Thank you for inviting me to Madrid to share with you what we have done so far in Norway
on the issue of prostitution and especially on the demand for women and girls (men and boys)
for prostitution purposes.
It is a very important moment for us now; the new law that penalizes the buyer of a sexual act
is to be adopted in the Norwegian parliament in October. The law is expected to enter into
force on1st January 2009.
But first; a short presentation of my organisation on whose behalf I’m speaking here today.
Women’s Front is a politically independent women’s organisation, founded in 1972. It is a
radical feminist organisation, working against all forms of discrimination experienced by
women and girls in a society dominated by men; economical, social, political, legal and
We currently focus on the following core issues:
1. Women’s economic independence: Equal pay for equal work, ending discrimination of
women in the labour market, pension rights, a 6-hour standard work day and
kindergarten for all children.
2. Sexuality: Fight against exploitation of women and children in pornography,
prostitution and international trafficking. Penalize the buyer of prostitution. Advance
women’s sexual liberation on our own terms.
3. Violence: Ending all forms of male violence towards women, especially that
committed by family members and intimate partners.
4. Sexual and Reproductive rights: The right to safe, accessible, free and legal abortion,
contraceptives and reproductive health care services.
The Women’s Front of Norway finds its strength in, and seeks to build upon solidarity
between women, internationally as well as nationally, and therefore is it even more important
for us to attend this conference where we are able to share our experiences and thoughts. I’m
delighted to be here.
The new law
”He who obtains for himself or others sexual activity or act by giving or agreeing upon a
payment, shall be liable to fines or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or
both, for the purchase of sexual services. In equal manner shall be liable he who gains
sexual activity or act through the giving or agreeing upon a payment by another.”
The new law proposal that will be effective from 1st January 2009, states that it is prohibited
to purchase a sexual act, and the punishment will be fines or imprisonment up to six months.
Importantly, the government states in its proposal that this law will criminalize the purchase
of a sexual act in Norway as well as abroad.
The minister of Justice says that “Human beings are not a commodity and criminalizing the
purchasing of a sexual act will make Norway less attractive for the traffickers. Our goal is to
change attitudes, reduce the demand and thus reduce the potential market for the traffickers.
Criminalizing shall not make the situation for women in prostitution worse; therefore the
government will develop other alternatives of livelihood for women than prostitution.”
In 2009, it is exactly 10 years since same law was passed in Sweden. Why did it take so long
for Norway to get this law? What were the important steps in Norway that in the end will give
us this law?
History: 1975 Women’s Front and the issue of prostitution
Back in the early 70’s, the fight against sexual exploitation of women was not on our feminist
agenda. An analysis of issues concerning women’s bodies and sexuality were not topics for us
in Women’s Front in those early days. But through the struggle for the right to legal abortion,
the use of the female body came clearly into focus. And we started to ask questions about
When we started the fight against pornography in the mid 70’s, a critique of pornography was
a hidden world, and the porn industry was an unknown phenomenon to us. At the time, only
X-tian puritans and liberals took part in debates on pornography.
The puritans said No; it is contrary to Christian sexual moral.
The liberals said Yes; pornography is liberating you (women).
But regardless their opposite positions, the puritans and the liberals had much in common,
both sides discussed as if this was about nakedness and sexual variations, none of them said
anything about those women that were severely abused through the production of
pornography, or what kind of relations between men and women that was promoted and
reproduced through pornographic material. And no one mentioned those who profited from
the production of pornographic material
We started to ask questions.
Where do all these magazines and films come from?
Who is behind it all?
What is pornography about when you look at it with radical women’s eyes?
Who are the buyers?
And we went into the world where pornography is made and looked around.
We discovered an industry that produced a variety of merchandise to men all over the entire
We saw who paid the price.
We saw the smiling young girls who had thought this was the road to fame.
We saw all the women who were already disposed of by the finer glossy porn
magazines and could not longer bargain, they accepted now to do things that they
would have opposed a few years back.
