Reason, Emotions and Buying Sex in Norway

Translated from Norwegian
Original published by Joacim Lund at aftenposten.no on 04 February 2014

 de  German version

Reason, emotions and buying sex

The law against buying sex is an emotional subject. Has it become a fit of moralist panic?

The law against buying sex is condemnable, says Bent Johan Mosfjell of the online magazine Liberaleren. It takes away our agency over our own bodies.

Aksel Braanen Sterri was of the same opinion when he wrote about the surrogacy debate in Morgenbladet one year ago:
“When you sell your time and your labor force, you sell a limited part of your agency over your body and its functions to your employer,” he wrote.

That sounds logical. A carpenter offers his physical labor for money without it being prohibited to buy his services for that reason. What is the difference between him and a prostitute if it isn’t morals?

“The happy hooker”

There are examples of women who thrive in prostitution. Their poster girl in recent years, Hege Grostad, has been given much space in the media. When the Danish former prostitute Tanja Rahm expressed a diametrically opposed (and more representative) view of prostitution in Aftenposten, Grostad called her a moralist.

Technical knockout. The moralist card trumps most debates. Presumably that is why even the Prime Minister is now using it.

Prime Minister is bluffing

“I want to stress that the law against the buying of sex was not a law we introduced for moralist reasons (…). It was not because we got up on our high horse and said that buying sex is wrong or something like that,” said Solberg at the Norwegian parliament’s Q&A hour last Thursday.

A spectacular political bluff. Contributing to a change in attitudes was and is one of the most important objectives of the law. It’s right there in black and white in the introduction to the hearing minutes. For a good reason.

Laws affect morals

University of Oslo researchers Andreas Kotsadam and Niklas Jakobsson wrote this in their 2011 article “Do laws affect attitudes?”, in which they examined Norwegians’ views of the law before and after the law against buying sex was introduced. The young population’s views of buying sex had become more negative; the same applied to the population of Oslo, where prostitution is most visible.

In Norway, the law has worked in a very short time. In Sweden, where there are 15 years of experience with the law, the population has bigger moral qualms when it comes to the purchase of sexual services. According to an official Swedish report (SOU 2010:49), 70 percent where against criminalization in 1996 while 70 percent were for it in 2008.

Signaling effect

The debate around the law against buying sex is complicated. It is perfectly legitimate to discuss to what extent the law is working toward its objectives (experiences from Sweden and international research indicate that it’s working) and who is affected (the law is connected with efforts by the authorities to provide support measures that will get people out of prostitution).

All this should be evaluated. But it’s also a debate about values. The law against buying sex signalizes that purchasing sexual services can never become the same as hiring a carpenter, and that feelings and views belong in this debate. Moralism? Pshaw. Morals? Yes – and yes, please.

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