Norwegian prostitution research solid like iceberg

Samantha Berg elaborates on Pro Sentret’s research into violence against prostituted women under the Nordic model.

The third page of Pro Sentret’s Dangerous Liaisons report lays out the mission statement for the 2012 investigation: “The purpose is to evaluate whether the women are more exposed to violence after the introduction of the law.”

The methodology of choice was a comparison of 2007/08 numbers with new 2012 numbers: “The design of the questionnaire was approximately the same as the questionnaire that was used in 2007/2008, albeit perhaps somewhat shorter.”

Comparable numbers were compared. Murder attempts weren’t asked about in 2007/08 so those numbers are broken down for race and indoor/outdoor but left off the graph comparing dates.

When I noticed the potential discrepancy between years in prostitution before and after the law change I played the responsible journalist and emailed Pro Sentret. The unspeakably high mortality rate in prostitution reduces “career” longevity by a fair degree (aka women don’t last long), and the notorious influx of young foreigners from poverty-stricken countries made me suspect the pre-2007/08 average time in prostitution wouldn’t have been many years.

Pro Sentret’s senior officer Camilla Hammergren’s replied that the data hasn’t been translated into English and added, “The women were asked how long they had been in prostitution. The data/results were not given room in the report must mean they gave no significant findings regarding vulnerability.” She also suggested author Ulla Bjorndahl might offer more information when she returns from personal leave in late February.

Provide me with the translated raw data I’ll read every speck. Berg blood is valkyrie blood and I’m a linguist with training in Germanic languages, so if anyone wants to pay for the educational materials and give me a few weeks I’ll read it in Norwegian. Until then, I’m taking the Dangerous Liaisons report on its own terms. Pro Sentret set the board, they put down the pieces, and they explained the rules according to them. The Nordic model won the game.

If you consider the methodology too sketchy to trust, all right. The report is dead to you, you can stop reading now, goodbye.

For the rest I have another game, still on Pro Sentret’s board and using their pieces, but played by the rules of those who are trying to discredit the research.

Imagine that the average time in prostitution before 2007/08 is triple the three year research window since, nine years prior to three years post. As intended, that generous hypothetical would lessen the impact of the very dramatic reductions in rape, pimp violence, and client violence currently reported.

Here’s the home viewer participation portion of the game; how does that hypothetical affect the 150% leap in biting and 167% increase in hair pulling since 2007/08?

Pardon the intemperance, but I believe my theory explaining the already formidable rise in biting and hair pulling was perfect. Add up an imaginary nine years of pre-2008/09 biting and hair pulling and set them next to what men did in the last three years to see a downright unholy rise in these very specific violations.


Contemplate your answer while we advance to the second level: quotes! No numbers allowed, this is the round where proof that criminalizing punters is effective scores big points on the strength of words and common sense.

Meghan Murphy recently wrote, “The sad truth is that, if buying sex is legal, the police aren’t likely to start going after or charging johns who rape and abuse prostitutes on their own accord. We know this. We know the police have been ignoring violence against prostituted women, particularly those who are poor and racialized, for years.”

We do know. And thanks to Pro Sentret’s report we also know that:

“Most of the women who said they would seek help to protect against violence said that they called or threatened to call the police when they found themselves in a dangerous or threatening situation. This would often scare the customers, or others, who were acting threatening/violent away.”

Remember my email to Camilla Hammergren? I had included a request for clarification on ‘most’ and ‘often’ in numbers because I’m thorough like that, but honestly it doesn’t matter. Putting the power of police in prostituted women’s hands is the theory behind the Nordic model and it works.

We also know there were no reports of police committing any kind of violence whatsoever against prostituted women in the 2012 research, which is a card I can play this round because “nothing” isn’t a number.

My final hand from Pro Sentret’s deck:

“A fairly large amount of the women said that there was little they could do to protect themselves against violence. The reason they gave for this was usually that they already did what they could, and that prostitution was so risky that it was impossible to protect yourself against violence. Some of the women who said there was little they could do, also said the only thing they might be able to do was quit prostitution.”

Let’s play again soon.

Samantha Berg can be read at Genderberg, Johnstompers, and in comment threads everywhere.

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  • Andrew

    Thorough, thoughtful, informative and a fun read as well. Thanks, Samantha, for all the extra work and thank you, Meghan, for publishing her article.

    Wonder what Feministe will do with this…

  • MLM

    Sam Berg, you are brilliant! Smart, awesome work once again.

  • Mar Iguana

    Sam, you are probably the most courageous woman I have ever met in that you back up your words with amazingly brave action, confronting evil where it lives and thrives. You give me faith not just that patriarchy will be destroyed, but that it will happen in my lifetime.

    That would be pretty soon since I was born in the first half of the last century and have witnessed and suffered the incredibly disgusting backlash against women that has been going on for my entire life.

    I can’t thank you enough.

  • Jason Congdon

    It’s a little bit disturbing to frame this all as a game.

