Forced cultural assimilation is looked down upon for good reason—it privileges the value system and traditions of whatever the home country is, reinforcing the marginalization of the immigrant. What happens, however, when the immigrant’s culture generally tolerates violence against women?

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Norway has begun offering a controversial program that seeks to reduce the potential transfer of that violence, by working with male immigrants from countries in which women are not permitted to show skin or be publicly affectionate. These courses coach the men in European sexual and social practices, teaching that smiling and flirting are normal, and that “if a girl is drunk it does not mean she is willing to do anything.”

The New York Times reports that thus far, other European countries have been hesitant to offer similar training, for fear of stigmatizing migrants. In fact, the stereotype that looser immigration policies will increase rape is one oft-invoked by anti-immigration politicians.

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From the Times:

In Denmark, lawmakers are pushing to have such sex education included in mandatory language classes for refugees. The German region of Bavaria, the main entry point to Germany for asylum seekers, is already experimenting with such classes at a shelter for teenage migrants in the town of Passau.

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.

One asylum center manager explained to the Times that the goal is that participants will “at least know the difference between right and wrong.”

A course manual uncontroversially reads: “To force someone into sex is not permitted in Norway, even when you are married to that person.” It clarifies: “[Regardless of faith,] the rules and laws nevertheless have to be followed.”

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The course materials also, reportedly, avoid making immigrants the perpetrators of sexual violence, using a Norwegian man named Arne as an example of what not to do, and an immigrant named Hassan as one who is “honest and well-liked.”

“Men have weaknesses and when they see someone smiling it is difficult to control,” said Eritrean immigrant and course participant Abdu Osman Kelifa to the Times. “[In Eritrea,] if someone wants a lady he can just take her and he will not be punished....[In Norway,] they can do any job from prime minister to truck driver and have the right to relax.”


Contact the author at joanna@jezebel.com.

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Image via Paul D Smith/Shutterstock.