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Prostitutes Fume as Norway Bids to Criminalise Sex Purchases

Norway is preparing to criminalise the purchase of sex, a move that is proving highly controversial among prostitutes' support groups who argue the policy will make sex workers more vulnerable .

Men who buy sex could face up to six months in jail, pay a fine or face both, under proposed legislation currently under consultation with relevant interest groups.

The law will outlaw the buying of sex, but not the sale. Procuring, or "pimping", and human trafficking are already illegal.

The bill, expected to be sent to parliament before mid-2008, is certain to be adopted as all three parties in the governing coalition have said they will back it.

"We want to send a clear message to men that buying sex is unacceptable. Men who do it are taking part in an international crime involving human beings who are trafficked for sex," Norwegian Justice Minister Knut Storberget told AFP.

"Criminalising buying sex will make it more difficult for traffickers to organise themselves," he added, because they won't be able to find clients in the street since the latter will be afraid of getting caught.

Prostitutes' support groups claim the law will be ineffective.

"The law will end street prostitution but it won't stop women from working indoors or from going abroad" to work as prostitutes, Liv Jessen, director of the Pro Centre, an Oslo-based support group for prostitutes, told AFP.

It is estimated that about 40 percent of prostitution in Norway is conducted on the street, with the rest occurring indoors, for instance in hotels or massage parlours.

Among prostitutes working on the street, about 80 percent come from abroad, from countries such as Romania, Bulgaria and Nigeria, via trafficking. The rest are Norwegians who tend to be substance abusers.

In recent years, street prostitution in central Oslo has become more visible, prompting calls for a ban.
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