Distorting MIRROR: The media’s fear of the truth*
Two sex workers discuss the article “Aus der Deckung” (Out of hiding) by journalist Ann-Katrin Müller in German news magazine DER SPIEGEL.
Please click here to view the German original.
Here we go again
Apparently, journalist Ann-Katrin Müller drew no lessons from the fiasco of the SPIEGEL cover story “Unprotected: How Legalizing Prostitution Has Failed” (SPIEGEL 22/2013) or maybe she’s just aware of the power of the magazine for which she writes. To this day, the 2013 report is cited internationally by politicians and anti-prostitution activists as purported evidence for the claim that the German prostitution law had led to an increase in human trafficking, although the available data from the Federal Crime Office prove otherwise.
The SPIEGEL’s slogan is “Not afraid of the truth” but it still seems to take a while longer until readers will actually be allowed to learn it. After Müller’s article was published, three counterstatements appeared in no time, among them one from the Trade Association for Erotic and Sexual Services (BesD), an organisation of current and former sex workers founded in October 2013.
In the following interview, sex workers Melanie (from Voice4Sexworkers) and Fraences talk about the renewed misrepresentations by the SPIEGEL and the truths, which Ann-Katrin Müller is obviously afraid of.
Research Project Germany: What was your first reaction to the article?
Fraences: When I read the headline and someone’s comment, “Oh, that’s going to be fun”, I immediately thought, that’s not going to be fun at all, since it’s the SPIEGEL.
Melanie: I was speechless. At first, I didn’t take it all that serious because I didn’t know the entire article. But a little later, the first scanned copies arrived and I was just shocked. How can you lie like that and then sell the whole thing as “truth”? And how could anyone even agree to talk to the SPIEGEL again after everything that’s happened there in the past?
Fraences: People may believe that SPIEGEL cover story is old news now but politicians continue to use it to campaign against sex work. Both Uhl* in the Bundestag and parliamentarians in Canada have used that story as evidence while at the same time ignoring counterevidence provided by sex workers and researchers.
*Hans-Peter Uhl is member of the Conservative CDU/CSU faction in the German parliament and supports tightening Germany’s prostitution law.
RPG: Welche Punkte im Artikel von Ann-Katrin Müller seht Ihr als problematisch an?
Fraences: It starts from the very first sentence: “Dubious organisations … together with brothel operators”, followed by the description of Fabienne.* Both are intended to discredit sex workers and our organisations.
*Fabienne Freymadl is a sex worker and one of two political spokeswomen of the BesD.
Müller had claimed that Freymadl was wearing a transparent top and a black bra. In her reaction, Freymadl wrote: “I was wearing jeans and a sweater. I admire your imagination for thinking I had worn a transparent top. But that’s how things are in your profession. If the protagonist is well-behaved and boring, you invent a few juicy details.”
Melanie: The article is full of lies. If you take look at the demands of the BesD, you can see that Müller’s remarks are wrong. And anyway, whores have fought for many years for far more than what Müller’s summary alludes to. Last year, on the occasion of the International Whores’ Day, Voice4Sexworkers published an article by Fraences where she describes in great detail the demands of the whores’ movement of old and how many of them have been met so far.
Müller had claimed, “all three organisations” were of the opinion “that Germany needed as little regulation as possible”, and had added: “It seems that prostitutes’ organisations care about more than just the needs of whores.”
Fraences: Saying that all organisations have the same opinion and call for less regulation is simply fabricated. But Müller’s summaries and omissions are generally problematic. If one were to believe her, the laws concerning human trafficking were only about victims who are abducted and forced to work at brothels. But they are about so much more than that, and Müller therefore reinforces society’s false perceptions. No other trade is singled out and regulated by criminal law to prosecute crimes. By doing so, it suggests to both the public and reporters that prostitution is a trade permeated with organised crime, although official police statistics show that crimes in the sex industry have drastically decreased.
See §232 and §233 of the Criminal Code (StGB). Further articles concerning prostitution: Art. 297 Criminal Code Introduction Act (EStGB), §180a, §181a, §184f and §184g StGB, §119 und §120 of the Administrative Offences Act (OWiG), as well as §55 Abs. 2 Nr. 3. of the Residence Act (AufenthG).
It also annoys me how Schwesig* is portrayed, who, according to Müller, has no plans to outlaw prostitution like in Sweden. But the Swedish Model, which incidentally doesn’t work there either, would be impossible to implement in Germany, which is why Schwesig and others set focus on prostitution obstruction policies and deterrence. Through the reduction of legal work places they make life considerably harder for sex workers. The monopolisation in the prostitution business, which is already in progress, happens at the expense of our rights, just as it does in any other trade.