    I do appreciate that you attempted to obtain further details about the earlier study. But why do you suggest that “Comparable numbers were compared” when the ProSentret report states at least 7 times that the numbers cannot be directly compared (pp. 9, 10, 11, 13, 22, 28, 46)? If you are truly “taking the Dangerous Liaisons report on its own terms,” why do you ignore a statement so essential to understanding the numbers and so important to the authors “own terms” that they repeated it that many times?

    Similarly, you’re very selective in your presentation of quotes from the report. The vast majority of statements about the feelings of sex workers surveyed suggest that they feel their situation has worsened in the last three years. Meanwhile, the quote you represent as your “final hand” is from the 2007-8 survey, prior to introduction of the Nordic Model – but then, it’s not exactly clear what you’re attempting to represent with that quote. Perhaps more important is the report’s conclusion that:

    “The findings of this report show that prostitution has become more individualized and that fewer people seek out support services after being subjected to violence. Additionally some of the women feel that they have little legal protection because parts of the legal framework – which is in principle intended to protect the women – also leads to the women not going to the police for help. They are worried about losing their apartments and/or their livelihood. Some of the women also experience that they now have to protect the customers from being fined. This means that the customers have gone from being a form of ‘business partner’ to an ally, while at the same time the police have gone from being an ally the women could go to for protection, to someone they themselves have to protect the
    customers from.”

    If the dynamic of survival sex workers protecting their clients/johns from the police is translated into the much more violent Canadian context, it becomes a recipe for ensuring that women who sell sex are at greater risk of violence and harm.

    This is not a game, and treating it as a game is tantamount to making pawns of the people you should be arguing to protect. Pawns are expendable in chess precisely because they’re not people. I’m glad you’re having fun, but when lives are at stake, it’s alarming to read that you’re merely playing.

    • Lela

      That’s interesting, coming from someone who thinks porn and prostitution are part of “sexual liberation.” Talk about treating women like pawns.

      • @Lela:

        Really? Is that what I think? Thank you for the learning!

        My goodness in a crackerjack box, why do you mock me thus? It took an enormity of restraint to not respond to your comment at, for it somehow feels wrong to silently countenance such a poor and distorted depiction – how I yearn to litanize your misreadings when none of your representations follow from what I’ve written. So many leaping assumptions! But that’s a rather losing move, isn’t it? I managed not to respond mostly because you’d already dismissed me as “unwelcome and utterly condescending” (come on, don’t I at least rate “unintentionally condescending but tolerable”?) … yet now, again, you caricature me with things I’ve not expressed — wherefore the whatfor!?

        On the other hand, with props to those who had a little fun with my “can’t-we-all-get-along?” naïveté:

        Hello, I’m Jason, I’m kinda new to the conversation here, and it’s quite possible that my intentions, and maybe even my whole pedantically mansplaining self aren’t quite so pernicious as you appear to surmise, so maybe can we get a little better acquainted before we go all judgmental on each other?

        • Me

          The thing is, there’s no telling much of what you write apart from misogyny. You are a man. Deal with what it means to how you should communicate.

        • Lela

          Well, let’s see. You’ve expressed that you think “repression of sex” causes pornification, that “some prostitutes are empowered agents…” and you’ve consistently been after radical feminists for supposedly wrongheadedly rejecting the tenets of sex-positivism and sex-radicalism, because you say female liberation and sexual liberation go hand-in-hand and somehow we’re supposed to think this has something to do with prostitution i.e. men purchasing access to women’s bodies? Why would you even bring up “sexual liberation” in this context when we all know this is the chief myth of the sex industry? Excuse me for being confused about the intent of the ideas you express while claiming your goal is to further harm-reduction. How does it help us reduce harm when persons like yourself are intent on avoiding assigning responsibility to men and changing men’s long-held illusions about women (i.e. that our sexuality can be treated as a service?)

          Critique Berg’s pieces all you want. I don’t think she comments on these articles in the way that Meghan comments on hers (as it is Meghan’s blog), so you may not get a response on this comment thread.

          • Jason Congdon

            Misogyny? Please. I haven’t said anything worthy of such a hateful label.

            You continue twisting my words into positions that I don’t hold and haven’t expressed.

            Much as I feel baited by these depictions and tempted to say more, I’m not the topic of this thread, and this tendency toward ad-hominemity, albeit unsurprising, is pretty sad.

          • Lela

            Excuse me, Jason, for reading *your* words and making inferences about your position on this. If you (or any other male pedant who chooses to make himself heard on Feminist Current) would like to talk about MEN’s responsibilities and how we are going to convince MEN not to treat women as sexual commodities and/or service providers, I’m all ears.

  • sporenda

    “This is not a game, and treating it as a game is tantamount to making pawns of the people you should be arguing to protect. Pawns are expendable in chess precisely because they’re not people. I’m glad you’re having fun, but when lives are at stake, it’s alarming to read that you’re merely playing.”

