Prostitution law battlelines drawn

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A review into Norway’s laws banning the purchase of sex won’t be finished until June, yet debate has raged over the issue this week with many sides already taking a political standpoint. The Conservative (Høyre), Liberal (Venstre) and Progress (Fremskrittspartiet, FrP) parties all announced platforms to scrap the prostitution ban and their youth representatives want to speed up the process, while the Christian Democrats (Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF) have vowed they’ll fight to keep the ban in place.

The controversial law passed in 2009 does not ban the sale of sex, but prohibits people from buying it. The parties that opposed the law now hold the majority in parliament, newspaper Aftenposten reported. The Greens (De Grønne) also want the law overturned. The parties who previously held government, Labour (Arbeiderpartiet, Ap), Centre (Senterpartiet, Sp) and Socialist Left (Sosialistisk Venstreparti, SV) sided with the KrF to keep the law in place.

FrP politician Jan Arild Ellingsen, who sits on the justice committee, said the balance of power in the parliament means it’s simply a matter of time before the prostitution law is repealed. The review by independent consultants Vista Analyse will be presented to parliament as a white paper mid-year, but Ellingsen said his party’s position is already set.

“I think it will take a lot for us to change our point of view,” he said. “I can’t see any reason to. I’m very doubtful it will emerge that the law has large, positive consequences.” The Liberal party said last month rescinding the sex law was a key issue for the party, and it will pressure the government to make changes.

Others have taken a more moderate line. Justice Minister Anders Anundsen, Ellingsen’s FrP colleague, would only comment that the evaluation group is working on the issue and will submit their results before summer. The justice committee’s deputy, Conservative Anders B Werp, said he’s also opposed to the prostitution ban, but stressed that both the government and his party internally would evaluate the paper’s results before reaching a final decision.

Fight to keep the ban
The head of the justice committee, the Ap’s Hadia Tajik said her party “is very clear that we will uphold the prostituiton law.” The Christian Democrats said they’ll fight hard to keep the ban. “It is one of the most important issues for us,” said the KrF’s Kjell Ingolf Ropstad, who is second deputy chair of the justice committee. “A repeal will send a signal to young men that it’s okay to buy sex, and it’s okay even though we know that the majority of prostitutes want to get out of it.”

“The idea of a law student who sells sex to finance studies is a misconception,” he continued. “Prostitutes are mainly people of foreign origin who really don’t want to prostitute themselves. I’m trusting that the Conservatives and Erna Solberg, as Norway’s second female prime minister, will see it is a particularly bad gender equality policy to reverse this law.”

Hidden market
Many youth party leaders want to speed up the scrapping of the ban. Young Conservatives leader Paul Joakim Sandøy told newspaper Vårt Land that the law has done more harm than good, making it unsafe for prostitutes. Atle Simonsen from the Progress Party’s youth chapter said the law as it is today isn’t working. “It has only led to a hidden market.”

Young Liberal leader said it’s people’s choice whether they want to sell sex, while at the same time the community needs to support those trying to get out of the industry. He said the current law just makes life harder for prostitutes. “It has also made the threshold for reporting criminal acts higher,” he argued. “In addition it sharpens the negative attitudes against those who sell sex as a profession.”

More important issues
Meanwhile, Norwegian prostitution support organization Pro Sentret said politicians and the media are wasting too much time debating the prostitution law. “We should be debating instead about giving people who move to Norway for prostitution opportunities to be and work here,” said spokeswoman Bjørg Norli.

She said the debate has been more about how visible prostitution is, rather than conditions for prostitutes. “People’s discomfort over seeing prostitution has become more important than taking into account the difficult situation which these people actually have,” Norli argued. “Our discomfort trumps there right to respect and help.”

A recent survey by Sentio showed most people want the current ban on buying sex upheld, reported Aftenposten.

newsinenglish.no/Emily Woodgate