She showed up in front of me, attempting to avoid any eye contact. I offered her a cigarette. “Why would anyone care about a whore in Aarhus?” she asked me, after taking the first puff.
“12 years a hooker”
Her “street name” is Lupita. She is a beautiful Cuban girl in her mid-twenties, and one of the hundreds of prostitutes that reside in Aarhus.
“I chose that name last year when I saw the movie ’12 years a slave’. I’m 12 years a hooker.” she laughs.
Lupita has been on the streets from the age of 14, but she still considers herself lucky. She managed to get away and travel to Europe, where she met her former husband, a Dane, in Milan. But her Cinderella story didn’t have a happy ending. Lupita ended up alone in Aarhus three years ago doing what she knows how to do best: surviving.
“At least, money is good. Men here pay a lot for good services,” Lupita admits.
Lupita’s rate starts at 500 kr and can reach as much as 1500 kr per hour, depending on what the customers want. “I am expensive,” she jokes.
And she is. According to Marine Nøman, a social worker in Reden Aarhus, the rate for a street prostitute is typically 300 kr or less. For those working at massage centers, prices start at 300 kr.
Lupita is what the state deems an “illegal sex worker.” I ask her if she knows how many women are making a living through prostitution.
“I don’t know” she replies. “I know some girls, but I don’t hang out with them. Almost all are on drugs, and I don’t do drugs.”
The exact number is unclear. The latest official survey of the European Network for HIV/STD Prevention in Prostitution, published in October 2002, states that there were 700 female sex workers in Jutland, working both legally and illegally.
However, Pro Exit Prostitution, a program run by the municipality of Aarhus estimates that there are approximately 200
legal prostitutes in the city. The number of illegal sex workers remains unknown.
“You are one of the few men who speak to me and won’t fuck me after that. It’s funny,” said Lupita.
Lupita struggles to look comfortable and cool, but her hand, trembling as she drinks her coffee, indicates otherwise. We discuss her life back in Cuba and how she met her husband. It was the perfect time to ask: “You are in a place where nobody knows you. Why prostitution again?”
Her eyes became cloudy. She smiled, though, explaining that she didn’t have much of a choice. “The only thing I had was my broken English. I couldn’t ask for a job when my work experience was selling my body to drunken men. And I needed to eat, you know,” Lupita explained.
For Lupita, it was either sex work or starving. For the others, the dilemma is quite similar.
“They are in a bad condition. They are damaged and isolated from their families,” Nøman said. “All of them are drug addicts or alcoholics and they need money for their drugs. That’s why they turn to prostitution. Their alternative is to steal from people.”
In the city’s harbor, two years ago, you could see a lot of sex workers. Now, there are few who remain, and all are working illegally. “I have a profile on the Internet and people find me there,” said Lupita. “They call me and we arrange a meeting point. Most of them ask me to come to my place, because they are embarrassed, but my home is my shelter. So, it is hotels that do the job.”
“You won’t find any prostitute in the streets. Most of the legal prostitutes work in massage clinics, or provide escort services”, said Henriette Andersen, a member of the Pro Exit Prostitution program.
One of major problems for prostitutes in Denmark is that even though sex services are legal, prostitutes don’t have employment rights. They pay taxes, but don’t get benefits from the state. If they decide to quit or get fired from the brothel they work at, they do not get unemployment benefits. Quitting, for them, is not an option.
Dream a little dream
Lupita’s cup of coffee is almost empty. It’s been about 45 minutes since I offered her a cigarette. She is clearly exhausted, but her smile remains.
“I never make plans for the future. Plans are for those who can’t live in the present,” said. Before I even try to further explain my question, she adds: “No, I don’t see myself out of the streets. I have accepted that long ago.”
I wish I knew back then what I found out several days after our meeting. Reden Aarhus is a shelter that provides practical assistance to prostitutes in the city, offering a bed, free food, and a place to stay, for a day or a month.
“It’s for the girls that want to make a difference in their life, even if that includes not abandoning prostitution,” said Nøman.
The Pro Exit program, run by the Municipality of Aarhus since last year, takes a more practical approach. “We have currently 14 prostitutes joining the program. We provide assistance of any kind, working with public services on whatever matter. For example, if a woman needs a psychological support, we work with therapists. Our goal is to rehabilitate these women in the society again,” said Andersen.
While waiting for the number 14 bus to go home, I tried to imagine what this article would look like. I was thinking about the headline, the lead and the text that would best explain this interview. After a cigarette or two and too much thinking, the bus arrived. I looked outside the window, and I thought I saw Lupita walking down the street.
I recalled one of Lupita’s first reactions when we were talking on the phone to arrange the meeting. “I don’t want neither my face nor my name get published,” she said. “And don’t make me look like a pathetic miserable person.”
I hope I didn’t.