Off-limit and tolerance zone (in green) in Dortmund’s city centre (click to enlarge)
Last week, a local news outlet in Dortmund published an article that illustrated the gulf between sex workers and proponents of fully decriminalising sex work on the one hand, and even those politicians who oppose forced registrations of sex workers as part of the planned “Prostitutes Protection Law” on the other. The below is a translation of said article and a short commentary.
Prostitution Law: Discussion about Sanctions
The updated draft of a new prostitution law was the subject of a discussion between Sabine Poschmann, member of the German parliament (MdB) for the Social Democrats (SPD), and representatives of the Mitternachtsmission (Midnight Mission), a counselling centre for current and former sex workers as well as trafficked persons, which had previously strongly criticised the design of the draft bill. Where the MdB of Dortmund’s chapter of the Social Democrats and the staff of the counselling centre agreed was that in the updated draft, the Ministry of Family Affairs had taken some of the criticism into account and somewhat softened the tough regulations.
“However, wagging the moralist forefinger is still taking precedence over protecting and helping sex workers,” said Poschmann. She particularly criticised the planned mandatory counselling and forced registration for sex workers. “Unfortunately, our coalition partner shows little willingness to compromise,” Poschmann added. The representatives of the Mitternachtsmission expressed similar views. In their opinion, the current approach will push sex workers into illegality, as experiences in other EU countries had already shown. As Poschmann explained, however, the draft bill does also contain important points, including a ban on degrading practices, such as “flat rate sex”. North Rhine-Westphalia provided sex workers with a good range of assistance, but a precondition for their acceptance would be to create policies that dealt with the subject of prostitution constructively and didn’t stigmatise sex workers. According to Poschmann, Dortmund served as a good example for that. The “Dortmund Model” follows the principle to apply a unified approach of all authorities and support facilities dealing with prostitution. In further consultations about the prostitution law, all affected parties should be heard. This would include both sex workers and brothel operators.
Commentary: With friends like these…
What Poschmann (or at least this article) doesn’t tell you is that the alleged “good example” Dortmund sets includes a city-wide ban on street-based sex work and a complete ban on all forms of sex work in its city centre, with the exception of a single street where sex work businesses are permitted, since the existing law states that cities with 50,000 inhabitants or more must designate sex work tolerance zones within their city limits. In addition, although sex worker “Dany” had successfully challenged the city-wide ban of street-based sex work at the Gelsenkirchen Administrative Court, the City of Dortmund fought back and eventually had the previous ruling overturned earlier this year by the Higher Administrative Court of North Rhine-Westphalia in Münster.
And while Poschmann criticised the SPD’s coalition partner’s moralist forefinger-wagging, she did some wagging herself as she spoke favourably about banning what she considers degrading practices, although sex worker activists have repeatedly demanded to preserve the existing diversity in sex work. As Undine de Rivière, sex worker and press speaker of German sex worker organisation BesD, stated in an interview with Sueddeutsche Zeitung:
“We are categorically for the preservation of the diversity of work places and work modes in sex work. I know women who like to work exactly like that – because they don’t want to be bothered with client acquisition, because they value the secure daily income, because what they earn is often not worse but sometimes even better than elsewhere. And, to put it bluntly: at first glance, flat rate sex may sound overburdening. But more than anything it’s a promotional thing. The flat rate idea works because of male overconfidence. There are customers who pay once, want it ten times, but can only get it up twice.”
Finger-wagging aside, Poschmann’s rejection of forced registrations for sex workers is certainly laudable and it would be too harsh to say that with friends like her, one doesn’t need enemies. But lamenting the Conservatives’ unwillingness to compromise will amount to little more than lip service if Poschmann and her fellow party members will allow Minister for Family Affairs Manuela Schwesig (SPD) and the Conservatives (CDU) to push the “Prostitutes Protection Law” through parliament. The same goes for her talk of further consultations in which sex workers should be heard. The authors of the draft bill already had plenty of coffee and biscuits during talks with sex worker activists and other experts, yet the draft bill reads like a list of everything they argued against. As sex workers worldwide prepare for December 17th, the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, those working in Germany are increasingly worried about the new law and its impact on their health and safety, and as the year draws to a close, the time to change the bill is quickly running out.
The German original of this article was first published as “Prostitutionsgesetz: Diskussion über Sanktionen” by lokalkompass.de. Translation by Matthias Lehmann, Research Project Germany. The original article featured a different photo. Above: “Sperrbezirk Dortmund Innenstadt (alle Prostitutionsarten)” (Off-limit zone Dortmund city centre, all forms of sex work), cropped from the original. Source: City of Dortmund.