Criminalizing the buying of sex in Nordic countries: a model for Romania


On April 22nd, 2015, Bucharest hosted, at the Parliament building, the international conference “Politicians and Civil Society against human trafficking”. The event participants on behalf of Western European civil society organizations warned that legalizing prostitution has made impossible to combat human trafficking, as it proved in countries such as Germany or Holland. A more efficient measure to combat human trafficking is to criminalize people willing to pay for sexual services. Studies shows an amazing success rate of this approach, as it was implemented in Norway and Sweden.

Presentation by Maria Ahlin, General Secretary, Freethem

Kotsadam, A, and Jakobsson, N. (2010). “Do laws affect attitudes? An assessment of the Norwegian prostitution law using longitudinal data”



• This paper uses longitudinal survey data from Norway and Sweden, collected before and after the implementation of the sex-purchase law in Norway, to asses the short-run effects on sex-purchase attitudes.



• Although they found that in the general population, the law did not have an affect on the moral attitudes toward prostitution (note: in the short run!) they found that in Oslo, where prostitution was more visible before the reform, the law made people more negative toward buying sex.

• Found that older Norwegians changed less toward thinking that buying sex is immoral and also changed less toward thinking that buying sex should be illegal. They confirm that younger Norwegians changed their attitudes more than older Norwegians as an effect of the law. “Younger people are more prone to adapt their attitudes in response to legal changes, and…the direction of change follows the lawmakers’ intentions.”

• Authors admit that it is likely laws affect attitudes more over time periods that are longer than 8 months, and the law may have long-run effects through the replacement of age cohorts.


My thoughts:

• This is a really sound economics paper, showing a “causal” relationship. So here we don’t have to worry about perhaps there were other factors causing the change in views – these authors have controlled for it!

• As well, prostitution being a lot more visible in Romania means that, like in Oslo (where the visibility of prostitution made people’s views change more considerably), the law will likely have a great effect on attitudes towards sex purchase. As well, the fact that younger generations are more affected is exciting – here we can emphasize that regardless of whether the law “works” (in the face of a lot of corruption), it does change people’s attitudes, particularly the next generation. So even if we don’t necessarily see a huge change immediately, it will trickle down to other age cohorts – so we can be confident that in the long run, it will have a positive impact.


Jakobsson, N. and Kotsadam, A. (2013). “The law and economics of international sex slavery: prostitution laws and trafficking for sexual exploitation,” European Journal of Law and Economics, Vol. 35:87-107.



• Compares countries with prostitution laws and the extent of human trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation. Also look at the case studies of Norway and Sweden, which have criminalized the buying of sex, to support the possibility of a causal link from harsher prostitution laws to reduced trafficking.



• In countries where prostitution is legal and regulated, trafficking is much more prevalent than in countries where procuring is illegal

• Note that the difference between countries where prostitution is illegal and countries where only buying sex (procuring) Results suggest that criminalizing buying and/or selling sex, may reduce the amount of trafficking in a country

• As well, look particularly at Norway and Sweden as case studies. For Norway, they discuss how a recent evaluation of the law highlights that :

o The prevalence of street prostitution decreased considerably during the 6 months after the implementation of the law

o Escort Internet advertising decreased and no new public arenas for prostitution were found

o There was a decrease in cases concerning trafficking for sexual exploitation

• Hence the Norwegian case study indicated that prostitution has diminished in Norway, and thereby the profitability of trafficking to Norway would have reduced. The case studies of Norway and Sweden point in the same direction as the quantitative analysis: countries that implement harsher laws regarding prostitution get a lower prevalence of trafficking


Evaluation of Norwegian Legislation Criminalising the buying of sexual

services (summary)



• Norway criminalized buying sex in 2009. The rationale was to prevent and reduce human trafficking in Norway.

• By making it illegal to buy sex the Norwegian Government also wanted to:

o 1. Change attitudes in the population

o 2. Reduce the size of the Norwegian sex market by constraining supply and demand

o 3. Prevent entry into prostitution and hence to reduce possible sexual exploitation of men and women in prostitution

• Law seeks to protect people in prostitution and to help people with the transit out of prostitution.

• 5 years after the law was implemented, the Norwegian government wanted to evaluate its effects.

• Worries: that the law has resulted in negative side effects for people in prostitution.


Main Findings

• Reduced demand for sex, thereby reducing extent or prostitution

• Enforcement of law + laws against trafficking/pimping makes Norway a less attractive country for trafficking individuals into prostitution Reduced the market for prostitution

• Although data limitations, clear declining trend in the market since the law was implemented. The most profound changes are found in the Oslo street prostitution market – field observations show the size of the market today has stabilized at a level 40-65% lower than before the law. The street markets in Bergen and Stavanger show similar trends as Oslo after introducing the ban.

• Note that when the police have strategically targeted the market, there is a clear fall in the number of people in prostitution, although estimates of the size of the indoor market are more uncertain. However, according to some sources, prices in the market are lower. Their best estimate is a market reduction (indoor) of 10-20%, allowing them to conclude that the overall prostitution market has decreased.


Norway without the law

• Norway was largely unaffected by the global financial crisis, leading to large increase in the number of prostitutes in Norway in 2008.

• In general the global financial crisis increased the supply of prostitution (due to more unemployment) in other countries and decreased the demand. Since Norway unaffected by crisis, would expect market growth in Norway due to the profits from prostitution being larger there than other countries.

• Without the law, would have led to a larger share of prostitutes in Norway! As well, without the law, the Norwegian police would have lost an important tool for reducing human trafficking

o E.g. police used info from caught sex buyers to catch pimps and traffickers

• Estimate (high degree of uncertainty), that the market today would have been about 15% larger than the market in 2008, and around 45% larger than the actual market todayThe Need for targeting policies

• As in the rest of Europe, the prostitution in Norway is faced with an increasing share of immigrants from middle-income and poor countries.

** Most of these women have no alternatives than to enter prostitution (economic motives).

• Although the prices within prostitution are lower, Norway has good social policies and charities targeting trafficking victims and prostitutes

• **Still need more exit-strategies (just like in Sweden)

o e.g. language classes, work training, work options.


Effects of the law: in line with its mandage

1. Effect on attitudes: Kotsadam and Jakobsson find that young men in Norway have changed their attitudes towards buying sex than older men. And, people in Oslo more negative towards buying sex than others in Norway due to the visibility of prostitution in Oslo.

• “Our interviews with police in larger cities also indicate that the law has had a normative effect on people’s behavior.”..although early, findings indicate that the law has had an effect on attitudes

2. Market Reduction: ban on sex purchase, pimping and pandering makes it more difficult to sell sexual services, so the costs of actors benefitting from other’s prostitution has increased, while the profits have been reduced

3. Less Attractive for human traffickers: reduced market + increased law enforcement raises the risks for human traffickers and lowers the potential profits. So, the law has affected important pull factors and reduced the extent of human trafficking in Norway

4. The working conditions of men and women in prostitution: laws criminalizing buying sex strengthens the rights of sellers since they can report to the police, giving the seller a tool for managing ‘bad’ customers and leading to possible prevention of violence. Even so, the women in street prostitution report having weaker bargaining position and more safety concerns now than before the law was introduced. Yet the threshold for reporting a violent customer is higher than before the law, and the analysis finds no clear evidence of more violence against women in street prostitution after the introduction of the law.

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