Norway Offers Migrants a Lesson in How to Treat Women

Andrew Higgins, New York Times, December 19, 2015

When he first arrived in Europe, Abdu Osman Kelifa, a Muslim asylum seeker from the Horn of Africa, was shocked to see women in skimpy clothes drinking alcohol and kissing in public. Back home, he said, only prostitutes do that, and in locally made movies couples “only hug but never kiss.”

Confused, Mr. Kelifa volunteered to take part in a pioneering and, in some quarters, controversial program that seeks to prevent sexual and other violence by helping male immigrants from societies that are largely segregated or in which women show neither flesh nor public affection to adapt to more open European societies.

Fearful of stigmatizing migrants as potential rapists and playing into the hands of anti-immigrant politicians, most European countries have avoided addressing the question of whether men arriving from more conservative societies might get the wrong idea once they move to places where it can seem as if anything goes.

But, with more than a million asylum seekers arriving in Europe this year, an increasing number of politicians and also some migrant activists now favor offering coaching in European sexual norms and social codes.

Mr. Kelifa, 33, attended the education program at an asylum center in this town near the western Norwegian city of Stavanger. Like similar courses now underway in the village of Lunde and elsewhere in Norway, it was voluntary and was organized around weekly group discussions of rape and other violence.

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A course manual sets out a simple rule that all asylum seekers need to learn and follow: “To force someone into sex is not permitted in Norway, even when you are married to that person.”

It skirts the issue of religious differences, noting that while Norway has long been largely Christian, it is “not religion that sets the laws” and that, whatever a person’s faith, “the rules and laws nevertheless have to be followed.”

In Denmark, lawmakers are pushing to have such sex education included in mandatory language classes for refugees. {snip}

Norway, however, has been leading the way. Its immigration department mandated that such programs be offered nationwide in 2013, and hired a nonprofit foundation, Alternative to Violence, to train refugee center workers in how to organize and conduct classes on sexual and other forms of violence. The government provided funding for two years to pay for interpreters for the classes and is now reviewing the results and whether to extend its support.

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Hanne Kristin Rohde, a former head of the violent crime section of the Oslo Police Department, said she ran into a wall of hostility when, in 2011 while still in the police force, she blamed sexual violence by foreign men on cultural factors and went public with data suggesting that immigrants committed a hugely disproportionate number of rapes.

“This was a big problem but it was difficult to talk about it,” Ms. Rohde said recently, asserting that there was “a clear statistical connection” between sexual violence and male migrants from countries where “women have no value of their own.” The taboo, she added, has since eased somewhat.

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