Sex Work Regulations in Germany

Lies & Truths about the German Prostitution Act

An Introduction for the Uninitiated

Stamp from Deutsche Post AG from 2001, Pinocchio Source Wiki CommonsThe myths that circulate about German prostitution legislation are a perfect example of how lies and misconceptions become accepted as “truths” if only they are repeated often enough. Since political actors and anti-prostitution activists in many countries frequently cite Germany as an example where the legalisation of sex work has allegedly failed, the following list will look at some of the common claims made about the German Prostitution Act of 2002. The list is by no means exhaustive and well-informed readers will find nothing new in it. Its sole purpose is to reiterate evidence to contradict the common misconceptions, which sadly find their way into countless media reports time and time again.

Lie: Sex work was legalised in Germany in 2002.

Truth: Sex work was legal in Germany for most of the 20th century. The goal of the Prostitution Act of 2002 (ProstG) was to improve the social and legal rights of sex workers. It also removed the previously existing notion that prostitution constituted a violation of public mores.

Lie: Pimping is legal in Germany.

Truth: The exploitation of sex workers and pimping, i.e. “controlling prostitution” (Zuhälterei), are illegal in Germany under Section 180a and 181a of the German Criminal Code (StGB) and punishable by imprisonment of up to three and five years respectively.

+++ Please note: The above lie was recently added and is not included in versions of this article in other languages. +++

Lie: The Prostitution Act gives brothel operators the right to determine (Weisungsrecht) which clients sex workers must accept and what sexual practices sex workers must perform.

Truth: Brothel operators only have a restricted right of direction (managerial authority; eingeschränktes Weisungsrecht) which allows them to assign the work place or schedule only.

Lie: Only 44 sex workers in Germany are registered with the national insurance scheme.

Truth: The German government’s evaluation report showed that 86.9% of the sex workers who participated in the survey had health insurance. While a lesser number paid old-age pension contributions, this was connected to factors like the length of time sex workers intended to stay in the industry or individuals’ needs for security.

And where those ’44’ are concerned: as the evaluation report by the German government outlined, sex workers consider as main obstacles the uncertainty whether or not labour contracts would actually provide any social and material benefits for them, and to what extent they might be faced with unexpected disadvantages. Only a very small proportion definitely wanted a contract of employment, but the majority more or less rejected the idea of a contract. They feared that if they concluded a contract of employment, they would lose their sexual autonomy as well as their ability to themselves determine when and where they want to work. Other obstacles were the fear that they would lose their anonymity and the negative social consequences that would possibly arise if their line of work was revealed. Thus, sex workers do not disclose their occupation to insurance companies or authorities but instead register with other occupations.

Lie: Job Centres can force job seekers to take up sex work.

Truth: Conditions for taking on “reasonable work” do not mean that the unemployed will be placed in jobs or measures to integrate them in prostitution. Media reports suggesting otherwise are incorrect.

Lie: Human trafficking for sexual exploitation has increased since the adoption of the Prostitution Act.

Truth: Despite greater activities by the police, the annually compiled reports by the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) show no significant increase in the number of persons trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation that would indicate an expansion of the phenomenon as a result of the prostitution law taking effect.

In the year 2003, one year after the adoption of the Prostitution Act, the BKA registered altogether 1,235 persons presumed to have been trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation, an isolated spike in numbers compared to previous and following years. Ever since, the annual average is 675, and the only time there were more than 800 cases were detected was in 2004, when 972 cases were detected: 926 cases (2000), 987 (2001), 811 (2002), 1,235 (2003), 972 (2004), 642 (2005), 775 (2006), 689 (2007), 676 (2008), 710 (2009), 610 (2010), 640 (2011), 612 (2012), 542 (2013) and 557 in 2014.

Although the most recent figure showed a slight increase of 3%, it still represents a certifiable decline of nearly 55% since 2003. As the government stated in 2013, from a quantitative viewpoint, the risk potential of human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation in Germany is limited. What did increase, however, is the number of media reports about human trafficking, and thus the impression that the phenomenon itself increased. In this context, one should also note the police’s high clearance rates of crimes against sexual self-determination (rape and sexual coercion) and against life (murder and manslaughter), the former consistently above 80%, the latter above 95% (BKA data from 2008 to 2014).

+++ Please note: The above paragraphs have been updated to include the most recent available data. Versions of this article in other languages do not include this update. +++

Lie: The German Prostitution Act has failed.

Truth: The Prostitution Act of 2002 has not been evenly implemented in Germany’s federal states and more often than not is circumvented by using by-laws. As Rebecca Pates states, “the [Prostitution Act] might in fact have the distinction of being the only federal law intentionally not implemented by Germany’s public administration”. A law that isn’t implemented cannot fail. QED.


Please note: there is certainly further evidence to counter the above claims. For the purpose of this rather general introduction, sources were limited to the government’s evaluation report, the annual reports by the Federal Crime Office, one academic article, and one blog article. Please leave a comment below if you wish to know more about any of the above or any additional points.


Se il vous plaît cliquez ici pour lire la version française de “Mensonges & Vérités autour de la Loi Allemande sur la Prostitution”. Clicca qui per leggere la versione italiana di “La Legge Tedesca sulla Prostituzione: Bugie e Verità”. Моля, кликнете тук, за да прочетете българската версия на “лъжи и истини за германския закон за проституцията”.


Recommended Reading

Roundtable Prostitution presents Final Report

Interview with Heike Rabe, Policy Advisor at the German Institute for Human Rights

10 responses

  1. Thanks so much for providing this important information!

    October 3, 2014 at 9:22 am

    • You are welcome. It actually felt somewhat silly writing this up because it really isn’t news – but that’s exactly the thing: it isn’t (in the) news. They just repeat the same misconceptions over and over and over again, even when they had ample access to people who know better.

      October 3, 2014 at 10:37 am

  2. Romanian sex worker Felicia Anna about the common lies and misconceptions spread about Amsterdam’s Red Light District

    http://behindtheredlightdistrict.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/why-media-should-check-their-facts.html

    October 3, 2014 at 6:32 pm

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