We met with Linda Marchiano known as Linda Lovelace from the film “Deep Throat”
and learned about the brutal abuse she was subjected to.
We saw a pattern emerging;
We saw a world where women are treated as if we are not human beings; where we
are presented as “the others”, something that the producer of pornography and the
male buyers view as a commodity and use as they please, and throw away as they
please. He does not have to relate to who she really is; she is there to do exactly what
you the buyers want.
1977: The network of women’s organisations
Several women’s organisations broke with the society’s moralist concept of female sexuality,
part and parcel of our X-tian protestant society.
We took the stand that pornography turns women/ and women’s sexuality into a commodity
that can be bought and sold on the capitalist market by men.
In 1977, 30 women’s organisation formed a network: Joint action against Pornography.
The mandate was: A woman’s body is not for sale.
A few years later the network changed its name to: Joint action against Pornography and
Prostitution. We decided to take on prostitution because a study about prostitution in
Norway had suddenly made us aware of the conditions that women live under in the
prostitution industry. The study was written by two feminists and gave us important
knowledge; we saw that pornography and prostitution were the backbone of the sex industry.
Women’s Front was regarded as the most radical organisation in the network, but the clear
political mandate and the will to work for the common cause, made it possible for
organisations and political parties from other political persuasions to join. Even the Christian
Democratic Party joined. The network also invited men to take part.
The knowledge we have about pornography and prostitution is the result of hundreds of
discussions in our organisations and in our network, and above all discussions with ordinary
people. As the network had members all over Norway, it was easy to organize action days
where we stood on the street corners and handed out leaflets and had heated debates with
passers-by. We got invited to speak with students in high schools, to labour unions, farmers’
unions; we met with organised and un-organised women all over the country, and we met the
young conscripted men in the military barracks.
What we actually did, was to confront the sex industry in Norway and the producers in their
flashy suits making millions of Euro in profit. We also succeeded in mobilizing, through
discussions, ordinary women and men by showing them what pornography and prostitution is
1985 -1989: International solidarity
In the beginning of the 80’s, we established contact with women’s organisations in the
Philippines and were able to have joint actions to expose sex tourists when chartered airplanes
took off with them from Oslo and when they landed in Manila. These actions made big
headlines in the newspapers in Norway and the Philippines.
At the UN conference in Nairobi in 1985, for the first time we ran into the pro-prostitution
lobby, represented by the Dutch NGO the Red Thread (De Roode Draad). The members of the
organization called themselves feminists and argued that prostitution should be regarded as a
form of sex work. We all know what the liberals and the sex industry have done in the
But soon the international pro-prostitution lobby was growing. Some of our former allies left
us and joined the “feminist alibi” of the prostitution industry, GAATW. The international pro-
prostitution lobby also got allies in Norway and, unfortunately, also members from our
Back in Norway, we looked for more allies: Kathleen Barry’s books Female Sexual Slavery
and The Prostitution of Sexuality were eye-openers. We contacted her, and in 1989 we sent
two members from Women’s Front to New York to take part in the founding meeting of the
Coalition Against Trafficking in Women International. We have had a close relationship since
then, and starting in 1997, the Women’s Front has been able to fund some parts of the
activities of CATW. The collaboration with CATW has been of immense inspiration to us.
1990 – 1999: New allies, the trade unions
When women went out to work in male-dominated workplaces in the 70’s, many of us carried
out a lonely fight with no allies when we started to take down the pornographic posters from
the walls in our workplaces. And our trade unions kept silent.
Back then, the fights against pornography and prostitution, the fight against the sexual
exploitation of women, were not topics for the trade unions. As individuals, members knew a
lot about the topic, but it was impossible to engage the trade unions in a systematic dialogue
against prostitution and pornography. Why?
Some saw it as something belonging to the private sphere, and therefore not to be
taken onboard by the trade unions.
As women in trade unions, we concentrated on the usual issues: adequate salary,
working hours, pensions, day care etc and did not see that we left out important parts.
