months although at the same time it'll go further by making it also an offence for Norwegian citizens to buy sex while abroad.

Kvinnegruppa Ottar, the more radical of Norway’s two main feminist campaign groups, is reporting on their website that the law is to be voted on by the Storting on the 20th of November and if it passes (which is almost certain as it has the support of all three governing parties as well as the Christian People’s Party) it will enter the statute book on the 1st of January next year. Glasgow City Council have also been advocating the adoption of similar legislation here in Scotland so let’s hope the Norwegian move will add new momentum for the campaign against prostitution not just in our own country but all over the world.

To mark the occasion the sex industry has been getting more attention in the Norwegian press than usual. Best-selling tabloid VG has gathered together a series of articles under a section titled 'det norske sexmarkedet' on their website and in the last few days it's emerged that several years ago a member of parliament was warned by the Storting's President Jørgen Kosmo after being reported paying for sex while on an official delegation abroad.

The VG articles, as well as giving coverage to both supporters and opponents of the law in Norway and abroad, go into detail about the effects of the law in Sweden where, since it was introduced in 1999, trafficking and street prostitution have been dramatically reduced and where the vast majority of people continue to support the legislation. But undoubtedly prostitution does still continue and it's not necessarily been as effective in curbing the demand as feminists would have liked. Many Swedes blame the softness of the penalties handed out or believe that the police haven't done enough to tackle the problem. Indeed of the 189 people reported in 2007 for buying sex not a single one (according to VG) was convicted.

The authorities in Norway will perhaps try to learn from some of these failings but, regardless, the law will still send out an important message about what society thinks of prostitution and whom it believes should be held responsible for its existence. As Grete Jacobsen from Kvinnegruppa Ottar said in an article for Stavanger Aftenblad, it is:

“Mest av alt retter seg mot menn og menn sine holdninger! Loven sier at vi som samfunn ikke aksepterer at menn ser på kvinner som en vare de kan kjøpe seg rett til å penetrere bakfra i smugene i Gamle Stavanger, eller hvor det nå skulle være. Det er en lov som slår fast at prostitusjon er vold mot kvinner og barn, og det motsatte av likeverd. Helt korrekt blir kundene definert som voldsutøvere og fra 1. januar i neste år, vil horekundene bli straffeforfulgt for sine handlinger. Da kan endelig folk melde i fra til politiet om navngitte horekunder. Fra da av må horekundene stå til ansvar for sine overgrep. Andre tiltak for å snu menn sine holdninger har dessverre ikke lykkes. Horekundens frihet har gått på bekostning av andres frihet og må dermed begrenses i et samfunn der kvinner og menn skal være like mye verdt...

“Å skape en folkelig motstand mot prostitusjon vil likevel gi den største effekten av en kriminalisering av horekunder. Loven er normgivende og kommer som følge av en langvarig, seig kamp om hodene til folk. Det er ikke lett å frata menn rettigheter, men det forplikter å være et av verdens mest likestilte land. I en verden med økende fattigdom og prostitusjon, trengs menn i en solidarisk dugnad for mer rettferdighet, også for kvinner som da slipper å ‘opne seg for mannen.’”

"Most of all directed at men and men's attitudes! The law says that we as a society do not accept that men should be able to see women as a commodity which they can buy the right to penetrate from behind in the alleyways of Old Stavanger, or wherever it is now. It is a law which clearly states that prostitution is violence against women and children, and the opposite of equality. Correctly those who pay for sex will be defined as perpetrators of violence and from the 1st of January next year, will be punished for their actions. Then can people finally report to the police the customers who buy sex. From then on the customers will be made responsible for their abuse. Other measures to change the men's attitudes have unfortunately not worked. The freedom of sex customers has come at the expense of others' freedom, and must therefore be limited in a society where women and men shall be of equal value...

"Creating a popular opposition against prostitution will be the biggest impact of the criminalisation of those who pay for sex. The law is normative and comes as a result of a long, tough battle for people’s minds. It is not easy to challenge the position of men, but it is an obligation to be one of the world's most equal countries. In a world of increasing poverty and prostitution, men are needed as part of the collective struggle for more justice, and also for a society where women will no longer have to ‘open themselves for the man.'"

(Sorry about the far from perfect translation. I’m learning Norwegian but even with a dictionary it can be hard to understand fully what some things mean or how best to phrase them in English.)

Also worth looking at is this speech/presentation (in English) by a representative of Kvinnefronten, the other main feminist organisation in Norway, on the background of the campaign against sexual exploitation in her country: