Sex Work Regulations in Germany

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The “Dortmund Model” – Hardly a good example of sex work regulation

Off-limit + tolerance zone Dortmund [cropped]

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.

Swedish (Model) Logic

Swedish (Model) Logic - Translated from the German original by erzaehlmirnix

German original by Nadja Hermann. Translation by Matthias Lehmann. Posted with kind permission.
See also
Prostitutes Protection Law Logic and Sex Work Logic.

“Politically motivated despotism” | Statement by sex worker counselling centre Doña Carmen in response to the derecognition of its charitable status

Wegen Gemeinnützigkeit geschlossen. Photo by ImageParty (modified)

“Closed due to charitable status”

“Imagine if journalists asked us about our opinion about the planned ‘Prostitutes Protection Law’ and we had to say, “Sorry, we can’t talk about that, because our work must benefit the public.” – Franziska Funk, sex worker and member of Doña Carmen e.V.

Derecognition of Doña Carmen’s charitable status due to advocacy for the recognition of sex work as work

Please click here to read Doña Carmen’s statement in German.
Bitte klicken Sie hier, um die Erklärung Doña Carmens auf Deutsch zu lesen.

+++ Update +++ Following a petition by Constance journalist Dennis Riehle, the Hesse state parliament called on the state government to clarify why attac e.V. and Doña Carmen e.V. had their charitable statuses derecognised for engaging in political causes. The state government must now examine the legal situation. Riehle commented: “The petition was dealt with relatively quickly, which in my view indicates that the members of parliament share the concern that this matter, which can hardly be described as coincidental, requires clarification. The authorities will only be able to dispel the doubts if they produce valid arguments.” (Source: Dennis Riehle)

In September 2015, the Frankfurt tax office revoked the Gemeinnützigkeit (charitable status, lit. benefit to the public) of Doña Carmen, Association for the social and political rights of prostitutes, with immediate effect, and backdated its decision retroactively to 2011.

At first glance, the reasons appear contrived: “supporting women in prostitution in tax-related matters”; “offering guided tours through brothels” during the open night at Frankfurt’s station quarter (Bahnhofsviertelnacht). One can only shake one’s head.

But the core accusation levelled against Doña Carmen makes one’s ears prick up: the association is blamed for pursuing political goals, “continuously” and “in a non-neutral manner”, “by campaigning for political interests of prostitutes”. Explicitly, Doña Carmen is charged with engaging in “advocacy for the recognition of sex work as work”. Henceforth, the Frankfurt tax office no longer holds this as a charitable cause.

Gemeinnützigkeitas political weapon

The decision by the Frankfurt tax authority – should it become a legal precedent – is politically explosive since the “charitable status” (Gemeinnützigkeit) is used as a political weapon and the Charity Law (Gemeinnützigkeitsrecht) is being politicised in a reactionary manner. The goal here is to terminate a political consensus, in place for nearly 30 years, which recognises counselling centres for sex workers, which are normally set up as charitable organisations, as experts on the subject of sex work and as advocates for sex workers’ concerns.

Today, Doña Carmen is the target. And tomorrow?

The derecognition of the charitable status has serious repercussions for Doña Carmen with regards to the funding of the counselling centre’s work and causes major problems. Due to chronic underfunding, other counselling centres would experience the same problems. Today, Doña Carmen is being targeted. And tomorrow?

Other associations, e.g. Hydra e.V. in Berlin, Nitribitt e.V. in Bremen, Madonna e.V. in Bochum or Kassandra e.V. in Nuremberg, to name but a few, are all recognised as charitable, although structurally, their statutes are no different. On their websites, they also list political demands that are aimed at the recognition of sex work as work. Thus, if this is about the derecognition of the charitable status of counselling centres for sex workers, then the respective authorities should have no difficulties in proceeding, if they applied the standards of the Frankfurt tax office.

Blatant case of political despotism

The derecognition of Doña Carmen’s charitable status is a blatant case of political despotism and illustrates how these things develop:

Since 2001, Doña Carmen conducts guided tours through Frankfurt’s brothels. Since 2009, this also includes tours as part of the open night at Frankfurt’s station quarter (Bahnhofsviertelnacht). The tax office has been aware of all that for a long time, since the tours were listed in the activity reports presented for the recognition of the charitable status during previous years. Since Doña Carmen’s charitable status was recognised in the past despite the brothel tours, it indicates that it is not the practice of Doña Carmen that has changed but the views held by the Frankfurt tax authorities.

