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Mapping out prostitution in denmark


A new survey by the Danish National Centre for Social Research (SFI) shows that there were about 3,200 prostitutes in Denmark in 2010. This is less than found by previous surveys. The count in itself posed a technical challenge for researchers, who have made use of a range of different methodologies.

According to the survey, there are just over 3,200 prostitutes in Denmark. This is less than previously estimated. The difference primarily owes to the fact that the methods used by researchers provide a more accurate picture. For instance, it is important to take into account that many prostitutes work at several clinics at a time.

The prostitutes are divided between different “workplaces". About 1,600 prostitutes work at clinics, about 900 women work as escort prostitutes and just under 600 foreign sex workers are working as street prostitutes. In addition, there are the male escort prostitutes and champagne girls at strip bars; researchers estimate there are at least 100 of these. In addition there is the more private/discreet type of prostitution. It has not been possible to estimate the extent of this type of prostitution.

It has been a technical challenge for researchers to arrive at these figures. How do you count the number of prostitutes? There is no official register of prostitutes and there are not that many public services aimed at sex workers. The “oldest profession” is a taboo subject and many prostitutes live a double life, concealing their work from friends and family.

Researchers have therefore developed methods to open up this complex area. Through research and professional literature from around the world, researchers have established a range of different methodologies: Qualitative interviews through which contact was established via e.g. chat rooms on the Internet. Field observations such as repeated counts on the street in the red light district of Copenhagen. Questionnaires delivered personally to brothels. Data from the police. The methods were combined in various ways with statistical methods which ensured that the figures for the extent of prostitution were valid and that the results held water.

For example, the following approach was applied in order to ascertain how many women work at sex clinics. Through the classified adverts in newspapers and on the internet as well as information from the police, the researchers found more than 500 clinics. A representative sample of 100 was taken of these. All 100 clinics were visited by researchers, who delivered a questionnaire with various count questions: How many work at the clinic? Do they work at other clinics? Do they also work as escorts? Have they taken a break from sex work and when? When did they last have contact with the police? These questions help ensure that prostitutes are not double counted.

Street prostitution, in particular, posed a challenge for researchers. On the basis of recommendations by statistical experts, a street count was carried out in the red light district of Copenhagen at three different times of the month and on different days of the week.

The street count involved counting the women on specific streets, who displayed “prostitute-like behaviour”. That is, they were clearly looking for customers by walking backwards and forwards on the pavement and in front of parked cars, while trying to make contact with the men behind the wheel. They wore clothes which signalled sex for sale: tight-fitting clothes such as tight trousers and short skirts, with colourful, pink or gold, plastic coats and handbags. They also talked a lot on their cellphones. The challenge of double-counting was dealt with by locating SFI counters at both ends of a street and in hotel rooms facing out towards the street. They kept in contact with each other via cellphone and afterwards compared their descriptions of the prostitutes.

The foreign women were contacted through street searches, at clinics and by working with a number of NGOs. Several access points were necessary to gain the confidence of the foreign women. Many of them are likely to be in Denmark illegally and they come from countries in which there is every reason to distrust public institutions.

Untraditional methods were also applied to find male prostitutes. Chat rooms on the internet, texts messages, and information material on gay bars were used to encourage prostitutes to take part in the survey. And it was possible to persuade a surprisingly high number to complete a questionnaire.

The many different methods and the large amount of material combine to provide the hitherto most accurate picture of the number of prostitutes in Denmark and how they perceive their situation.

Further information: Jens Kofod, researcher, SFI, jko@sfi.dk

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