By Mary Jefcoate and Nukaaka Tobiassen
Sex work and the laws surrounding it have been discussed for years in Copenhagen with no change. Is criminalising the trade going to eradicate it or just make it unsafe?
On the 5th of September, a debate was held by Jakob Tørring based on “Should prostitutes have labour rights?” The discussion focused on the issue Denmark has with the laws on sex work being complicated and causing people who work in this trade to be seen and treated as criminals.
Former sex worker Vina Hegomann believes prostitution should be decriminalised in order to make it safer for women who work on the streets. The current law in Denmark states that it is illegal if someone hires a room out to a prostitute and makes a profit from it. The only legal way for a prostitute to avoid working on the streets is for them to own their own place.
Hegomann says she had her own place, but was unable to insure it, as the use of it was seen as illegal.
“I am not interested in legalsing prostution” Hegomann states.
As that will only create more restricting and complex laws surrounding the work. Instead proposing to decriminalise it, which Hegomann explains as just removing the laws that make it illegal to rent a room or work with someone.
Hegomann says she doesn’t want “no big new thinking about what to do about prostitution or sex work, just take away the criminalisation.”
“Let us function as a normal trade”
Criminalising prostitution means that businesses may be penalised for just renting a room to a prostitute. Since it is illegal to profit from renting a room out for prostitution, many hotels and sex clubs are set upon by the law.
Council member Karina Jessen is in full support of sex workers
Karina Jessen, BR for the left, spoke of how her party is taking a different approach on trying to decriminalise prostitution. Instead of talking to ‘experts’ in the field they are asking
“What does (sic) the sex workers ask for? What do they say is important? What do they need?”
Jessen makes the point that we will never be able to stop prostitution as there will always be a demand and instead suggests that
“We should make the best exit programs in the world”,
“In order to help these women and men… start working in different trades when they feel it isn’t for them anymore.”
It has always been a debated topic and there has not been any change in the law since 1999. Jessen says one reason the policy has not yet been changed is that “nobody has had the courage to say we want the change”. In essence, politicians are worried to say anything about it out of fear of losing supporters.
The sex trade in Denmark can be a dangerous one, with 18% of sex workers claiming they have been assaulted. Decriminalising this would ensure that assault of any sort against a sex worker is able to be reported and dealt with properly.
Politician Thomas Warberg proposes an alternative solution to the problem
Thomas Warberg candidate for city council, in the Socialist Party, supports the concept of criminalising the customer of sex work.
“We want to support not punish prostitutes.” Says Warberg.
He does not think the current laws for sex work needs to change, unlike Jessen and Hegomann. He believes that “it is legal” already and any further decriminalisation makes it easier for women to participate in this industry.
When asked about what he then suggests for the prostitutes who will lose work, he suggested the same as Jessen, an exit program. Where these former sex workers are able to find and secure a job.
Both sides of the debate believe change is far in the distant
It is unlikely that anything will happen soon.
“We’ve had this discussion for years and it always stops at one point because …. it becomes very difficult, it becomes very emotional” Jessen says.
The subject of prostitution involves complex matters of human rights to their own body and what they wish to do with it, the other side of that is whether they are mentally capable of making this decision on their own at different points in their life.
People like Jessen and Hegomann will continue to work towards a voice for sex workers and a safer working environment for them. While Warberg will continue to minimise the demand for sex work and attempt to lessen the amount of people needed for this trade.
(This story is written for an audience in Greenland and could be published on http://knr.gl/da)