The same applies for engaging in advocacy for the recognition of sex work as work. Doña Carmen has uncompromisingly demanded this right ever since its establishment 18 years ago. Throughout all those years, the association’s charitable status has been reviewed repeatedly without any objections, on the basis of activity reports. Now, however, engaging in advocacy for the recognition of sex work as work has suddenly cost Doña Carmen its charitable status. This is, without a doubt, political despotism.

Timing is not coincidental

It is no coincidence that this derecognition of the charitable status happened at the very time when plans are made for a “Prostitutes Protection Law”, one of the most repressive legislative proposals against sex workers in German history. The federal government currently prepares to adopt a law, which would include the forced registration of sex workers, a measure last in place under the Nazis. In light of these circumstances, it’s nothing short of brazen to demand from counselling centres like Doña Carmen political “neutrality”. It’s probably not a coincidence either that those who have decisively campaigned for the rights of sex workers are targeted first.

Attack on sex workers’ rights

But mind you: the attack on counselling centres is actually one on sex workers. They are the target. Not only are their rights supposed to be eroded, but also their opportunity to access practical support. Therefore, the termination of the political consensus with regards to counselling centres will not be without effect for sex workers. In light of this reactionary development, the rights of sex workers have to be defended even more decisively and more specifically. Doña Carmen will continue to do so in the future. Authorities like the Frankfurt tax office will not bring us to our knees!

Request for donations

Doña Carmen is also in need of financial support and solidarity, however. We ask all those who value our work and commitment for donations, since our own resources won’t suffice to stem the costs for the pending litigation to regain the charitable status at the fiscal court.

Please note: Donations to Doña Carmen e.V. are currently not tax-deductible due to our officially certified advocacy “for political interests of prostitutes”, especially for the “recognition of sex work as work”. However, you can certainly receive written proof of your donation. For details on how to donate or contact us, please click here.

A PDF document containing a detailed analysis of the reasons given by the Frankfurt tax authorities for the derecognition of Doña Carmen’s charitable status can be downloaded on Doña Carmen’s website. This resource is in German.


Translation by Matthias Lehmann. Every effort has been made to translate this article verbatim. As a result, the wording may appear unusual on some occasions. Photo by Image Party (Creative Commons 0 License). Text superimposed.

Prostitutes Protection Law Logic

ProstSchG Logic - translated from the original by erzaehlmirnix


German original by Nadja Hermann. Translation by Matthias Lehmann. Posted with kind permission.

Ministers from 4 states demand comprehensive overhaul of “Prostitutes Protection Law”

Ulle SchauwsUlle Schauws MdB (Member of the German Parliament), Green Party*

Wo Schutz drauf steht, muss Schutz drin sein*

*[lit. Where it says protection on the outside, protection must be included]

+++ Update: Click here to download the position paper as PDF. This resource is in German. +++

The Green Party believes that the “Prostitutes Protection Law”, submitted by Minister for Family Affairs Manuela Schwesig (Social Democrats), will be subject to approval by the Bundesrat, the upper house of the German parliament. The reason for that is that the Länder (states) are supposed to carry out mandatory health consultations for sex workers and will thus shoulder the financial burden of the law. “Federal laws containing duties for Länder to carry out such services require the approval by the Bundesrat”, writes Ulle Schauws, parliamentary spokeswoman for women’s affairs, in a position paper.

Schauws receives support from ministers Barbara Steffens, Irene Alt, Katharina Fegebank, and Anja Stahmann, who are responsible for prostitution-related matters Bremen, Hamburg, North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate. They criticise that the bill is expensive and bureaucratic, and required “states and municipalities to establish entirely new departments”. The predicted costs set out by the Ministry for Family Affairs were an underestimation. [Ulle Schauws and] the four ministers demand a comprehensive overhaul of the draft bill, also because it discriminated and stigmatised sex workers, e.g. through mandatory registrations.

