The Norwegian government banned prostitution in 2009 in a bid to halt human trafficking, but charities said the number of foreign prostitutes in Norway has only risen in the years since. Aid groups blamed the financial crisis in other parts of Europe and Norway’s strict migrant worker regulations for pushing more foreigners onto the streets.
The Church’s City Mission (Kirkens bymisjon) center for people involved in prostitution helped 987 people from 53 different countries last year, reported newspaper Dagsavisen. That compared to 41 countries in 2012. However, some of those registered gave false homelands or refused to say where they originally came from.
Almost 850 were women. Of those, 319 came from Africa, with 305 from Nigeria alone. From Eastern and Central Europe there were 296, with 86 from Bulgaria and 53 from Romania. There were 136 from Western Europe including 70 Norwegians. There were around 100 from both Asia and the Americas.
“After the prostitution law was introduced the market in Norway fell a little, but we have seen a stable increase since,” said Nadheim manager Olav Lægdene. “Our impression is that street prostitution is only increasing and it is now up to almost the same extent as before the law was introduced. But we have also expanded our outreach efforts.”
“We’re seeing a particular increase in prostitutes who come from Bulgaria and Albania,” Lægdene said. “That is remarkable, because the prostitution group from Bulgaria has been very stable for a long time. The same applies to Albania. There have traditionally been very few prostitutes from Albania in Norway, but now many are coming and they are very young.”
Lægdene said most of the foreigners working as prostitutes in Norway had first been through other European countries where it’s easy to get residence permits, like Italy and Spain. “But then they discover that the Spaniards and Italians themselves are badly struggling to get work, and then many end up in prostitution,” he said.
They think their residency permits will entitle them to work elsewhere in Europe, but find the Norwegian labour migration rules stricter than they expected.
“These people are excluded from the labour market by law,” Lægdene explained. “In addition, many stand very far from job opportunities because they are illiterate. They speak neither English or Norwegian, they have no CV and maybe have mental issues. It is incredibly difficult for people to get out of prostitution when they are not allowed to work.”
Prostitution law under review
A review of the prostitution law will be presented to Parliament in August. The government commissioned Vista Analyse to look into the five-year-old laws to form the basis of a new white paper. The review was due to be finished in June, but was pushed back to August.
Lægdene was critical of the review, and said it was impossible for Vista Analyse to get a real overview of whether the extent of prostitution and human trafficking had been reduced. He said no one knew the extent of prostitution’s inner market. Furthermore, he does not believe the law targets buyers, rather than prostitutes as it was designed.
“Both the brutality against prostitutes and the extent of prostitution seem to have increased,” he said. “We see that especially on the street scene. Before the prostitute had the opportunity to agree to prices beforehand, see how the customer reacted and agree what type of sex they would have before they got into a car. Now customers are scared and want things to happen at lightning speed. The negotiations happen in the car, when it is too late to get away.”
Many are also left homeless, as landlords renting to prostitutes risk prosecution for pimping. “Foreign women are hard hit, such as the law is enforced now,” said Synnøve Jahnsen, a sociologist at the University of Bergen. “They are subjected to very strict control even though the sale of sex itself is not affected by the criminal code provisions.”
She said the law needed to return to its goal of making the customer liable, not the prostitute. “I do not have any desire to devalue the law, and it is clear that we need national legislation in this field,” Jahnsen said. “But it seems like many overestimate the effect of it. But at the same time, it has not changed people’s attitudes to whose who sell sex. They have become worse in the sense that more than before want to ban the sale. It is a paradox. International authorities are clear that we cannot punish victims of human trafficking.”