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New Project about Young People’s Experiences of prostitution

Young people with experiences of prostitution form a group that for various reasons is difficult to reach, both for researchers and social workers. Nordic Information on Gender’s (NIKK) new project aims to compile and analyse the available knowledge about young people with experience of prostitution in all Nordic countries.

Young people’s experiences of prostitution are often gained well out of sight and usually outside the traditional arenas for prostitution. Existing support measures do not seem to reach this group and there is an urgent need to learn more about young people’s experiences of having sex for money, for example to be able to prevent sexual exploitation. At the request of the Nordic Council of Ministers, NIKK will now shed light on the situation in Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway. The project will be coordinated by Charlotta Holmström, sociologist who has done research on topics such as prostitution policy and sexual vulnerability at the Centre for Sexology and Sexuality Studies, Malmö University.

‘The project aims to compile existing knowledge about young people who have had sex for money. Another aim is to bring clarity to which actors in society are acknowledging and working with this issue, and what the legislation looks like in the different Nordic countries. Previous research shows among other things that the first experiences of selling sex are often gained during the teenage years, and that young people who engage in this behaviour belong to a vulnerable and risk-taking group. The experiences of sex for pay can at the same time vary depending on context, continuity and reasons for selling sex. Previous research also shows that young people’s experiences of selling sex are not always gained in traditional arenas for sex trade, and the provision of sexual services is often part of a bartering arrangement.

Young people rarely refer to their experiences of selling sex as prostitution. According to Holmström, this calls for particular sensitivity both from professionals who work with young people and from researchers in the field.

‘It affects the research on young people who sell sex because it makes it difficult to reach the group and gain knowledge about their experiences. It is therefore of particular importance to be careful with the concepts and perspectives that are used and applied in the research in this area. First and foremost, it is important to be sensitive and perceptive regarding the experiences adolescents gain and how they describe these experiences.’

Important Knowledge for Many Nordic Actors

In 2008, NIKK carried out a project called Prostitution in the Nordic Region, which compiled and analysed knowledge about social and legal interventions as well as attitudes to and experiences of sex for pay in the Nordic countries. Among other things, the project showed how the digital development and also the changed migration and mobility patterns have affected arenas and contact paths. The new project has a new focus, but Holmström believes that the same changes in society can be expected to play a central role this time as well.

‘The new project has a somewhat different focus than the project in 2008, as this time we will focus on adolescents specifically. I believe, though, that these aspects still have a strong impact on the arenas and the way contacts are made. Previous research shows this, too. It is particularly interesting to determine to what extent adolescents’ vulnerability and experiences of selling sex can be related to the digital development, but also to migration and mobility patterns.’

Wants to Identify Differences and Similarities

The project started in February this year, and NIKK will present a report compiling and analysing the available knowledge on young people’s experiences of prostitution in the autumn of 2019. The report is expected to contribute important knowledge for many different Nordic actors.

‘Nordic actors can benefit from the results as we will now be able to compile and present the available knowledge on young people who sell sex in all Nordic countries. We want to shed light on differences and similarities based on the existing knowledge, but also recognise which social interventions are offered to this group and how the legislation concerning young people who sell sex is designed and applied in the different Nordic countries. This is important knowledge for actors who interact with young people in their work, for example in social work, healthcare, law enforcement and the school system, but also for actors involved in policy development,’ says Holmström.

Updated 10 December 2019