Wo Schutz drauf steht, muss Schutz drin sein

Quotes from the Greens‘ position paper

Die Grünen Logo“What the BMFSFJ [Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth] presented after the tough negotations in the grand coalition, is a bill that continues the discrimination and stigmatisation of people engaging in prostitution and forces many of them into illegality.”

Die Grünen Logo“According to experts and [representatives of] prostitutes organisations, whom we have heard on this matter, most of this bill is headed into the wrong direction. The recent resolution by Amnesty International underscores yet again that the protection and human rights of prostitutes worldwide must be strengthened. The draft bill, however, considerably worsens the status quo for people engaged in prostitution. Instead of protecting them, it disproportionally puts pressure on prostitutes.”

Die Grünen Logo“Mandatory registrations are intended to particularly benefit victims of human trafficking. What the BMFSFJ ignores here are the experiences made in Austria. The mandatory registration ordinance for prostitutes, as currently used in Vienna, has shown that victims of human trafficking were in fact frequently registered but the authorities couldn’t recognise them. Would victims of human trafficking who are forced into prostitution but remain undetected despite (forced) registrations not believe their exploitation was legal? On the other hand, there are reasonable grounds to assume that a lot of prostitutes would not register and instead work illegally for fear of being forcibly outed, as has happened in Vienna.”

Die Grünen Logo“Within one and the same draft bill, the BMFSFJ conflates two separate regulatory areas, which should be dealt with in two laws: the regulation of occupations in prostitution and the criminal law dealing with human trafficking. The main problem with prosecution of human trafficking cases is victims’ fear to give testimony against their perpetrators. This willingness to give testimony would not at all be strengthened if the concerned persons must face the authorities in the course of registration procedures and are threatened with fines in case of non-compliance. Instead, we Greens demand a simpler procedure [for them] to attain the right of residence, to increase victims’ willingness to give testimony at the courts.”

Die Grünen Logo“All told, the draft is divorced from reality, inconsistent, and misses its actual goal. As a result of this so-called protection law, prostitutes would predominantly experience incapacitation and repression, instead of a strengthening and professionalisation of their occupation. We demand a law that takes the protection of people engaged in prostitution seriously and delivers what it promises. We call on the BMFSFJ to overhaul the draft bill with that in mind.“


*Image: Website of Ulle Schauws (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Germany License). Source: Green Party. Translation: Matthias Lehmann. Click here to download the position paper as PDF. This resource is in German.

German sex worker organisation BesD responds to planned “Prostitutes Protection Law”

Logo of the Professional Association Erotic and Sexual Services (BesD)

Press release by the Professional Association Erotic and Sexual Services (BesD)

Berlin, September 11, 2015: The Professional Association Erotic and Sexual Services (BesD) criticises the draft bill by the Ministry for Family Affairs for a “Prostitutes Protection Law” in the strongest terms. In its response, the BesD concludes, “A law that pretends to aim at strengthening the right to self-determination of a group of people but then denies them the maturity to make their own decisions, attempts to paternalistically ‘protect’ them from those decision, needlessly interferes with their basic rights, and that, quasi in passing, also creates regulations to save society from this group of people, allegedly in need of protection, via arbitrarily expandable ordinances, such a law is worse than no law at all. The ‘Prostitution Protection Law’ should be rejected in its entirety.”

Instead, the association calls for a complete decriminalisation of sex work, as recently also demanded by Amnesty International, the acceptance of sexual service provision as a freelance occupation, mandatory registrations for brothels in accordance with the Trade Law [GewO], and the expansion of voluntary counselling services.


You can download the complete response by the BesD on the organisation‘s website. This resource is in German. Translation of the above press release by Matthias Lehmann.

Decriminalising sex work is necessary but not enough

Red Umbrellas Kosta CC2.0

“The demand to decriminalise sex work is a necessary step but it doesn’t go far enough.”

By Theodora Becker*

With its decision to issue a recommendation to governments on how to safeguard sex workers’ human rights, Amnesty International has caused outrage, because it includes the demand to decriminalise sex work. What this means is to abolish laws and regulations that either directly subject sex workers to prosecutions, arrests and fines, or criminalise the organisation, support and intermediation of sex work. [According to Amnesty’s draft policy on sex work,] third parties participating in transactional sex should only be penalised, if they exert force and pressure on or violence against sex workers. Clients, too, should not be penalised simply for being clients.

