Detective Snorri Birgisson, who heads the Reykjavík Metropolitan Police’s human trafficking division, told RÚV that prostitution in Iceland has increased considerably in recent years, which can be directly and indirectly attributed to the increase in tourist numbers. Police believe it has become popular to give bachelors’ parties in Iceland. A common prerequisite for such parties is a sufficient supply of prostitutes.
The rapid increase in prostitution is reflected in a considerable rise in the number of ads offering escort services. One website advertising such services in Reykjavík includes 149 ads for Reykjavík, one for Akureyri and nine for Hafnarfjörður, south of Reykjavík, according to RÚV. That same website had 34 ads at the beginning of the year, so the increase is nearly five-fold. There are examples of individuals sent here, who activate older ads, previously used by others. Thus, one can conclude that trafficking victims are much more numerous than the number of ads suggest.
The increased demand means it has become more economical than before to send people to Iceland to engage in prostitution. There is little police can do, though, because those involved rarely want help. They don’t dare ask for help. Snorri pointed out that police in Europe are on the alert now that the stream of refugees inundates Europe. Victims of trafficking tend to be people in a delicate situation, and criminals take advantage of people in distress.
Four individuals in Iceland were found to be connected to an international crime organization recently, when Europol conducted an operation called Ciconia Alba, in which police in 52 countries participated and 314 suspects were arrested. As many as 529 victims of trafficking were involved in Europol’s week-long operation, in which 2,380 tons of cocaine were confiscated.
The four cases in Iceland involved suspicion of sexual abuse. The operation provided police with a confirmation of the fact that prostitution in Iceland has international connections.
According to Snorri, prostitution used to take place mostly at hotels. Individuals who came to the country for that purpose would come to hotel bars and provide their services in hotel rooms. “Now, the Airbnb market has changed so much in travel services, and also in this type of service. It has become economical to rent an apartment for prostitution and receive phone calls where appointments are booked,” Snorri explained.
He pointed out that there are women who come here for the sole purpose of offering prostitution services for a few days. “What we must pay attention to is that it’s not necessarily their decision. They themselves don’t decide to come here, because, as it happens, they are sent here. That’s been our particular focus, the consent behind it and whether trafficking is taking place. We know there are foreign groups of criminals who send individuals to the Nordic countries to offer prostitution services,” Snorri stated.
Guðrún Jónsdóttir, a spokeswoman for Stígamót, a center for survivors of sexual abuse and violence, believes those who purchase sex services need to be found and prosecuted. The rapid rise in the number of tourists in Iceland in recent years has brought about an increase in prostitution. She stated it’s hard to differentiate between prostitution and human trafficking. Since it is illegal to purchase prostitution services in Iceland, she believes it would be effective to seek those out who do.