Unaccompanied underage asylum seekers continue to sell sex even after arriving in Norway, a new report has revealed, illuminating a dark and underreported problem, largely ignored due to traditional gender perspectives regarding prostitution.
Underage refugees arrive in Norway having already experienced various forms of exploitation, such as forced labor, crime and prostitution, due to lack of care from adults. Upon arriving, they remain particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse, a report by Pro Sentret, an Oslo-based organization offering treatment and rehabilitation for persons who sell or have sold sex, has indicated.
“Some of them continue to exchange sex to obtain benefits when they come to Norway. Some do it to send money to the family they left behind in their home countries, while others do it to get care and adult contact; many of them do not feel they get enough in the asylum system,” Bjørg Norli, the head of Pro Sentret told Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten, who addressed the practice of providing sexual services in exchange for goods.
Additionally, many underage asylum seekers reportedly possess a very low level of knowledge about the human body and sexuality and are unable to correctly put into words their negative experiences to Norwegian support agencies, such as Pro Sentret. Needless to say, the problem of underage prostitution has not been adequately researched and may hide a high number of unreported cases.
“There is often a lot more stigma attached to sexuality in their countries of origin then in Norway,” Bjørg Norli commented.
During the peak of the migrant crisis of 2015, 90 percent of unaccompanied underage asylum seekers who came to Norway were boys. According to Norli, this makes it even harder for the competent bodies to target this problem, since males are seldom thought of as using their sexuality for survival, which alarmed Norwegian Discrimination Ombudsperson Hanne Bjurstrøm.
“We imagine topics like the selling of sexual services and human trafficking most often concern girls, but the boys’ negative experiences must not be overlooked,” Bjurstrøm said.
According to Ingrid Smette, a researcher at the welfare research institute NOVA, there is fresh but unpublished data about foreign-born youths selling sex in Oslo. According to her, social media also functions as an arena for transactions involving sex and must be explored in detail.
“Offering sexual services is for many an alternative to committing crimes in order to survive in Norway,” Bjørg Norli pointed out.
In 2015, 5,480 people sought asylum in Norway as unaccompanied minors in 2015, with two out of ten being under 15 years of age. Almost all of them, 98 percent, had their applications granted, the Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs reported.