In the major cities of Denmark you will find streets where sex workers are looking for clients, but you will not find a ”red light district” as in many other cities around the world. Sex work in Denmark has a tradition of high level discretion. The vast majority of sex workers are working in brothels, which mainly appear as ordinary houses, apartments or shops.
The high level of discretion dates back to a time where selling as well as buying sexual services was illegal. The law was rarely enforced and an unofficial ”deal” with the authorities was not to display too clearly what was going on. Still today sexual services are referred to as ”massage”, brothels as ”massage clinics” and the various sexual services have discrete nick names.
The ban on sex work was lifted in 1999. The politicians did not lift the ban on procurement though and they did not grant sex workers rights such as social benefits. It was stressed by all parties in parliament that they continued to view sex work as a social problem. Their motivation was sparked by a general view that a law which was not enforced should not be upheld. Moreover decriminalisation made tax registration and collecting VAT from sex workers easier.
In recent years the politicians have ordered police and tax-authorities to apply more pressure on sex workers. At the same time courts are enforcing the procurement law in a much more literal manner than before. As a result sex workers today find themselves in a legal situation that is worse than before 1999, as a direct consequence of the procurement law not being revised. The procurement law prohibits sex workers from renting rooms or hiring any help for their business, ultimately meaning that brothels are illegal, forcing sex workers to collaborate with criminals.