ProstSchG: An impractical and discriminatory special law | Statement by Voice4Sexworkers
Photo: Mock Whore ID at sex worker protest in Berlin © 2016 Friederike Strack. All Rights Reserved.
Today, North-Rhine Westphalian Health Minister Barbara Steffens and Claudia Zimmermann-Schwartz, Chairwoman of the Roundtable Prostitution in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), held a press conference about the planned Prostitutes Protection Law (ProstSchG), which they argued would further drive sex workers into illegality instead of protecting them. As part of the press release, statements from two sex workers who participated in the Roundtable were presented.The following is an expanded statement from one of them, translated from the German original published by Voice4Sexworkers. Please click here to view the press release by the Ministry of Health, Equalities, Care and Ageing (MGEPA) in NRW. This resource is in German.
Statement by Melanie, Participant at Roundtable Prostitution
I’m a single mother of two and I’ve been working as a sex worker for the past ten years. I’ve never been able to earn my entire livelihood through sex work but I didn’t want to fall back on receiving welfare or housing benefits. That’s why the additional income from sex work has always been welcome and has enabled me to afford my children normal lives free from social exclusion.
The most important principle – and that’s exactly what the draft bill before us is not based on – is that prostitution has to be decriminalised first before one sets out to regulate it. This means that sex work must not be governed by criminal law. Last year, Amnesty International arrived at the same conclusion after conducting a comprehensive 2-year study in which they interviewed sex workers, particularly in countries were sex work is heavily regulated or even forbidden. A UN report from 2012, based on research in 48 countries, also found that licensing or registration systems proved to be ineffective or benefited only a small number of sex workers. In jurisdictions that have introduced these systems, the vast majority of sex workers operated outside of them. Comparisons with countries like Germany revealed that the working and living situations of sex workers improve when sex work is legalised. But the most positive results have been accomplished in New Zealand, where the final step towards decriminalisation was taken almost 13 years ago.
The authors of this Prostitutes Protection Law did not muster that same courage. Under the guise of wanting to protect us, they drafted a bill that is entirely “exit-oriented” but mentions nothing about how to earn a living or receive benefits for one’s livelihood. The Hartz IV welfare benefits are insufficient even now, and it is for that very reason that many of us choose to engage in sex work. If one were really interested in helping us, other alternatives and practical assistance were required instead of fobbing us off with minimal basic coverage. Notably, in urban areas where the unemployment rate is high, this minimal basic coverage does not provide for sustainable future prospects.
Instead of the current plan of sinking an initial 76.2 million euros followed by 85 million euros annually into this bureaucratic monster, these funds could be used for more meaningful projects, such as counselling centres, self-help organisations, interim payments, and support for qualification measures to enable occupational reorientation. A social welfare fund for sex workers would also be a blessing, since a considerable percentage of us cannot even afford the minimum contribution towards our health insurance.
Instead of offering us the assistance we have suggested time and time again, the new law would impose insurmountable obstacles on us. Our survey among sex workers from December 2015 has also shown what they really wish for and need: effective protection from discrimination, protection against dismissal from a primary job due to engaging in sex work on the side, protection against extortionate rent, more counselling centres (particularly of the kind that don’t just offer help on how to exit, but also how to safely enter sex work), and better protection of their anonymity, especially when dealing with authorities. The ProstSchG fails to provide any of that and instead amounts to the exact opposite, since it even goes as far as to cancel out the Basic Law. If this new law came into effect, the police would be allowed to enter any private home without a court order. A simple allegation that prostitution was taking place in any given apartment would suffice as justification.
In our survey, around one third of all respondents stated they had already had negative experiences with authorities. An equally large share stated they had never outed themselves to authorities out of fear or shame. Together, they represent far more than half of all respondents. Having to explain oneself and provide intimate details to a stranger would only exacerbate this trend.
In addition, it is incomprehensible why it should be necessary to provide all our work locations or have to register anew to work in additional cities or states. These measures are simply meant to enable authorities to create movement profiles that would reveal a lot but contribute nothing to our protection.
Instead of supporting people engaged in sex work to self-organise and create individual work places, the employment situation of independent sexual service providers would be made worse. It’s not enough that the law in its current form would effectively give big operators supervisory powers over sex workers, since operators would have to record their registration details, length of stay and other specifics to pass on to authorities. The law would also strengthen the overall position of those operators by rendering it virtually impossible for sex workers to work alone or with colleagues in apartments. As a result, it would push them into the hands of the very operators who are such thorns in the sides of so many municipal politicians – just their sight, of course, not their taxes. This law pretends to protect us from heteronomy but it would cause the exact opposite: it would deprive most of us of the opportunity to self-determined and independent work.
The authors also further the “laissez fairy tale” of prostitution businesses not being subject to strict regulations and the poor police having no way of controlling anything. Nothing could be further from reality. Rather, it is an attempt to win approval for the draft bill from the public instead of explaining to them why an annual 85 million euros should be forked out for measures that will not help sex workers or those municipalities already short on funds.
The draft bill consistently lacks the principle of impartiality. It is blatantly apparent that the authors were unable to discard the stigma attached to sex work, against which (incidentally), no steps have ever been taken since the current prostitution law came into force.
Instead, the measures planned under the Prostitutes Protection Law aggravate and intensify the very stigma which sex workers around the world cite consistently as the the main obstacle in their daily lives. The wording of the draft bill and the claims made in the substantiation for the law exacerbate the pre-existing prejudices and clichés. If sex work is mentioned in the same breath as criminal activities and sexual exploitation, that is the image that manifests in people’s heads.
Those who dismiss the few sex workers who dare to stand up for their rights as “privileged” should rather become aware of their own complicity in the stigmatisation of sex work. Instead of drafting laws that will curtail the options of all sex workers, the focus should be to add to options available to them. Those who would be affected the most by this law are the very people who already have too few options to begin with, namely migrants and trans* people, and who are often subject to multiple discriminations on a daily basis.
My participation in the “Roundtable on Prostitution in North Rhine-Westphalia” was the first time I experienced people talking with me. Usually, people only talk about me, even when I’m present. The Roundtable proved that it is entirely possible to sit down with the actual experts – us (!) – and find solutions. If one doesn’t talk with sex workers one ends up with the very result the ProstSchG represents: an impractical and discriminatory special law, which excludes us from equal participation in economic life and renders us socially vulnerable.
Original by Voice4Sexworkers. Translation by Matthias Lehmann. Proofreading by Christy Swain and Gabriel Pettyjohn. Published with kind permission.