“Germany is not the role model for decriminalisation”

Among opponents of prostitution, this suggestion has caused outrage. They are of the opinion that it would promote pimps, human traffickers and other exploiters of prostitutes and enable them to avoid prosecution, while the poor prostitutes would be exposed to them all the more helpless. People like to refer to the German situation to decry what decriminalisation would lead to. However, there are several things to note. Germany is not the role model for decriminalisation that Amnesty has in mind. Prostitution in Germany is largely, but not completely decriminalised. The main relic of the old criminalising and regulatory regime are off limit ordinances, which allow cities and municipalities to prohibit prostitution in certain areas “for the protection of youth and public decency”. They use them plenty, and in a discriminatory manner, too. A new off limit zone in the city of Dortmund was recently justified with the argument that street prostitution had become too attractive for [female] sex workers from Romania and Bulgaria, and that the city no longer wanted to provide such a magnet for Eastern European migrants.

It is necessary to distinguish between decriminalisation and legalisation. Decriminalisation signifies the abolition of criminal laws and ordinances that [exclusively] deal with sex work in a discriminatory manner. Legalisation would be the implementation of certain legal regulations of sex work. Sex worker organisations around the world demand decriminalisation as a necessary first step. Amnesty remained consciously noncommittal with regards to a concrete model of legalisation but established minimum standards that such a model should fulfil. Once again, Germany is hardly a role model in that regard. The plans for the new “Prostitutes Protection Law” [#ProstSchG] include mandatory registrations for prostitutes, which are not only problematic in terms of data protection, but in addition, they are discriminating against sex workers, for whom the measure has no benefits. In addition, the access to social security and labour rights, which Amnesty both calls for, is also not always guaranteed in Germany, especially not for migrants. And the fight against stigmatisation, which Amnesty demands from governments, is also not really fought with dedication in Germany.

“Decriminalisation must include third parties”

That the decriminalisation must include third parties to protect the human rights of sex workers is obvious: in France, for example, even lessors of apartments, where people engage in sex work, are liable to prosecution. If sex workers would report such a lessor, for example for an unacceptably high rent, they would effectively find themselves working on the street. Only in a decriminalised setting would they be able to insist on fair conditions.

Amnesty does not just talk about the decriminalisation of sex work but about various other measures governments should take to contribute towards providing people, who only choose sex work due to a lack of alternatives, with more opportunities. Those include socio-political and anti-discriminatory measures. Amnesty acknowledges that poverty, a lack of education, discrimination, and restrictive migration policies are jointly responsible for people working as sex workers who would prefer not to. It would be nice if opponents of prostitution would also come to this realisation: instead of constantly pushing the narratives of pimp networks and organised crime, they could say a thing or two about the economic conditions that push people into prostitution – just as they push people into other precarious labour conditions. The entirely undifferentiated reaction to Amnesty’s resolution once more unmasked the position of [prostitution] abolitionists.

Amnesty Listened! - Image by @photogroffee


*Theodora Becker is a PhD candidate at the Free University Berlin and an activist with Hydra e.V., a meeting and counselling centre for sex workers. The German original of this article was first published at leftist weekly Jungle World. Translation by Matthias Lehmann, Research Project Germany. As in the translation, Theodora Becker used the terms “prostitute” and “sex worker” interchangeably in her original text.

Photo (top): “Parapluies” by Kosta | Cropped from the original and used under Creative Commons 2.0 license. Image (bottom): @photogroffee

“Sex workers have the same rights as everyone else” – Press Release by Voice4Sexworkers

Voice4Sexworkers Header

Amnesty International supports the human rights of sex workers and calls for the decriminalisation of sex work

Please click here to view the German original.

At the conclusion of its International Council Meeting in Dublin on August 11th, 2015, Amnesty International voted to henceforward support sex workers’ human rights and call for the decriminalisation of sex work.

Voice4Sexworkers, an NGO by and for sex workers, welcomes the long overdue decision by Amnesty International, as the global sex workers’ rights movement has demanded the very same since decades already.

