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Category: Politics, International, Violence against Women

In Iceland, Our Long-Sought Victory in Battling Human Trafficking

| April 21, 2009

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By Gudrún Jónsdóttir

On April 17, the last day before Iceland’s parliament adjourned to prepare for elections on April 25, members passed a bill criminalizing the act of buying individuals for purposes of prostitution. Patterned on the Swedish law that addresses the demand fueling the commercial sex industry, the action was hailed as an historic moment in the international struggle against human trafficking. Via Equality Now, here is a dispatch describing the campaign from Gudrún Jónsdóttir, spokeswoman for Stigamot, a women's rights organization in Iceland.

At Stigamot we have been working with women victims of rape and incest for 20 years. Throughout the years, these women have taught me the most important lesson about the connection between sexual violence and prostitution—that prostitution is yet another face of the same violence. When a friend and survivor of prostitution took her life in 2001, I promised myself I would not rest until this issue was addressed. We established the Kristin Fund in her memory and joined battle.

When the bill was put forward for the first time in March 2000, laughter was the main reaction to our efforts. So, we launched a public education campaign, inviting to Iceland prominent experts on issues of prostitution and sex trafficking such as Janice Raymond of the United States and from Sweden, Gunilla Ekberg and Margareta Winberg. Specialists from all over Europe also took part in seminars on best practices against the commercial sexual exploitation of women.

The entire women´s movement in Iceland joined forces. In 2003 and again this year some 15 NGOs urged members of parliament and the government to consult seriously with women’s groups. An opinion poll taken in 2007 showed that 70 percent of the nation wanted to criminalize the buying of prostitution—including a majority of both women and men and within every political party. Parliamentarian Kolbrun Halldorsdóttir of the Left-Green party took the lead in the debates. When the Left-Greens came into the government two months ago, she became minister of environmental affairs and brokered her power to get the legislation passed.

This has been a symbolic fight for ten long years. Slowly, slowly the nation´s consciousness rose to understand clearly the connection between pornography, prostitution and sex trafficking. So today we celebrate this victory as a further step to end violence against women. We’ve received congratulatory messages from around the world. I just can’t stop smiling.

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