This story was originally published on May 18, 2016.
Working mothers are employed in every field and industry, and in Denmark, that includes sex work.
Bonnie, a single mother of three, has been working in Denmark's legal sex trade since she was 18 years old. Four days a week, Bonnie sees clients from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., when she leaves to pick up her children from school. In her small town in Sealand, Denmark, everybody knows who she is — and what she does.
Photojournalist Marie Hald documented Bonnie, then 39, for two years, taking photos as she saw clients or spent time with her children. For Hald, it was a mission to portray the whole story of making a living in the sex industry, and not just part. “I wanted to see if I could tell a story of someone who wasn’t just portrayed as being a prostitute, but also as a woman and a mother,” Hald told Refinery29 by phone.
Hald became interested in telling the story of a sex worker after an experience that hit close to home: She was living in a trendy neighborhood in Copenhagen when she discovered that her downstairs neighbor was running a small brothel out of her apartment. “The stories I’d seen of sex workers had often been people, women, living on the streets, doing drugs,” Hald said. Her neighbor didn't exactly fit the stereotype.
“She looked like a 60-year-old, gray-haired lady. And I became interested in the fact that this was legal in Denmark,” Hald said. She found Bonnie through the industry network, and Bonnie agreed to let her document her life.
Prostitution in Denmark was decriminalized in 1999, but it’s still a controversial subject in the country. In 2012, the Nordic nation considered reinstating a ban
on the purchase of sex, though lawmakers eventually voted it down. According to a 2009 U.S. Department of State report
, there were an estimated 5,500 legal sex workers in Denmark.
Over the years, Hald slowly moved from the role of photographer to friend. Sometimes, she would help Bonnie clean the apartment between clients, getting ready for the next visitor. “I would help vacuum between customers, and open the door,” Hald said. “It was hard, involving myself so much in her life and family.”
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