Fri, May 19, 2017 - Page 6 News List

FEATURE: Danish ‘sex ambulance’ protects sex workers

Thomson Reuters Foundation, COPENHAGEN

“I think the attitudes against sex workers would change if we actually see them as people working,” Olsen, 46, said.

Maja Lovbjerg Hansen from Street Lawyers, an organization that provides legal aid to street sex workers, the homeless and drug users, said Sexelance was highlighting workers’ rights for street prostitutes in a “dignified way.”

“If you have a group of workers in other fields who are [working] in potentially dangerous conditions, you will always say: ‘What can we do to make this more safe?’ And I think it’s admirable that somebody’s actually trying to do that,” Hansen said. “We need to give these people normal workers’ rights and start a process of destigmatizing this field.”

However, for some migrant sex workers, many of whom have been trafficked into the nation, working inside a mobile unit like Sexelance could be too conspicuous, said Michelle Mildwater, director of HopeNow which supports trafficked women in Denmark.

“They were concerned about the fact that it may well draw more attention to them — and it means that the police would find it easier to pick them up and arrest them,” she said, referring to conversations she had with trafficked women about Sexelance.

Mildwater said migrant sex workers were most at risk of violence since they feared deportation by the authorities or repercussions from their traffickers if they went to the police.

Over the past decade, until last year, there were nearly 600 people trafficked into Denmark, with most coming from Nigeria and eastern Europe, and working in prostitution, according to the Center Against Human Trafficking.

The anti-slavery campaign group Walk Free estimates there are 4.5 million victims of sex trafficking globally.

“The women who are foreign here, who don’t have their papers in order and aren’t allowed to work, they are particularly vulnerable to these attacks,” Mildwater said inside a drop-in center she runs at night to support Nigerian sex workers. “The man doing this to her knows that if she calls the police, it’s probably her who’s going to get arrested.”

Mildwater said she welcomed Sexelance’s “provocative” way in drawing attention to the violence that street sex workers face.

Although she no longer sells sex, Annika said initiatives such as Sexelance were helping to remove the stigma against sex workers and improve working conditions.

“Many times you get the feeling people think you are a weed that needs to be removed from the perfect garden, but knowing that some people care and [are doing] things about the conditions for sex workers is comforting. So it’s the beginning for more safety,” she said.

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