*Manuela Schwesig ist deputy party leader of the Social Democrats (SPD) and Federal Minister of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth.
RPG: What’s your opinion about the SPIEGEL’s claim that the UEGD* assisted the founding of the BesD and the claim by the UEGD that they provided moral support for sex workers?
Melanie: That’s the biggest nonsense I’ve ever heard. I still have that email from Rettig* in which he expressed his reservations with regards to supporting us, and he didn’t reply to any of my following emails. My initial question to him was about whether or not he was interested to get together to draw up quality and labour standards. He didn’t really appear to take us seriously. I’ve never met him and his statements aren’t particularly helpful either. After all, he’s also calling for statutory permission requirements for prostitution businesses, which is in stark contrast to our position.
*The UEGD is the German Employers’ Association of Erotic Companies, of which Holger Rettig is the chairman.
Fraences: Rettig’s proposal for a special act granting brothels permissions to operate is a copy of a proposal by a lawyer, developed on behalf of a brothel operator. It’s basically a copy of the Restaurant Code adapted for brothels. Rettig’s proposal is an exact copy. So much for his great inputs.
Rettig contributed nothing whatsoever to the founding of the BesD. He was simply present during the “1st Prostitution Days” in Frankfurt, when Johanna* and I called for a first coordination meeting form an association in order to organise opposition against a brothel permission law. Afterwards, I never heard from Rettig again, and the UEGD became rather quiet, too.
*Johanna Weber is a sex worker and one of two political spokeswomen of the BesD.
Melanie: Exactly, but to clarify that once and for all: Rettig had no part whatsoever in the founding of the BesD, and that wouldn’t have been possible anyway, since he has never worked as a sex worker. And last fall, he didn’t come to the Sexarbeitskongress (sex work convention) either, although he was invited and supposed to give a presentation.
RPG: Speaking of the Sexarbeitskongress. Could you respond to the claim that Eva Högl* was called a “Nazi” there? And what exactly happened during Manuela Schwesig’s visit in Nuremberg?
*Eva Högl is a member of the German parliament for the Social Democrats (SPD) and deputy leader its parliamentary group.
Fraences: I’m afraid I was outside when the commotion began, but I know that a representative of Doña Carmen simply reminded Högl that the last time, Germany had a law to register sex workers was under the Nazis, which is true. Sex worker weren’t even registered with the Bockschein under the Venereal Diseases Act of 1953.*
*Bockschein was a colloquial term for a public health certificate, which sex workers had to produce until 2000. The name derives from the Bock, the gynaecological examination chair.
Melanie: At that moment, I was also a little shocked, but when that short dispute broke out between that man and Eva Högl, in which she furiously demanded for him to take back his accusation, there was actually great silence. Those who read Müller’s article, however, must think that a mob of sex workers from the BesD attacked Ms Högl, and that’s rubbish, because that man is neither a sex worker, nor is he a member of the BesD. Speaking of Eva Högl, I will never forget her remark back then that she wouldn’t need any history lessons and who would even care about those old stories.
RPG: I also read that Eva Högl said that day that “None of those is here today”, referring to those sex workers for whom the Prostitutes Protection Law was intended. What’s your reaction to that?
Fraences: Anger over such an ignorant and arrogant attitude. I really asked myself, is she that stupid or does she only pretend to be? And when the discussion circled around mandatory registration, she tried to explain to us as a lawyer that this was a normality for all citizens, and then she mentioned the obligatory social insurance and Pantel* threw in the obligation to register with residents’ registration offices and business registrations. I couldn’t believe they didn’t know the difference. And that sort of people is ruling our country! Unbelievable, really, but I’m actually not buying that they don’t really know the difference. On the contrary, I believe they concocted this as a “good argument” for those who aren’t familiar with the subject matter. Mandatory registration for sex workers means registering with the police! Whoever claims this to be a common civic duty is lying.
*Sylvia Pantel is a member of the German parliament for the Conservatives (CDU/CSU). She’s in favour of raising the minimum age for prostitution from 18 to 21 and introducing a statutory permission requirement for prostitution businesses as well as mandatory health checks for sex workers.
Melanie: Yeah, absolute fury. When Högl uttered that sentence, there was a massive outcry in the auditorium. They always turn things around as it pleases them. Sometimes we are prostitutes to appear as “victims” in statistics, other times we aren’t prostitutes, so that one can exclude us from the debate. Nobody in the auditorium called Högl a “Nazi”, and the spontaneous applause merely followed the statement of the representative of Doña Carmen that there had already been a law once, which forced sex workers to register, back in 1939. One should be allowed to state the truth, shouldn’t one? All in all I have to say that Högl’s statements and attitude at the Sexarbeitskongress were truly revealing.