In Germany, for instance, abolishing the pimping law [§181a of the German Criminal Code] was already suggested in 1973, since labour exploitation and taking advantage of the plight of third parties are already prohibited in accordance with the human trafficking law [§233 of the Criminal Code].*

People who work in the sex trade are not helped by destroying its logistics and infrastructure or through wholesale prosecution of operators of prostitution venues. In many countries, e.g. in France and Sweden, it is already considered as pimping when two women share an apartment to work from. They are then charged and penalised for mutual pimping. Instead of being able to support one another, they are thus forced to work alone and under increased risks.

No Bad Whores Just Bad Laws (Source Unknown)

Decriminalisation does not mean to protect criminals or criminal networks. Those remain criminal under the existing criminal code that also applies to all other citizens. Rather, the objective is to abolish special laws that concern sex workers exclusively and make their work more dangerous. Other occupational groups are not controlled by the police in that fashion. In addition, special laws have a signal effect and lead to greater stigmatisation and discrimination against sex workers, which in turn affects their families and friends, too.

When criminal offences occur in the sex trade, the criminal code is sufficient to prosecute offenders, just as when they occur in any other trade. There is no need for special laws for the sex trade. The case numbers in the reports about human trafficking in Germany have consistently decreased, as evident in the reports by the Federal Crime Office [BKA].

Sex workers have the same right to free choice of employment as everyone else, and their choice must not result in being classified as criminals or in being subjected to controls at all hours without any suspicion of a crime being in progress.


*To avoid confusion: the call for the abolition of this paragraph is not tantamount to a call to legalise or decriminalise pimping but only to abolish special laws for sex workers, since exploitative labour practices in other occupations are all prosecuted under existing human trafficking law. Although the press release by Voice4Sexworkers amply explains this point, an additional clarification seemed necessary in light of countless misleading reports, incl. from well-respected media outlets, that Amnesty International‘s sex work policy was aiming to legalise pimping (see also below).

Original by Voice4Sexworkers. Translation by Matthias Lehmann. Published with kind permission.


“Let’s debunk the myths” – Video by Amnesty International

In an interview with Katie Nguyen of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Amnesty policy adviser Catherine Murphy explained:

“We have to be careful with words like pimp because people often interpret that to mean an exploitative third party and we would not be calling for the decriminalisation of an exploitative third party. What (the new policy) would mean is the decriminalisation of laws on consensual sex work. Exploitation or trafficking within sex work would still be criminal offences. So the the low level operational aspects of sex work such as working together for safety, renting premises, organising together… these things would no longer be criminal.”

Amnesty‘s video below explains how protecting the human rights of sex workers does not mean protecting pimps. Alternatively, you can read Amnesty‘s Q&A on the Policy to Protect Human Rights of Sex Workers.

“Red Light Research” – Interview by Malte Kollenberg

Research Project Korea

Sex workers and allies protest in front of the South Korean Constitutional Court. © 2015 Research Project Korea. All Rights Reserved.

Sex workers and allies protest in front of the South Korean Constitutional Court.
© 2015 Research Project Korea. All Rights Reserved.

Summary

In May, I accepted an interview request by Malte Kollenberg, a freelance journalist producing a series about Germans living in South Korea for KBS World Radio. After several negative experiences with the Korean media, it was refreshing to meet a sincere journalist willing to go the extra mile to communicate before, during and after our encounter to ensure that the subject of sex work would be dealt with appropriately.

Listen to the interview in German or read the translated transcript below.

Please note that the copyright for the interview recording lies with KBS World Radio and is not licenced under a Creative Commons License.

Interview

Introduction by Malte Kollenberg

Matthias Lehmann’s research deals with a stigmatised occupation. He currently works on his dissertation about sex work…

View original post 2,177 more words

Interview with Sonia, an Italian migrant sex worker in Germany

Shutters - Photo by Patrick Blaise

Before 1958, Italian law once stipulated that shutters of brothels had to
remain
closed at all times, hence the name “case chiuse” or “closed houses”.

Clicca qui per la versione italiana di “Intervista a Sonia, sex worker in Germania”. Please note that the copyright for this article lies with Abbatto i Muri, where this interview was first published, and is not licensed under a Creative Commons License.

