Frequently asked questions
Below we have answered some of the questions that we are most commonly asked about prostitution, as we believe that many people may be interested in our replies.
1. Is it legal to sell sex in Norway?
In Norway it is legal to sell sex. However, it is illegal to buy sex. It is also illegal to advertise sexual services, or to profit from other people selling sex (pimping and running a brothel).
2. How many people sell sex in Norway?
It is difficult to say exactly how many people sell sex. We do know roughly how many people offer sexual services on the streets: in 2010 it was approximately 900 people. The biggest market is Oslo, but street prostitution is also evident in Stavanger and Bergen. It is harder to estimate the number of people who sell sex from flats, massage parlours and so on. In 2010, we counted approximately 1,300 people selling sex through internet advertisements, and we were in contact with 1,077 current or former sex workers.
3. Why do some people sell sex?
In our experience, the fundamental reason why people sell sex is always that they need money, and they can’t see any other good way of earning enough. Some of them need money to buy drugs, but more frequently people sell sex in order to cover their own and their families’ living and accommodation expenses for a shorter or longer period of their lives. 4. Is it harmful to sell sex? There is a strong social stigma to selling sex, which means that many people end up living a kind of double life. For some people, the secrecy, lies and loneliness that go with that double life are harmful. Some people believe that selling sex is like selling yourself, but most sex workers who we meet don’t agree with that. They feel that they are selling a service. Still, in our culture sexuality is strongly linked to love, so many people find it difficult to be in a relationship after they have sold sexual services. One particular problem is that they are ashamed to talk about part of their past. Many female sex workers suffer physical violence at the hands of their customers. Others have pimps who use violence and threats to force them to sell sex. Selling sex to many different people can be a health risk if you don’t take the necessary precautions to protect yourself against sexually transmitted infections.
5. Who are the people who buy sex, and why do they do it?
The vast majority of people who buy sex are men, including the customers of male prostitutes. However, women, heterosexuals, homosexuals and couples all buy sex. Although most of the people who buy sex are men, that doesn’t mean that most men buy sex. Scandinavian research has found that around one in eight men in the region reports having bought sex. Most of those men have only bought sex a few times, mostly when they were travelling abroad. Different customers give different reasons for buying sex. Some say that lack of sex and/or loneliness are the most important reasons, whereas others are after the excitement, no-strings sex or specific sexual acts.
6. Do some children and young people sell sex?
Yes, they do. However, there is no evidence of widespread child and youth prostitution in Norway. It is important to remember that the word prostitution is not really applicable in the case of children. There are many grey areas, ranging from sexual experimentation at one end of the scale to child abuse at the other end. Also, young people tend to exchange sex for things other than money. Pro Centre very rarely encounters children in the traditional prostitution markets. Young people often meet customers through chatrooms and social media websites, and this makes it hard for outsiders to know how many children are involved.
7. Are all of the foreign prostitutes in Norway forced to sell sex?
No, they aren’t. However, many of the people who come to Norway to sell sex owe a lot of money to organised criminal groups or pimps who have helped them to travel here and/or get on their feet. Because they need to repay their debts, they can’t just stop selling sex; sometimes they can’t even decide how many customers to have or when to work. Many of the foreign prostitutes know little or nothing about Norwegian laws and regulations, and so they live in fear of the authorities and the police.
8. What is human trafficking?
Put simply, human trafficking is exploiting other people for prostitution or other sexual purposes, in forced labour or services such as begging, in slavery or practices similar to slavery, or through the removal of organs. Violence, threats, abuse of a person’s vulnerability and other kinds of improper conduct are used to exploit these people. In Norway, trafficking normally involves someone being transported into the country in order to be exploited here. It is hard to distinguish between a prostitute who has been trafficked and one who hasn’t, as they will rarely talk openly about their situation to customers or to the welfare services.