RPG: And what happened at the protest in Nuremberg?
Melanie: The protest in Nuremberg was a very spontaneous one, organised in less than 24 hours. I consciously didn’t launch the appeal via the BesD but only talked to colleagues I knew personally. So, the whole even was organised by Voice4Sexworkers and not by anybody else. On the contrary, colleagues from the BesD actually sent me texts and emails that morning, telling me I should better cancel or tone down the protest.
In Nuremberg, we used big signs to point to the very law from 1939, and there are photos from that day. The word “Nazi” was neither on our signs, nor did we utter it verbally, and we absolutely did not compare Ms Schwesig to the Nazis. I think, if we had done so, the media would definitely have reported about it, because many of them were present.* Generally, I find these accusations of alleged Nazi comparisons disgusting. They are simply attempts to undermine our arguments and to divert from the actual issues.
*The SPIEGEL also reported about the protest and cited the slogans on the signs.
RPG: Müller writes that only a negligible number of sex workers is organised in trade associations and that one can hardly speak of a „lobby for all whores“. How do you respond to that claim?
Fraences: On the one hand, that’s true, unfortunately, but the BesD is still developing. In addition, the majority of sex workers simply wants to earn a living and be left alone. And from the very beginning, there was very little education about the law from the ministry. A booklet that Stefanie Klee* published is the only info material that the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs co-financed.
*Stephanie Klee is a sex worker and an activist fighting for sex workers’ rights since the 1970s. She’s a co-founder of the Federal Association for Sexual Services (BSD), not be confused with the BesD, where only current or former sex workers are organised.
The reason why migrant sex workers have only appeared sparingly with us up until now is what Klaus* also often points out, which is that there is very little education and integration of migrants. If they don’t fit into the “victim” pattern, they are excluded. The centre of most migrant sex workers’ lives is in their home countries, and they are often only here for several months or a few years in order to build a life back home with their savings.
*Klaus Fricke ist co-operator of Haus9 in Bremen, where sex workers can rent rooms to meet clients in, and a co-initiator of Project Ne-RO-In, which provides information for migrant sex workers.
Melanie: What also makes the work and recruitment so difficult for the BesD is quite simply the lack of funds for that, as well as for awareness-raising and outreach work. Most out there aren’t even aware of the current debate about a new law, let alone having heard of the trade association. They are still living in their little, “idyllic” world, unaware of the apocalypse that will soon befall the German Pay6 sector.
RPG: Speaking of Stefanie Klee. What commonalities and differences are there between the BesD and the BSD?
Fraences: Ever since its founding, the BSD is predominantly an association of operators. They are in favour of a special law granting brothels permissions to operate because they believe it will result in greater legal certainty.* I think that’s tricky because on the one hand, they are against the mandatory registration of sex workers, but on the other hand, statutory permission requirements would result in the obligation to register sex workers. Commonalities are for example our shared opposition of mandatory health checks, a law requiring condom usage, the prohibition of flatrate gangbang parties, special taxation, and special laws governing prostitution in the Criminal Code, in the Aliens Act, and in the respective police laws.
The bigger operators tend to favour a law requiring condom usage, even though some of them admit that they wouldn’t be able to control that anyway. Lobscheid from Pascha Cologne* doesn’t just call for a law requiring condom usage but also for mandatory health checks. He isn’t alone. Many operators are in favour of mandatory health checks, just as the clients.
*Armin Lobscheid ist the CEO of Europe’s biggest brothel, the Pascha in Cologne.
RPG: How do you generally rate media reports about sex work?
Melanie: I don’t usually like the term “Lügenpresse” (lying press) but where the SPIEGEL is concerned, the shoe fits sadly time and time again. Before I speak with the press, I rather use my own platforms, where our words aren’t twisted and the most important aspects aren’t omitted.
Fraences: When dealing with the press, one always needs to remember that they aren’t supporters of the fight for our rights and equal treatment with other occupations, but they simply want lurid stories, because articles about the everyday life of sex workers won’t increase their circulation. Most of the time, the media don’t really care about spreading information but only about shaping public opinion. The goal is to campaign for stricter controls and against prostitution.
RPG: Do you consider yourself as part of the “revolutionary basis”?*
*A phrase that appeared in the article
Melanie: Nah, that sounds condescending. We know very well what we are doing and we don’t need to justify ourselves to anyone.
RPG: Thank you very, very much that you took the time for this interview. I hope, you’ll meet some sincere journalists once in a while. They still exist.