We saw women in prostitution only as drug addicted, foreigners, not to be trusted,
belonging to the “lumpen proletariat”. They were the others; they were not a part of
our movement and not like us.
But during the last part of the 90’s, many Women’s Front members active in female-
dominated trade unions worked hard to make the trade unions take on board the issue of
trafficking in women and girls and prostitution.
We knew that the international lobby for the legalization of the prostitution industry
was growing fast.
And we knew that the Norwegian trade unions could play an important role nationally
and internationally in stopping the efforts to legalize prostitution as work, if they
In 1997 we discovered the ILO report The Sex Sector: the Economic and Social Bases of
Prostitution in Southeast Asia. The message was: Asian economies would benefit from
legalising prostitution as sex-work and the Asian countries would benefit economically if they
legalised the sex industry.
Should prostitution be legalised as work? This was something for the trade unions and they
started to take part in the debate by signing on a letter of protest to ILO and the UN Secretary
General. The letter was headed “Prostitution is deprivation of women’s human rights”. It
ended “Therefore we demand from ILO and other UN agencies; take a clear stand against
prostitution – and for women’s human rights.”
Some of the female dominated unions and feminist women’s organisations have a national
feminist gathering every year, and this has been an important door opener for us in Women’s
Front and for our allies in the trade unions.
The next step was to lobby more actively for criminalizing the buyers. In 1994, the Women’s
Front sent a letter to the Norwegian Ministry of Defence arguing that action should be taken
against Norwegian soldiers on UN-missions abroad that were purchasing sexual services. We
got no response. Three years later the relevant workers’ union, Norwegian Public Employees,
NTL, demanded that the Ministry of Defence ensured that military personnel in Norwegian
and other peacekeeping forces that purchase women for prostitution purposes should be taken
out of service and sent home. The Ministry said; “No”, but the solid facade of labour unions
with the attitude “we will not discuss the issue of demand, we will not focus on the
purchaser”, had begun to crack.
1990’s: The collapse of the Eastern Block and the Soviet Union
Internationally and nationally two things had happened:
In 1993, the former Soviet Union fell apart, and the former Yugoslavia and the Eastern-
European countries with their strong political and economical ties to Soviet Union found
themselves in a horrible economical situation.
In the North of Norway, local men suddenly started to purchase Russian women for sexual
purposes, when the Russian women were trafficked across the border to Norway. Suddenly
local communities in the small villages in the northern rural areas, including Sami
communities, began to discuss: What is prostitution? And: How should we react?
In the larger cities in Norway, suddenly women trafficked from the Baltic countries, from
Eastern-European countries as Albania, Romania, Moldovia, were visible in street
prostitution. The majority of women in prostitution in Norway were no longer Norwegian,
while the buyers were local Norwegian men.
1999: The Swedish law
The Swedish law came after years with political dialogue and discussion between the Swedish
Feminist movement, the public and the politicians. The initiative to criminalize the
prostitution buyers originally came from the Swedish women’s movement, after analyzing
women’s position in society and concluded, like we did in Norway, that prostitution was
another patriarchal tool of oppression. From 1987 the Swedish Women’s shelter movement
included it in their yearly list of political demands. The Swedish law was part of a whole
programme: the Act on Violence against Women, a package of laws that should promote
gender equality and strengthen women’s situation in the society. No one assumed that a law
itself would create sudden miracles; but it was an important step to changes attitudes.
In the promotion of the Swedish law it is clearly stated that prostitution is regarded as men’s
violence against women and children and a serious problem for the society, because it is
harmful not only to the women and children it exploit, but harmful for the whole society.
Gender equality can not be obtained as long as men are exploiting women and children
through prostitution and pornography.
Sweden has been laughed at and belittled by those who lobby for prostitution to be regarded
as work and prostitution to be a part of the labour market, but the effects of this law are clear:
Sweden is no longer a profitable market for pimps and traffickers, and the number of women
in prostitution has radically diminished, while close to 1500 buyers have been prosecuted.
