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All photos by Sarah Riisager. For several months after its launch, the Sexelance — a converted ambulance that aims to provide a safe working environment for street sex workers in Copenhagen's Vesterbro district — was struggling to attract both sex workers and their clients.
But that's finally changing, mainly thanks to three simple additions to the van: a mirror, a radiator and a pillow to kneel on. Founded by Michael Lodberg Olsen in November , the Sexelance tries to alleviate the rampant violence and exploitation sex workers can face on the street. A report by the Danish National Centre for Social Research found that 41 percent of Danish street workers have been sexually assaulted by customers, compared to three percent of sex workers who operate indoors. Despite Lodberg Olsen's idea receiving positive press, by February only one sex worker had used the van for its intended purpose.
Feedback from sex workers was that the Sexelance wasn't a safe and comfortable enough environment to work in. Olsen and his team decided to re-think the Sexelance, following suggestions provided by the street sex workers in the area.
As a result of the changes, the Sexelance became a lot more popular — with about 55 women using it in the past few months. Prior to the launch, Lodberg Olsen's team had only consulted the Danish Sex Workers' Organisation — a group of current and former sex workers, and a partner in the project — about what the van should look like. And their feedback gave some insights that no one but active users could have provided. The next step was to hang a mirror next to the bed — a vital detail, because it allows the workers to monitor customers and ensure they keep their condoms on.
In April, a study by the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law found a rise in the number of men who secretly remove condoms during sex without their partner's consent or knowledge. Furthermore, a European study recently found that the risk of men doing this is considerably higher for street-based sex workers. Initially, sex workers complained the Sexelance felt too clinical.