Prostitution: Trade Supervision instead of Repression
The plans for the “Prostitutes Protection Law” have reached a cul-de-sac, explains Criminal Law Professor Dr. Monika Frommel. Rather than patronising sex workers with criminal and police laws, they should be protected from exploitative brothel operators by using the trade law.
By Prof. emer. Dr. Monika Frommel
Please note that the copyright for this article lies with Dr. Monika Frommel and is not licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Why do politicians fail yet again  to adequately regulate prostitution during this legislative period? The goal of a reform should be to control brothel operators as effectively as possible. But instead, a draft bill has been created that will achieve the opposite: the strict and bureaucratic monitoring of sex workers. Brothel operators, on the other hand, have little to be afraid of.
Instead of “protection” from exploitation, the draft bill, modified several times and unlikely to draw a consensus, includes the duty to register and undergo health checks for those individually engaging in this line of work (it was once called “Bockschein”). [A1] Health authorities are supposed to be responsible for those health checks but they can neither provide comprehensive advice nor offer affordable HIV prevention. If one dictates mandatory health checks carrying potential sanctions anyway, one creates an entirely useless Normenfalle [lit. trap of norms; numerous regulations that are impossible to abide by at all times, which in turn renders them permanently criticisable and sanctionable; translator’s note]. The new provisions concerning police powers are unreasonable anyway. What’s missing is the tailwind for an adequate reform. Headwind there is plenty, however, for example from the fringes of the women’s movement, once interested in emancipation [but now arguing that] buying sex should be banned, clients of “forced prostitutes” should be punished, 90 percent of prostitutes were victims of human trafficking, and prostitution constituted an attack on “women’s dignity” – hard to believe that women who regard themselves as emancipated engage in such proxy battles. [A2] So far, they haven’t gotten their way, but they’ve nevertheless caused damage.
“Economically weak independent entrepreneurs exist not only in this line of work”
It’s simply absurd to prosecute exploitation – as hitherto – via the bizarre detour of making claims about human trafficking, a criminal offence whose legal definition has up until recently been regularly expanded at the instigation of the EU. Everybody involved has known for years that this leads nowhere and cannot lead anywhere. So why then repeat in the future what had not been thought through in the past already but was only ideologically motivated? The ideology is known: human trafficking is always forced labour, prostitution is almost always forced prostitution (apart from a few exotics). How do politicians for women’s affairs get to this simple equation? Many people work under economic constraints. (Apart from extreme exceptions) Brothel operators and third parties force nobody into prostitution. Economically weak independent entrepreneurs exist not only in this line of work. From that perspective, providing sexual services is a job like any other. A “Prostitutes Protection Law” could make sense. What doesn’t make sense is to speak about “coercion” and “voluntariness” exclusively in the context of prostitution but not in other lines of work, where poorly qualified workers are also being exploited. Not the work itself is harmful but the unchecked economical necessity to serve too many clients in order to be able to afford too high rental fees and extra costs. What is now planned complicates the work of those engaged in sex work without providing any benefits for them.
If legislators were interested in a rational, long-term solution and not in phoney, moralising debates, what would be the goal of an effective regulation under the trade law? Technically, brothels would be classified as commercial enterprises requiring permissions from licensing authorities. This would depend on the constantly verifiable compliance with minimum requirements. Experienced authorities could respond flexibly whenever operators would fall short of the specified minimum standards. Those who work there (independently) could examine the files at the trade office and check if the fees deducted for operational costs are in fact realistic, just as tenants have the right to control such matters and have tenants associations who support them in that. Why shouldn’t that be possible at brothels?
“The planned Prostitutes Protection Law relies too heavily on the police”
Only if the trade supervisory board cooperated with those working there would there be a chance to recognise if and where exploitation occurs – which is actually liable to prosecution in accordance with §180a StGB [German Criminal Code; tn] (Exploitation of Prostitutes); but if the responsible trade supervisory board isn’t furnished with the relevant powers, it cannot be proven. Instead of the currently empty threat of criminal proceedings, several more flexible legal instruments could be used. If operators would not fulfil their requirements, one could bar them and their representatives (or straw men) from any further activity in this industry.
Therefore, trade supervision would be the solution, but faced with diffuse resistance , the Ministry of Women’s Affairs could not prevail, and it hadn’t planned anyway to discuss the subject earnestly. Viewed in this light, nobody’s surprised that the Prostitutes Protection Law, planned in 2014, continues to rely all too heavily on the police and for that reason has ended in a cul-de-sac. Under the terms of this law, sex workers would have to register with authorities, otherwise they would commit an administrative offence. They would also have to regularly repeat this procedure, and every time they would work at a new location, which is frequently the case, they would have to register anew. In addition, they would always have to carry with them a certificate documenting their timely attendance of mandatory health checks (at the health authorities). What kind of protection is that supposed to achieve?
About Dr. Monika Frommel
Dr. Monika Frommel is an emeritus criminal law professor. She studied Law at the University of Tübingen and at the Ludwig Maximilians University Munich, where she obtained her doctorate in 1979 and received her habilitation in 1986. Until 2011, she was the director of the Institute of Sanction Law and Criminology at University of Kiel. Since 1990, she is a co-editor of the legal journal Neue Kriminalpolitik. Her current research interests include criminology from a feminist perspective, in particular the reform of sexual criminal law, and ethics in reproductive medicine.
Photo: Usage Worldwide
 In 2014, there still seemed to be hope. See Monika Frommel „Gelingt es in dieser Legislaturperiode, die Prostitution angemessen zu regulieren?“ in: Kritische Justiz 1/2015, pp. 96–109.
 This resistance has persisted since 2002. In 2014, even state governments ruled by coalitions of Social Democrats and Greens clearly signalled that they were not ready to agree to controls by the trade supervisory board.
[A1] 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.
[A2] Since one reader felt it was unclear whether Dr. Frommel was arguing that buying sex should be banned or quoting prostitution abolitionists, the insertion “[but now arguing that]” was made here.
Translation by Matthias Lehmann. Research Project Germany. I would like to thank Dr. Frommel for her permission to translate and publish her article. Every effort has been made to translate this article verbatim. As a result, the wording may appear unusual on some occasions. The photo above did not appear in the original article. Photo: “Cul-de-sac” By StockSnap CC0 Public Domain. Footnote A1 was added for further clarification.
The German original of this article was first published as “Prostitution: Gewerberecht statt Gängelung” at NovoArgumente (January 25th, 2016). Please note that the copyright for this article lies with Dr. Monika Frommel and is not licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Prostitution: Beyond an infantilising feminism – A translation of an earlier article by Dr. Frommel
“I thought it was all different!” – Video highlights from a symposium about the German Prostitution Act in December 2013, where Dr. Frommel was among the panellists