In 1999 when the Swedish law came into force
nearly SEK 7 million was set aside by the government for police enforcement
And in 2003
another SEK 30 million were earmarked for the Police.
In addition, between 2001 and 2006, the Swedish government showed clear political will to
eliminating prostitution and trafficking by
earmarking SEK 21 million for further development of
legal and policy measures against prostitution and trafficking in human beings,
including for bi- and multilateral projects against the demand,
the “export” of the law that prohibits the purchase of a sexual service
and a multitude of awareness raising and information campaigns to discourage the
and over SEK 200 million for different measures on trafficking in human beings,
including measures to curb the demand, through development aid.
During 1999, the first year of the Law’s operation, the police enforcement efforts were
directed mainly at men buying women in street prostitution; however since then, prostitution
buyers of women in apartment brothels, porn clubs, massage parlours, and escort agencies are
also being targeted.
In 2004 the number of women in street prostitution in Sweden is no more than 500 (Sweden
has 9 million inhabitants) let us compare to Demark (4,5 millions inhabitants) with 5.000 -
7.000 women in street prostitution, a remarkable difference.
Men as buyers of women for the purpose of prostitution
The Palermo protocol is the first international instrument that mentions the demand that
promotes all forms of exploitation that lead to trafficking. And article 9.5 states “States
Parties shall adopt or strengthen legislative or other measures to discourage the demand that
fosters all forms of exploitation of persons, especially women and children, that leads to
trafficking” In its passage of the Law, Sweden, and soon Norway, complies with the
requirements in Article 9.5, in targeting the men who create the demand for prostituted
women. The Protocol also recommends national awareness campaigns against trafficking in
human beings, especially women and children and Sweden carried out a national campaign in
2002-2003. The campaign had as its overall objective to increase awareness and knowledge
about prostitution and the global trafficking in women. Most important, The Swedish
campaign implemented innovative measures directed towards buyers and potential buyers of
prostituted women and children in Sweden, as well as towards those men who travel to
neighbouring countries and to other countries in Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa for
the specific purpose of buying and exploiting prostituted women and children. Three posters
were displayed in 2.215 public locations around the country, including bus shelters, subway
stations and street-cars.
Why did it take 10 years before we had the Law?
Since the beginning of the 90’s, the pro-prostitution lobby managed to control the biggest
outreach program in Norway, Pro Sentret. This outreach program with a “we know what is
best for women" image had good connections to all political parties in power. They managed
to be upgraded and given the task to act as national competence centre on prostitution and
trafficking. Experiences from other outreach program in Norway were never taken into
The academia in Norway still sees prostitution as a legitimate choice of occupation for
women, and they rename trafficking as migration. hey are far away from the feminist view
that buying of women and children in prostitution is sexual violation of women and children
and contrary to gender equality.
Back to Norway 2002
A new network was established by the women’s movement in Norway in 2002: the Network
against Prostitution and Trafficking in Women. This network managed to obtain good
contacts with different political parties and acted as an important lobbyist for a law that
criminalizes the buying of a sexual act in Norway.
Women’s Front is a member of the network together with the Norwegian Women’s Shelter
Movement. This network has as goal to focus on eliminating the demand, and to work for
civil and human rights for women in prostitution, especially women coming to Norway from
abroad, trafficked or not trafficked. The network clearly took a stand on the question of
penalizing the buyer, and lobbied hard for the Law.
The network managed to secure funding for several programs for women on the run from
traffickers and 115 women from 30 different countries have been given access to shelters in
Norway. This network acted as a clearing house and came up with facts and findings contrary
to the so called National Competence Centre. Members in the network also assisted victims
of trafficking in bringing traffickers to court.
