MO­BILE UNIT FOR DAN­ISH SEX WORK­ERS

Pros­ti­tutes get to use con­verted am­bu­lance

New Straits Times - - World -

COPEN­HAGEN

IN a dark tun­nel in Copen­hagen’s red light dis­trict on a freez­ing night, An­nika gasped for air as the stranger who agreed to pay her for sex started suf­fo­cat­ing her with his bare hands.

A friend nearby heard her muf­fled cries and helped the 25-yearold Dane break free from the man’s grasp. An­nika, who de­clined to re­veal her full name, said it was the fourth time in a year that she nearly died at the hands of her clients.

“If you don’t give them what they want, even though it is not what you agreed in the be­gin­ning, some just snap,” said An­nika, who sold sex for nearly a year to pay for her drug ad­dic­tion but quit the in­dus­try eight months ago.

“Peo­ple think less of girls who are pros­ti­tutes. But when you’re a street pros­ti­tute, they think even less of you,” she said on a street cor­ner in Vester­bro, Copen­hagen’s red light dis­trict.

While pros­ti­tu­tion is le­gal in Den­mark, it is il­le­gal to profit from other peo­ple sell­ing sex, such as pimp­ing, or to rent rooms to sex work­ers, which means pros­ti­tutes can end up hav­ing sex in places like parks, al­ley­ways and tele­phone booths.

This can put sex work­ers in dan­ger from clients and passersby, ac­cord­ing to rights groups.

An­nika said she re­ported her at­tack to the po­lice but they dropped the case be­cause she had no vis­i­ble marks on her body.

This level of vi­o­lence com­pelled Dan­ish so­cial entrepreneur Michael Lod­berg Olsen to con­vert an old am­bu­lance into a mo­bile unit where pros­ti­tutes can work for no charge in a safe and clean en­vi­ron­ment, guarded by vol­un­teers from a dis­tance.

Af­ter park­ing the “Sex­e­lance” in the red light dis­trict one night, Olsen said he was in dis­be­lief when he saw two young men hit a street sex worker for no rea­son be­fore walk­ing off.

“To be the wit­ness of bru­tal vi­o­lence to a sex worker is ... very shock­ing and we can’t al­low that as a so­ci­ety,” said Olsen, who launched Sex­e­lance last Novem­ber and now runs the ve­hi­cle each Fri­day and Satur­day night with plans to op­er­ate daily.

Olsen and his team worked with sex work­ers like An­nika to de­sign the ve­hi­cle and its func­tions, such as its leop­ard print in­te­ri­ors and a light to in­di­cate when it was in use.

He said Sex­e­lance had been used 64 times, and he hoped to open a per­ma­nent space where and crew. You have re­spon­si­bil­ity for them,” the king told De Tele­graaf. “You can’t take your prob­lems from the ground to the skies. You can dis­en­gage and con­cen­trate on some­thing else. That, for me, is the most re­lax­ing part of fly­ing.”

Willem-Alexan­der said he was rarely recog­nised by pas­sen­gers, street work­ers can bring their clients or take short breaks.

“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 or­gan­i­sa­tion 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,’” she said.

“We need to give th­ese peo­ple work­ers’ rights and start destigmatising es­pe­cially in the af­ter­math of the 9/11 at­tacks.

“Be­fore Sept 11, the cock­pit door was open. Peo­ple reg­u­larly came to have a look and thought it was nice or sur­pris­ing that I was sit­ting there,” he said, adding that very few peo­ple rec­og­nize him as he walks through Am­s­ter­dam’s Schiphol Air­port in this field.”

But for some mi­grant sex work­ers, many of whom have been traf­ficked into the coun­try, 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 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. Reuters KLM uni­form and cap.

And even when he made an­nounce­ments to pas­sen­gers, Willem-Alexan­der said that as a co-pi­lot, he didn’t have to give his name. So while some peo­ple recog­nise his voice, it is far from all pas­sen­gers.

“But most peo­ple don’t lis­ten any­way,” he added. AFP

REUTERS PIC

Dan­ish so­cial entrepreneur Michael Lod­berg Olsen con­verted an old am­bu­lance into Sex­e­lance, a mo­bile unit where pros­ti­tutes can work for no charge in a safe and clean en­vi­ron­ment, guarded by vol­un­teers from a dis­tance.

AP PIC

Dutch King WillemAlexan­der look­ing out from a KLM Ci­ty­hop­per air­craft at Schiphol Air­port, Am­s­ter­dam.

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