About this interview

Sonia is 33 years old and lives in Germany. She has been a sex worker for six years and she tells us – via Skype – what she thinks about the abolitionist trend that currently pushes Europe towards criminalising sex workers’ clients and further marginalising sex workers.

Sonia, first of all, how and why did you start sex work? Did you do it by choice or were you forced to do it?

I arrived here after trying to find work using my degree. I was unemployed, doing precarious jobs, like many others. Then I moved abroad and decided to work to be economically independent. I had different jobs but I could not quite make ends meet. I began to work as a prostitute by choice. For me, it’s a job like any other, and I can earn more money. I met a woman who did this and she gave me some tips. I was never forced to do anything.

Do you mind talking about your clients? Are they violent? How do you feel when you sell sexual services?

Violent? (laughs) Where I work the violent ones are kicked out on their asses. The good part of working without having to hide is precisely that. You can work at a place with better safeguards and you can count on others’ solidarity. How do I feel? Good. It’s my job. I often have fun. Sometimes I get bored, and only a few times I felt annoyed, and with those clients I haven’t worked anymore.

Are there also men or trans* people in your work environment?

Yes, of course. There is less demand for men, but trans* people are doing fine.

Do you plan on doing this job forever?

Forever? (laughs) Nothing is forever. I can stop working tomorrow or twenty years from now. It depends. Do you know if you are going to do what you are doing now for the rest of your life?

Actually, no.

Exactly.

Ok, let’s move on from these stupid questions, because I wanted to ask you about traumata and things like those but it looks like you have other things to talk about.

Oh, please. If you want me to play the part of a martyr, you have to pay me at least (laughs).

Why did you go to Germany to work as a sex worker?

Because it’s not possible in Italy. Until they regulate the profession, many Italians are going to move to Switzerland, Germany, or the Netherlands. It is too difficult in Italy. Escorts and those who work at apartments can manage to live well, but the law is aimed at making you rot on the streets, exploited by pimps.

Do you think regulation would improve your colleagues’ lives?

Of course. Think about the foreigners who will get a residency permit with a work contract. If they erased the criminal offence of abetting [prostitution], you are no longer going to rent an apartment in secret at very high costs. You could pay taxes. You could do everything in plain sight. You would no longer need a pimp to be ‘protected’ because if you work in a protected environment with your colleagues, violent clients cannot harm you.

Hermann Vogel - Vous plaît-elle (Image WikiCommons)

“Vous plaît-elle?” (Do you like her?)
Painting by French painter Hermann Vogel

What do you think about the abolitionist wind from northern Europe that is influencing Italy too?

First, Italy had state-regulated brothels – the worst – and after that, the law has always been abolitionist. The Merlin Law* is abolitionist as well. In northern Europe, we have SWERFs [sex worker-exclusionary radical feminists] that are fighting a war. We are back in the puritan era. Sweden, which is a racist country with a lot of Nazi roots, is affecting other nations’ policies towards a morality that is misogynous, patriarchal, and sexophobe. In the Netherlands, they are talking about closing the windows. In Germany, they are discussing a law to register us and inspect us with a magnifying glass to see if we are infected. They’re not interested in our working conditions. What matters to them is protecting society from us whores.

In Italy, they say that regulation is useless because the German model, demanded by sex workers, has failed. Is that true?

Bullshit. In Germany, where regulation exists and where locals and prostitutes stick with it, it works. The fact is that most places in Germany did not apply the law because puritans have boycotted it. The philosophy of some authorities is one where they sleep better knowing there are whores on the streets in the hands of pimps, so that they can tell the tales of victims of exploitation, which is so useful to create statistics for organisations fighting human trafficking.

Are you saying that human trafficking or exploitation do not exist?

Not at all. I’m saying that in some places there certainly are exploitative conditions. Do all companies in Italy comply with the law? Isn’t there anyone taking bribes or failing to pay their contributions? Here it’s the same. Some do not pay taxes and do not follow the rules. Then there are women on the streets, and given that regulation has been boycotted in many places in Germany, they remain in the hands of pimps.

How do you think the problem of exploitation can be solved?