Contrary to in Sweden, the Norwegian national congress of the Labour party and the national
congress of the Socialist Left Party were both against criminalizing the buyer. When the
leader of the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions declared that she would support and
fight for a new law, Women’s Front invited key speakers from CATW Nigeria, CATW Asia
and CATW leaders to Norway and let them have separate meetings with political parties and
trade unions without us from the women’s movement present. Personally, I think that was
The CATW leaders also met with high ranking people in the police force, and together with
information from their colleagues in Sweden it made an impact.
We knew that the crucial moments were the national congress meetings in spring 2007, both
the Labour Party and the Socialist Left Party had each their party congress meetings and
criminalizing the buyers were on the agenda on both parties. Long ago the Christian
Democratic Party has decided to support a law, the same as the Centre Party.
The 8th of March, the International Women’s Day, is an important political event and
happening all over Norway. Around the 8th of March 2007 in my hometown we suddenly saw
a promising activity and engagement from both the youth branch of the Labour Party and the
youth branch of the Socialist Left Party, as they both took initiative to public meetings where
prostitution, trafficking and the demand were debated.
A month later during the two party congresses it was the youth branches that convinced the
older generation to se the connection between the demand, trafficking and prostitution. With
such an active block inside their own parties, both congresses said yes.
Now there was a majority among the political parties in government for criminalizing the
purchase of sexual act, and the process of drafting a proposal for a new law was initiated.
Why took it 10 years before Norway gets the Law, II?
Compared to Sweden, the Norwegian authorities have nearly no wills to speak loudly about
the demand, to speak loudly about the buyer.
Who are the men seeking out prostitutes?
The statistics show that Spanish men top the “sex purchasing league”; practically four out of
ten Spanish men (39 percent) have paid for sex at some time during their life. The proportion
of sex purchasers seems to be approximately the same in the three Scandinavian countries
(Finland, Norway and Sweden); a bit more than every tenth man has paid for sex at some time
of their life.
Every eighth man older than 18 years in Sweden have, at least once, bought a person
for prostitution purposes within Sweden or in other countries.
The men represent all ages; however, the majority of the buyers are between 30 and 55
years of age, all income classes and all ethnic backgrounds.
The majority of the men is, or has been, married or cohabiting, and they often have
Men who have or have had many sexual partners are the most common buyers of
prostituted persons, effectively dispelling the myth that the buyer is a lonely, sexually
unattractive man with no other option for his sexual outlet than to buy prostituted
In Sweden they do something about this, they have established centres for men were men
learn to change behaviour.
The Northern Man is targeted by the global sex industry
Today, prostitution is part of a continually expanding sex industry with a global range. A
marked component of this development is the extensive traffic over national borders for the
purpose of prostitution. There is more or less organized transport of sex purchasers from the
rich to the poor part of the world, and the organized transport of women goes in the opposite
direction, from the poor countries to the men in the well off European countries.
When asked when the last sexual contact took place, close to 70 percent of the Swedish sex
purchasers said that it took place abroad, either on holiday or in a work or business trip
(Månsson 1998). These are the reasons why the Minister of Justice wants the Norwegian Law
to be effective both in Norway and abroad.
Another recent change in the structure of the global sex industry concerns the development of
“computer pornography” and the purchasing and selling of sexual services via the Internet.
There is no doubt that the introduction of this new technology has increased the availability of
sex for money. Tentative results from a Swedish case study suggest the clients on the Internet
are much younger and have better socio-economic situation than for example the clients of
women in street prostitution (Nordvinter and Ström 2000).
The law will be a great step forward, and we can start concentrating on how we successfully
implement this legislation and accompanying measures.
Use our political vision on how to prevent and combat prostitution and trafficking in human
beings for sexual purposes, and to develop the underlying principles and strategies for how to
change a culture of prostitution into a culture where no woman, no man or child is for sale.
Bergen, 18th September 2008
We credit: Gunilla Ekberg, Co-Executive Director of CATW
Janice Raymond former Co-Executive Director of CATW
Unni Rustad, founder of Women’s Front
Sven-Axel Mänsson, professor, Malmö University