Prostitution in Denmark

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Prostitution in Denmark ("Prostitution" in Danish) was decriminalised in 1999, based partly on the premise that it's easier to police a legal trade than an illegal one; though third party activities, such as operating brothels and other forms of procuring, remain illegal activities as do pimping and prostitution by non-residents.[1][2]

Legal status[edit]

Prior to 1999, a person was permitted to engage in sex work only if prostitution was not his or her main source of income. Prostitution was then fully decriminalized on 17 March 1999 when changes were made in the penal code (Straffeloven); in practical terms, prostitution had been tolerated for many years prior to the change in legal status. Both selling and buying sexual services are legal, but activities such as operating brothels and pimping are illegal. Also, the age of consent in Denmark is 15 years, but is 18 years for anyone wishing to undertake or purchase sex work.[1] The Danish police have a special "morality" unit (sædelighedspolitiet) to enforce the state's prostitution laws.

Since sex work is not recognised as a lawful profession, sex workers are not entitled to the protection of employment laws or unemployment benefits, but are still required to pay tax.[3]


The US State Department said that a 2008 report from the National Board of Social Services states that police estimate the number of persons involved in prostitution is approximately 5,500.[4]

The traditional center for prostitution in Copenhagen is the district behind the Copenhagen Central Rail Station (mainly Istedgade, Halmtorvet and Skelbækgade). At the commencement of 2009, the number of street-based sex workers and sex-oriented businesses in the area was declining, but there appeared to be a growth in numbers by the middle of that same year.[5] Most of the people entering the industry originated from Eastern Europe and Africa.

Like many other European cities, many sex workers now use internet-based advertisements for incall and outcall services.[citation needed]

Migration and human trafficking[edit]

A 2009 study by TAMPEP estimated that migrant workers make up 65% of all prostitutes in Denmark.[6] However, the most recent report from the Servicestyrelsen agency states that about half of the sex workers in Denmark are migrants. The largest group, about 900, come from Thailand and, typically, these workers hold a residence permit or Danish citizenship. The migrant workers are entitled to a wide range of social and health benefits, but are not always aware that such services exist for them. The next largest group, totaling about 1,000, are from European Union (EU) countries in Central and Eastern Europe, but tend to commute between Denmark and their homeland; such individuals are therefore not entitled to receive assistance from Danish social services. The third largest sex worker migrant group, from Africa (especially Nigeria), numbers around 300 and a number of the African migrants commute between other Schengen Area countries and Denmark. (A similar situation exists in Norway.)[7]

A number of women from all three migrant groups may be victims of human trafficking, the actual proportion is unknown, with no reliable figures detailing the number of trafficked persons currently available for analysis. In 2008 the police met with 431 women suspected of association with trafficking and 72 were confirmed to be victims. According to Copenhagen police, women are recruited in their native countries, transported to Denmark, and then forced into prostitution.[4]


A 2005 study of male clientele by Claus Lautrups found that 14% of Danish men have paid for sex at least once.[8][9]

Political debates[edit]

The Social Democrat (S) government of Poul Nyrup Rasmussen reformed the penal code on 17 March 1999, coming into force on 1 July 1999 to decriminalise prostitution.

As elsewhere in Scandinavia there has been a continuing debate about the status of prostitution laws. The opposition Social Democrats and some feminist groups favour outlawing the buying of sexual services.[10] This would put Denmark in line with Sweden, Norway and Iceland. This position was then supported by the Red-Green Alliance (Enhedslisten EL), Socialist People's Party (SF), but not the Social Liberals (R). This had little popular support, only about 26% supporting the measure. (see Public opinion)

In 2011, responding to both an opinion poll and recent research (which see) the opposition Social Democrats (S), supported by the Socialist People's Party (SF) on this issue, and do not consider the issue of rights identified in the 2011 poll. This puts them at odds with the minority governing parties, the Liberals (Venstre) (V) although the position of the junior party, the Conservatives's (K), position is less clear. On the other hand, the opposition People's Party (DF) is more supportive of rights, looking to New Zealand. In Denmark's complex political mosaic, the Radicals (Social Liberals) (R) who are divided on the issue, may hold the balance of power on this issue.[3]

Public opinion[edit]

A public opinion poll in 2011 showed that 61% of Danes think Danish sex workers should have more rights, and their profession recognised. Support was found by the majority of voters for all parties, but most noticeably for the relatively small Liberal Alliance (LA). The question was "In Denmark, prostitution is legal and prostitutes are in principle taxable. Prostitution is not recognised as a profession, and the prostitutes are not able to join a union, receive benefits, or be eligible for employment insurance. Are you in favour or opposed to prostitutes being allowed to join a union in order to receive benefits and employment insurance?"[3]


In 2010 the Danish government, responding to criticisms that the debate on prostitution was largely based on myths and stereotypes, allocated DKK 4 million for a national survey by Det Nationale Forskningscenter for Velfærd[11] which was published in 2011 as Prostitution i Danmark.[12] The report stressed that prostitution cannot be treated as a monolithic or homogeneous entity, in particular drawing a distinction between outdoor (street) and indoor work. It suggested a more targeted approach, pointing out that many sex workers had chosen their profession rather than being coerced.[3]







See also[edit]

Main article: Outline of Denmark


  1. ^ a b "Country Reports on Human Rights 2007: Denmark". US State Department. 2008-03-11. Retrieved 2010-03-31. 
  2. ^ "The battle against sex trafficking: Sweden vs. Denmark". CNN. 2011-03-30. Retrieved 2012-05-30. 
  3. ^ a b c d Danskerne vil give prostituerede flere rettigheder. June 10 2011
  4. ^ a b "Country Reports on Human Rights 2009: Denmark". US State Department. 2008-03-11. Retrieved 2011-02-23. 
  5. ^ Warnings of discount prostitution trend. Copenhagen Post Wednesday, 22 July 2009
  6. ^ Romanian sex workers most prevalent in EU. EU Observer Jan 26 2010
  7. ^ Servicestrelsen: Migrantprostitution i Danmark 2011
  8. ^ Jeg ligger i kø på motorvejen! Dagbladenes Bureau Mar 26 2009
  9. ^ ”Det skal ikke bare være en krop mod krop-oplevelse...”: en sociologisk undersøgelse om prostitutionskunder. Af Claus Lautrup. VFC Socialt Udsatte, 2005. Undersøgelsesrapport."Af de 6.350 mænd, som deltager i spørgeskemaundersøgelsen, svarer 14 procent, at de har købt sex"
  10. ^ New government could ban buying sex. Copenhagen Post 29 June 2009
  11. ^ Det Nationale Forskningscenter for Velfærd
  12. ^ Prostitution i Danmark'

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