Prostitution in Denmark

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


Early period

Prostitution ('professional fornication') was regulated in Denmark during the nineteenth century, with police playing an active part, particularly after 1864, and even forcing women to register at brothels. Technically prostitution was illegal, so regulation was carried out discreetly by order of King Frederick VI (1808-1839), Danish law prescribed jail for men and whipping for women caught in fornication. Nineteenth century policies to prostitution were driven by the idea that it was a primary source for sexually transmitted diseases, with women being subject to increasingly regular examinations. As in other countries women could be forcefully hospitalised after registration was introduced in 1815. During the century rules and practice were progressively tightened. These policies became the target of women's groups and religious groups forcing some relaxation in 1885. Brothels were eventually banned in 1901 and in 1906 forceful examination was abandoned.[3]

Modern era

Decriminalisation occurred in 1999.[3] In 2006 the government announced a campaign to combat prostitution and racketeers involved in organising the trade and human trafficking, following a commissioned police report entitled Strategi for en styrket politimæssig indsats mod prostitutionens bagmænd. Justice Minister Lene Espersen (DFK) announced an intensified police effort against traffickers while promising a more sympathetic approach to victims and witnesses, with new police reforms effective 1 January 2007. This would replace an earlier strategy due to expire at the end of 2006.[4] In February 2013, Justice Minister Morten Bødskov announced further measures and introduced a bill, arising from the 2012 report of the Criminal law Council, extending provisions against exploitation from brothels to escort services and street prostitution, increasing penalties and giving police more powers.[5]

Sex work (sexarbejde) is addressed in Chapter 24 of the Danish Penal Code (Straffeloven): Crimes against Sexual Morality (Forbrydelser mod kønssædeligheden),[6] Sections 228, 229 and 233. 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. 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.[7]

Review 2012

In 2009 the Ministry of Justice ordered the Criminal Code Council (Straffelovrådet) to undertake a comprehensive review of Chapter 24, and they delivered their report in November 2012.[8] In the terms of reference they were asked specifically to comment on whether the buying of sex should be banned. Amongst their recommendations were;

In addition the Council proposed adjusting the maximum penalties for the participation of a child under 18, for payment or promise of payment, having sexual relations with a client, or for being a spectator to a show with pornographic performances involving a child under 18, in order to meet the demands of the EU directive on combating the sexual abuse of children. They also proposed adjusting the maximum penalties for aiding the prostitution of others.

With regards to a ban on buying sex, the Council concluded that such a ban would only be justified as a moral rejection of the purchase of sex. With the knowledge on prostitution in Denmark and the information on the experience of the ban on buying sex in other countries, the Council's opinion was that a ban on buying sex will not have a significant positive impact in any other respects than the punishing those who purchase sex. On the contrary, a ban on buying sex could have negative consequences for a number of prostitutes in terms of worsening economic conditions and in the form of increased stigma.

On receiving their report, the Minister of Justice (Justitsministeren) Morten Bødskov made these remarks "The government has also decided to follow the Criminal Code Council recommendation not to impose a ban on buying sex (købesex). The Criminal Council study shows that a ban on buying sex is not likely to lead to a decrease in prostitution or the exploitation of prostitutes, but rather is likely to have negative consequences for the prostitutes."(21 November 2012).[9][nb 1]

§ 228
(1) Any person who-

1) induces another to seek a profit by sexual immorality with others; or

2) for the purpose of gain, induces another to indulge in sexual immorality with others or prevents another who engages in sexual immorality as a profession from giving it up; or

3) keeps a brothel; -shall be guilty of procuring and liable to imprisonment for any term not exceeding four years.

(2) The same penalty shall apply to any person who incites or helps a person under the age of twenty-one (21) to engage in sexual immorality as a profession, or to any person who abets some other person to leave the Kingdom in order that the latter shall engage in sexual immorality as a profession abroad or shall be used for such immorality, where that person is under the age of twenty-one (21) or is at the time ignorant of the purpose.

§ 229
(1) Any person who, for the purpose of gain or in frequently repeated cases, promotes sexual immorality by acting as an intermediary, or who derives profit from the activities of any person engaging in sexual immorality as a profession, shall be liable to imprisonment for any term not exceeding three years or, in mitigating circumstances, to simple detention or a fine.

(2) Any person who lets a room in a hotel or an inn for the carrying on of prostitution as a profession shall be liable to simple detention or imprisonment for any term not exceeding one year or, in mitigating circumstances, to a fine.