    This is unreal. You are accusing Megan of treating prostitutes like pawns, not people.
    Hello–johns are the ones who treat prostitutes like pawns not people.
    And feminists are the ones who want prostitutes to be treated like human beings.
    Unfortunately,everything we know about prostitution seems to indicate that getting out of it is the only way to reach this goal.

    Accusing Megan of doing what johns do is a typical reversal of responsability, also known as blaming the victim.
    Oldest trick in the patriarchal book: do you really believe readers are going to fall for it– on a feminist forum?

    It’s also hilarious that you accuse Megan of playing, of not being serious on this issue.
    First, I really do not see how what Megan writes here qualifies as fun and games.
    More importantly, this absurd accusation is a not too subtle way to undermine Megan’s credibility on prostitution: you are implying that she lacks what it takes to write authoritatively, seriously and competently on it.
    You, of course, being the serious, competent and authoritative one to talk about it.

    Because, let’s face it, feminists are only spouting nonsense when it comes to prostitution. As well as on abortion, rape, and so forth. Men know better.

    This pretty much sums up the content of all your posts on this site.
    On all feminist sites, there is always some pompous … , blissfully unaware of the ridicule, telling women what they should think, feel and do.
    I always wondered if those guys who come to teach feminism to feminists are masochists looking for free punition.

    • Jason Congdon

      Why do you keep suggesting that I’m “accusing Megan”? The article we’re responding to is written by Samantha Berg, not Meghan Murphy. And the “game” metaphor is not mine: Samantha weaves the game metaphor throughout her article, concluding with “Let’s play again soon”. Is it so offensive of me to ask a about a statement she ignores, or to question her framing of this discussion as a game? How does anything I wrote amount to “victim blaming”? I’ve never met Samantha, but I don’t know her to be a victim, and I suspect that she’s sufficiently competent to consider my query, to countenance my criticism of the “game” frame, and perhaps to respond to both. Meanwhile, believe me, I’m becoming quite aware of people’s proclivity to ridicule!

      • MLM

        Perhaps ‘the game” metaphor she refers to is the game she feels she has to play with Pro Sentret in order to try and obtain transparent information, and with people who imply her argument is “irresponsible” when she interprets the data in a way they find inconvenient? Data they say can not be reliably compared in any meaningful way when used by Sam to make her argument, but they’ll still expect their own interpretations of what it means to be taken seriously.

        The one thing you’ll find agreement about is the fact that this is not a game for the women involved here. For you to suggest that the tone of Sam’s article is borne from a lack of concern about those women is truly irresponsible.

        • Jason Congdon

          First, I didn’t mean to suggest that Samantha’s tone is “borne from a lack of concern” – I’m in no position to judge her commitment or motivations. I did mean to suggest that the game metaphor woven throughout her article gives the unfortunate (and possibly unintended) impression that these arguments or debates are about as serious as a hand of poker.

          Second, I don’t think ProSentret’s statements about the incomparability of the two surveys could have been made in response to Samantha’s interpretation – the disclaimer is in the 2012 report itself, published months before Samantha’s interpretation. My question is, why does Samantha choose to ignore this statement in both of her articles, and moreover, to contradict it outright in her second article by saying “[c]omparable numbers were compared”? This is less a matter of “inconvenience” or “interpretation” than a straight-up misrepresentation accomplished by excluding crucial information.

          • Perhaps Sam uses this game metaphor because pornstitution apologists are so notoriously fond of bluffing. Misrepresentation is their modus operandi. You think not? Just as one example, why do they call themselves sex-positive and their opponents sex-negative?

  • Melissa

    Thank you so much for these insightful articles on the Nordic Model! A propos of this discussion, here is a recent article at faux feminist site Jezebel:

    I honestly began seeing red when I read that. What responsible journalist frames an argument like that? The comments are even worse: sex workers who just love their job so much and couldn’t care less about victims of human trafficking or the abuse of girl children (because 12 year olds have agency!), how feminism is about choice and Gloria Steinem is really Satan, people saying the Nordic Model doesn’t work without quoting reparable sources and in the same breath saying how places like Amsterdam are paradise, and of course how feminists, especially radical feminists, want to take away women’s agency and outlaw sex entirely.
    And my personal favorite, how going after johns doesn’t work because transgender prostitutes are misgendered! Except that the article was concentrating on India, and hijras aren’t transgender.
    I seriously believe libertarian individualism and identity politics are trying to usher in the death of feminism. I blame the (handmaidens of) the patriarchy.

  • MLM

    “how places like Amsterdam are paradise”

    “…Rather than afford better protection for the women, it has simply increased the market. Rather than confine the brothels to a discrete (and avoidable) part of the city, the sex industry has spilt out all over Amsterdam — including on-street. Rather than be given rights in the ‘workplace’, the prostitutes have found the pimps are as brutal as ever. The government-funded union set up to protect them has been shunned by the vast majority of prostitutes, who remain too scared to complain”.

    Yes, sounds like paradise indeed.

    And if they don’t care about trafficking I guess that’s why they don’t care that it increases wherever prostitution is legalised.

    You know what really seems to hold the key to ending violence against women? A strong feminist movement.