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A very “uncertain” evaluation that disregards the “weaker bargaining position and more safety concerns” of sex workers

A very “uncertain” evaluation that disregards the “weaker bargaining position and more safety concerns” of sex workers in Norway

The International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe expresses its serious concerns at the recent Norwegian 5 years evaluation of the criminalisation of the purchase of sex published on August 11th 2014. We find the evaluation report commissioned by the Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Social Services unreliable, self-contradictory and detrimental as it downplays the harms that implementation of the law might cause to sex workers.  

The report claims that ban on purchase of sex has led to significant reduction of demand for sexual services and has contributed to the decrease in the number of sex workers working in Norway. We believe, however, that estimates provided by authors of this report are based rather on assumptions and wishful thinking than on reliable data. Though the report shows a decline in street-based sex work (which concerns a minority of sex workers in Norway), it fails to give serious evidence about the decrease of indoor sex work. Sentences like “Estimates of the size of the indoors market are considerably more uncertain” or “Our best estimate – with a high degree of uncertainty – is a market reduction of 10-20 percent compared to the situation before the law” convey a sense that no definitive data were available before and after the passage of the law. This sheds some serious doubt on the claim that overall levels of sex work in Norway have been reduced due to the implementation of the law.

Even if we accept this highly uncertain reduction of 10-20% of indoor sex work, we ask the Norwegian government:

At what price did this alleged reduction take place?

In fact the report clearly establishes that implementation of the law has led to the worsening of working conditions and safety for sex workers in Norway, and has contributed to their economic disempowerment.

The evaluation says: “The entry into prostitution is based on economic motives. Still, the prices are lower than before.” and “The customer is now afraid of being caught and this can result in less time to decide whether to strike a deal with the customer or not as well as lower prices.” Basic notion of economics are sufficient to realise that by lowering the prices, sex workers have to work harder, probably accepting clients or consenting to acts they would have refused in the past. Such situation deprives sex workers of control over their working environment and decreases their capacity to undertake all the necessary measures to engage in safer sex behaviours. Although authors of the report are aware of the abovementioned risks and safety concerns for both indoor and outdoor sex workers, as they state that “women in the street market report to have a weaker bargaining position and more safety concerns now than before the law was introduced. At the indoors marker, prostitutes express concern for the ‘out-door’ calls”, they seem to consider them as irrelevant and fail to consider them as side-effects of the law that as they claim was supposed to protect those selling sexual services.   

Also assertions concerning levels of violence against sex workers after implementation of the law raise many confusion and concerns. Authors of the report suggest that there is no evidence that violence has increased in recent years, simultaneously noting that The threshold for reporting a violent customer to the police also seems to be higher after the law. People in prostitution are afraid that such actions will come back to halt them at later stages.” How can the evaluation say that levels of violence have not increased when it just stated that sex workers are less likely to report violence?

ICRSE denounce the self-congratulatory sentiment that the safety and well-being of sex workers can be treated as dismissible casualties and the notion that an “uncertain” fall in global numbers of sex workers is worth the increased “safety concerns” of those who 5 years after this law have to work harder and feel less able to report violence to the authorities.

We call on the Norwegian and Swedish governments to listen to sex workers, abandon the criminalisation of clients and stop investing funds in exporting this failed system.

Sign the petition by Rose Alliance:

Translation of petition text in Turkish:

Statement from Strass about the Norwegian evaluation:

Read the report:

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