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Lifting the lid on prostitution

06.03.2019 - 11:11
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Vændiskaupandi í Reykjavík.  Mynd:
RÚV’s Kveikur investigation programme last night looked at prostitution in Iceland and discovered there is no shortage of supply or demand.

A new law came into effect nearly ten years ago that was supposed to help prostitutes find a way out, at the same time as banning lap dancing in the country. It is still possible to buy private lap dances at clubs in Reykjavík, despite the law. 

Undercover journalists were offered private dances in two central Reykjavík clubs, as well as drugs in one of them. 

Icelandic law changed in 2009 to make prostitution legal but its purchase illegal and to classify prostitution as abuse. At any given time, there are about 60 people actively advertising sexual services online. Most of the prostitutes are foreign and stay in Iceland for differing lengths of time. More recent developments have seen prostitution spread to other towns and villages around Iceland. Only around a quarter of prostitutes are Iocal, which is a similar proportion to the other Nordic countries. 

One Icelandic prostitute Kveikur interviewed said she has been in the trade for eight years and finds it “exciting and fun,” as well as profitable. 

Counsellors at Stígamót say most of the former prostitutes they work with are dealing with long-term mental trauma; as well as physical symptoms in many cases. 

Many go into the trade looking to improve their self-esteem, feel more beautiful, and increase their confidence. Many feel the results are positive for a while and enjoy the job, but almost all quickly change their minds, Stígamót psychologist Anna Þóra Kristinsdóttir says. Most feel the effects of trauma for years after escaping prostitution. 

Icelandic police admit the issue has not been top of their agenda in recent years, and there have only been 48 convictions in the decade since the law changed. 

Today, it is arguably as easy to buy prostitution online as it is to buy food.  

Swedish research suggests that 75 percent of people buying prostitution in Sweden are married Swedish men—mostly aged 30 to 50. Experts agree the situation is likely similar in Iceland. 

Kveikur journalists went online and booked the services of several prostitutes who they persuaded to give candid interviews for the programme. Most talked of money and desperation and that they plan to leave prostitution behind once they can afford to do so. The women came to Iceland from all over the world. Many have provided sexual services in other countries before, and plan to offer them in other countries in the future. 

Icelandic prostitutes are often harder to track down, as they use legitimate dating websites and small ads. 

Kveikur posed as one such woman and lured potential customers to a flat in 101 Reykjavík. All three men reacted badly to the cameras and ran away, but one of the men was later persuaded to come back for an anonymous interview.  

He described the thrill of seeking out prostitution, as well as the lack of sex in his own marriage. He said the excitement turns to shame afterwards, but that the thirst soon comes back again. 

Psychologist Anna Þóra says that 90 percent of former prostitutes feel ashamed and 66 percent have attempted suicide. 70 percent suffer the symptoms of trauma. 

The programme did not make any single conclusion, but it is clear that anti-prostitution laws have not stopped paid-for sex. It is clear that many prostitutes are unhappy, but that some want to continue. There is a link to other crimes including drugs and human trafficking, but definitely not in all cases. The assumption that tourists are the main customers is incorrect. The police are now putting greater emphasis on enforcing the law, and charities like Stígamót are there to help anyone looking for a way out of prostitution.