Through regulations. Enabling women to come out of the hiding. Even more so, if they come from abroad and are threatened by laws that want to push them back to their home countries unless they have jobs.

Are you aware that abolitionists deliberately conflate human trafficking with sex work? What do you think about that?

I think that’s terrible. What some of them write on Twitter or Facebook is repulsive. They are fanatics who are full of spite and don’t allow us to speak about what we do for a living. There are really few feminists like you who let us speak. Human trafficking is a problem we want to address. But that has nothing to do with those who, like me, chose this job. Anyone saying they are the same thing is telling lies.

Why do you think they’re doing that?

Don’t you think it’s obvious? Because they do not care about the fact that I want to be a prostitute and that I am not exploited by anyone. Prostitution is violence, they say, and all clients are rapists. They are so busy saving us that they have forgotten to ask what we think about that and what means we want to use to save ourselves.

What would you like to say to these women?

First, I’d say that I’m sorry they are ignoring what I think. I’m sorry that they are playing us off against one another, those prostitutes who do it by choice and those who are being exploited, as if I was denying their suffering. It’s a cruel and violent game, because I feel that any prostitute who is a victim of exploitation is like a sister of mine. I would like to talk with her, and not with those who exploit her to enforce an opinion that has nothing to do with us.

Have you ever known an exploited prostitute?

Of course. Do you think that if I saw one I would turn my back on her? I hosted many in my house, especially foreigners, who were persecuted by police due to the immigration laws. Instead of protecting them, they wanted to send them back like parcels in human skin with an expiry date on them. I have known many, I understand them, and many have told me that they need a contract to stay and to get rid of their pimps. If Germany or Sweden or other countries do not want to regulate [sex work], do you really think they worry about saving women? In my view, those who “worry” the most are the racist ones. Do you know how many women could get a residence permit if prostitution wasn’t criminalized? As a matter of fact, racists are the ones who push for abolitionism and Nazi-style registration of prostitutes. There’s not going to be a happy ending for those who don’t belong to the race they like.

As a matter of fact, in Italy, so-called trafficking victims sometimes end up at one of the Centres for Identification and Deportation (Centro di identificazione ed espulsione, CIE).

Sonia, what else would you like to tell me? Something that comes to your mind and you want the little world that reads this blog to know?

A hug to the sisters and colleagues who work in Italy and have to endure a lot of difficulties. Fight for me as well, and if you manage to achieve something, who knows, I might come back to Italy soon.


Footnote

* The Legge Merlin (Merlin Law, named after its main author, socialist MP Lina Merlin) became effective on September 20th, 1958. This law, still in force today with little change, revoked the previous regulatory system, prohibited brothels, and introduced “exploitation of prostitution” as a new criminal offence with the aim to punish pimping.

In Italy, “indoor sex work is prohibited though in practice, private apartments with only one sex worker are ‘tolerated’. The state seeks to prohibit or drastically re duce street prostitution. Soliciting is subject to a fine and is defined by law as ‘unabashedly inviting clients on the street’. It does not, however, prohibit loitering whilst awaiting clients on the street. The Domestic Security package of June 2008 invests mayors with the judicial power to declare anything that might endanger the security and decorum of the cities an emergency. For this reason, sex workers and their clients have been subject to special ordinances that allow municipal police to administer fines. In addition, the Public Security Law enables the local chief constable to impose and enforce a mandatory expulsion of persons from a city in which they do not officially reside. Currently, EU citizens who violate this ordinance are fined, while non-EU citizens, especially from African countries, are put in temporary detention/identification centres and, in accordance with the laws on immigration, are subsequently deported. … Migrants who hold a regular work or residence permit may engage in sex work. However, it is not a rare occurrence that the police revoke residence permits and begin deportation procedures for persons working in sex work.”

Source: TAMPEP International Foundation (European Network for HIV/STI Prevention and Health Promotion among Migrant Sex Workers), Main coordinator: Licia Brussa “A report on the intersections of legislations and policies regarding sex work, migration and health in Europe” pp. 19,34


Translation by Michela Cicco. Edited by Michela, Giulia and Matthias Lehmann. I would like to thank Eretica Whitebread for her permission to re-blog this interview and Michela and Giulia for translating and co-editing the English version.