Norway Publishes First Evaluation of the Ban on the Purchase of Sex

The Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public Security has released a report following an evaluation of the ban of the purchase of sex which came into force in 2009 in Norway. The report claims that the ban on the purchase of sex has been successful in meeting its ‘objectives’. The objectives include; eradicating the purchase of sex altogether and until such time to subdue demand for sexual services provided by sex workers, mute the market in which sex workers sell their services, reduce the levels of ‘trafficking for prostitution’, and improve the ‘situation’ of women and men in prostitution.

The report finds that these objectives have been met and cites examples of the types of clients sex workers now have as evidence that demand for sexual services from sex workers have reduced significantly. Sex workers no longer have "stylish lunch customers" or younger men who buy sex apparently implying that ‘decent’ men seem to have withdrawn from the market. There is also evidence that younger people view buying sex more negatively. It is hard to think how people could view sex workers positively and therefore stigmatise sex workers less when buying sex is viewed so negatively.

Subdued demand for sexual services is evidenced by observations that sex workers report that the law has helped create more favourable market conditions for buyers as transaction times are now shorter and that there is more time between clients because clients are more nervous and do not want to be caught. This has resulted in sex workers having to lower their rates thus reducing the income of sex workers. This is reported to be a positive outcome.

The report states that a market review has found that the sex purchase ban has contributed to there being ‘less prostitution’. This is based on the finding that existing ‘pimping’ laws are being utilised along with the sex purchase ban to make it harder to sell sex (which our readers might know is a decriminalised activity in Norway). The reports states: “The costs for the perpetrators are thus increased and their profits reduced” if sex workers are decriminalised, who are the perpetrators referred to in the Norwegian report? Sex workers are finding it harder to work because pimping laws are used to deter landlords from renting premises to sex workers and hotels from renting rooms to sex workers. The report’s summary does not elaborate on how ‘pimping’ has reduced, it merely refers to sex workers losing their market power and autonomy to negotiate better and safer transactions as a positive development. Sex workers therefore are the people who bear the brunt of these laws being used together to ‘mute the market’ as sex workers make up the group targeted by police for surveillance and harassment in order for police to find the clients who are buying sex.

The report in its ‘highlights’ section states that the poor market conditions for prostitution and the enforcement of the ban would reduce profits from trafficking for the purpose of prostitution and findings indicate that this has indeed been the case. According to the report: “The law, in other word influenced important aspects of factors ("pull"), and probably reduced extent of human trafficking in Norway compared to what it otherwise would be.” The authors however, fail to provide conclusive evidence to support this finding in their evaluation.

The report states that the ban has been effective in lowering the number of people working in prostitution because the ban has made it more difficult for both street-based and indoor sex workers to conduct their business. Weaker negotiating power for street-based sex workers (which also means less agency and autonomy for sex workers as they are unable to negotiate and bargain effectively with clients) and the threat of indoor sex workers being evicted from their rented accommodation (be that private rented accommodation or hotels) is not a positive development as it undermines the agency of sex workers

Sex workers in Norway have long reported police surveillance in order for police to find the clients who are committing the illegal part of the transaction between two consenting adults.  In Sweden, where the purchase of sex has been illegal since 1999, it has been reported that police have been educating hospitality staff in hotels and bars for example, on how to recognise suspected sex workers. Landlords are also encouraged to be vigilant of suspected sex workers and to summarily evict sex workers from their homes. The recent case of a Swedish court ruling against two Asian women who claimed discrimination on the grounds of their appearance is a case in point. The court ruled that ‘preventing prostitution’ as the bar in question claimed they were doing was valid since prostitution is a criminal activity. The policy was put in place on the grounds that the pub  was trying to prevent prostitution from taking place on their premises as the pub owner had been informed by the police that prostitution was taking place in the area and that Asian women were involved.The women lost their appeal to have the ruling overturned on the same grounds. Ironically Swedish Model advocates vehemently object to the notion that sex workers are criminalised under the Swedish Model. The judgement however, indicates otherwise.

Pye Jakobsson, national coordinator for Rose Alliance said: “This report shows the responsibility the police has in terms of the impact of their tactics and policing of the ban. Sex workers face tougher conditions in that outdoor sex work environments have become less favourable; sex workers’ are more reluctant to report crimes of violence to the police, sex workers’ income is reduced due to sex workers now having weaker negotiating power as clients are nervous, want to leave faster and there are fewer clients. Indoor sex work has also become more difficult as working together for safety is not an option due to third party laws, also distressing is the fact that sex workers working indoors are constantly in danger of being evicted from the premises they are working in due to police ‘educating’ landlords and hotel managers on how to recognise sex workers and to evict them.”

NSWP will be releasing a statement in response to the evaluation of the ban on the purchase of sex in the near future.