§ 233
Any person who incites or invites other persons to prostitution or exhibits immoral habits in a manner which is likely to annoy others or arouse public offence shall be liable to simple detention or to imprisonment for any term not exceeding one year or, in mitigating circumstances, to a fine.


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.[10]

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.[11] 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.

Migration and human trafficking

A 2009 study by TAMPEP estimated that migrant workers make up 65% of all prostitutes in Denmark.[12] 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.)[13]

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.[10]


A 2005 study of male clientele by Claus Lautrups found that 14% of Danish men have paid for sex at least once.[14][15]

Political debates

The then 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. The Social Democrats lost power in 2001.

As elsewhere in Scandinavia there has been a continuing debate about the status of prostitution laws. The then opposition Social Democrats and some feminist groups favoured outlawing the buying of sexual services in 2009.[16] This would have put Denmark in line with Sweden, Norway and Iceland, Norway having adopted such legislation in 2009. This position was then supported by a number of opposition parties including the Red-Green Alliance (Enhedslisten, EL), Socialist People's Party (SF), but not the Social Liberals (R). This position had little popular support, only about 26% supporting the measure. (see Public opinion). At that time Denmark was governed by a centre-right minority government consisting of the Liberal Party (Venstre, V) and the Conservative People's Party (Det Konservative Folkeparti, DKF).

In June 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) were in favour of the Swedish model of banning the sale of sex, and did not consider the issue of rights identified in the 2011 poll. This put them at odds with the minority governing parties, the Liberals (Venstre) (V) although the position of the junior governing party, the Conservatives's (K), position was less clear. On the other hand, the opposition People's Party (DF) was more supportive of rights, looking to New Zealand. In Denmark's complex political mosaic, the Radicals (Social Liberals) (R) who were divided on the issue, were in a position of holding the balance of power on the issue. It was anticipated that if the Social Democrats were returned to power they would follow Sweden's example.[7]

In the September 2011 elections the centre-right coalition lost power to a centre-left coalition led by the Social Democrats, together with the Social Liberals and the Socialist People's Party (Socialistisk Folkeparti, SF), and were in a position to change the laws. However the Socialist People's Party withdrew from the coalition on 30 January 2014, leaving the Social Democrats heavily dependent on the support of the opposition Venstre, and consequently having to modify their election promises, although the Socialist People's party continue to support the government.

Public opinion

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?"[7]


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[17] which was published in 2011 as Prostitution i Danmark.[18] 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.[7]

See also


  1. 1 2 "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. 1 2 Irene Berg Petersen. Police forced prostitutes into brothels. Science Nordic 18 February 2013
  4. Justitsministeriet: Styrket indsats mod prostitutionens bagmænd. 4 October 2006.
  5. Justitsministeriet: Regeringen styrker indsatsen mod prostitutionens bagmænd. 11 February 2013
  6. Straffeloven: Kap. 24 Forbrydelser mod kønssædeligheden
  7. 1 2 3 4 Danskerne vil give prostituerede flere rettigheder. 10 June 2011
  8. Straffelovrådets betænkning om seksualforbrydelser. Betænkning 1534. November 2012
  9. Justitsministeriet. Straffelovrådet foreslår skærpelser over for seksualforbrydelser. 21 November 2012
  10. 1 2 "Country Reports on Human Rights 2009: Denmark". US State Department. 2008-03-11. Retrieved 2011-02-23.
  11. Warnings of discount prostitution trend. Copenhagen Post Wednesday, 22 July 2009
  12. Romanian sex workers most prevalent in EU. EU Observer 26 January 2010
  13. Servicestrelsen: Migrantprostitution i Danmark 2011
  14. Jeg ligger i kø på motorvejen! Dagbladenes Bureau 26 March 2009
  15. "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"
  16. New government could ban buying sex. Copenhagen Post 29 June 2009
  17. Det Nationale Forskningscenter for Velfærd
  18. Prostitution i Danmark'


  1. "Regeringen har desuden besluttet af følge Straffelovrådets anbefaling om ikke at indføre et forbud mod købesex. Straffelovrådets undersøgelse viser, at et forbud mod købesex ikke kan forventes at føre til at fald i prostitutionen eller i udnyttelsen af prostituerede, men tværtimod må forventes at have negative konsekvenser for de prostituerede."


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