Skilbrei on ‘un-Norwegian’ prostitution
Since January 1, Norway is the second country in the world to criminalise the purchase of sexual services. May-Len Skilbrei, a researcher at Fafo and a leading expert on prostitution policy in Norway, comments on the new ban and the surrounding debates in Dagbladet. Skilbrei argues that the debate about prostitution in Norway has followed two distinct tracks: First, the debate about whether to criminalise the purchase of sexual services and secondly, discussions in Oslo about whether to prohibit “offensive” soliciting.
The ban on the purchase of sexual services was framed as necessary because demand for prostitution creates a market for trafficking and because prostitution is unworthy and degrading. Yet, this debate mainly focused only on foreign prostitutes in Norway, Skilbrei argues.
At the same time, “the problem with Nigerian women selling sexual services in Norwegian cities was framed as the women themselves, because their presence and conduct hurt others.” They were portrayed as damaging to Norway’s image by offending tourists, but they were also portrayed as insulting to “regular” men and “family fathers”:
“Male journalists and politicians reported vividly how they were objectified by being approached by Nigerian women. [...] When women offered them sex in front of others in the Karl Johan Street, they felt that it cast suspicion on them as potential ‘whore customers’.”
Skilbrei asks why Nigerian women were scapegoated as the cause of these diverse problems, given that the national understanding of prostitution is that those who prostitute themselves are not responsible for their actions. She concludes that this framing was possible because “the last years’ focus on the otherness of the Nigerian women legitimised demands that they should be treated differently than other women who sell sex.” Simply put, they were being framed as un-Norwegian prostitutes.
Skilbrei’s article is an adaptation of her chapter in the recently published book Norske seksualiteter, edited by Wencke Mühleisen & Åse Røthing (Cappelen 2009).
Photo by Timo Arnall
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