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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. Studies show that sex workers in Denmark are violated or threatened by customers about 31 percent of the time while working the streets compared to only three percent in brothels, according to the Danish National Center for Social Research.
For 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, behind parked cars and telephone booths.
This can put sex workers in danger from some clients and passers-by, according to rights groups, who are concerned that migrant or trafficked women are especially vulnerable as they are often afraid to report violence or assaults to the police. 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.
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 has been used around 64 times so far, and he hopes to open a permanent space where street workers can bring their clients or take short breaks.
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. 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.