“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.
*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.
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?
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.
“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.
* 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.
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.
Italian feminist blogger Eretica Whitebread recounts her conversation with an Italian sex worker living and working in Germany.
Clicca qui per la versione italiana di “Le abolizioniste della prostituzione violano i nostri diritti!”. Please note that the copyright for this article lies with Abbatto i Muri and is not licensed under a Creative Commons License.
By Eretica Whitebread
I wrote this article after a conversation I had with F., an Italian sex worker living in Germany. She works at a place that is perfectly legal and pays taxes. She has a son from a previous relationship and her current partner is a woman. A few years ago, she moved away from Italy, where she had been charged with abetting ‘exploitative prostitution’. At the time, she was sharing an apartment with another sex worker. They had intended to help each other in order to work more safely. But under Italian laws, merely living with a sex worker can put you in trouble and see you charged with ‘exploiting the prostitution of others’.
After she served her sentence, F. chose to relocate to Germany, but currently, she feels quite unsettled there. Having already suffered due to the unfair legal charge in Italy, which made her the victim of a law that criminalised her without reason, a law not intended to support her in any way, she now learnt from the news that fanatic feminists want to make sex work illegal, thus driving sex workers underground. F. is afraid that she might again face a law that will criminalise her job.
Abolitionist feminists – feminists who want to prohibit prostitution – affirm they want to rescue victims of prostitution, but in fact, laws against human trafficking already exist. What they really want is to declare all prostitution illegal, including for those who voluntarily chose to engage in sex work. Their beliefs enforce the idea that no woman could ever freely choose such a job, just because they never would. “But that’s not the case where I’m concerned,” F. said. “I feel confident, and this is in fact a job I chose for myself. Nobody compelled me and I have no regrets.”
In F.’s view, the abolitionist feminist movement in Northern Europe is responsible for abuses against people like her. She told me how, after a rally to protest against the criminalisation of sex workers and their clients, some of those feminists confronted the protesters and spat on them. At a nearby alley, they also attacked two others sex workers who had left the group earlier. After they refused to accept a flyer, and after saying that they had actually participated in the protest, those abolitionist feminists insulted them, telling them they were “insensitive people who do not care about victims of trafficking”, and that they had been “brainwashed by male chauvinists”. They also told one of the sex workers, who was a transgender woman, that she had no right to express her opinion because transgender people were in fact men who perpetuated the very same “sick ideas about sexuality” held by men. Those abolitionist feminists acted just like members of anti-abortion movements who attack pro-choice women, and while they walked away, they continued to hurl insults and accusations at them.
“This is madness,” F. said. “Sex workers are against human trafficking and they fight in order to put an end to exploitation”. There are places where sex work is perfectly safe and legal. All that those verbal verbal attacks and the lies spread by abolitionist feminists through the media accomplish is to push sex workers underground, particularly migrants. F. explained how organisations who defend sex workers’ rights are constantly slandered by abolitionist feminists. But if it wasn’t for those organisation, many women engaged in sex work would not have access to STD (sexually transmitted diseases) prevention. What abolitionist feminists do is the very same some religious extremists do: by fighting against condom use, they actually facilitate HIV infections. According to abolitionist feminists, prostitution is a perverted way to express one’s sexuality, and it appears they would prefer the spread of sexually transmitted diseases in order to get rid of self-conscious sex workers.
Due to the activities by the prostitution abolitionist lobby and religious anti-porn groups, sex workers all over Northern Europe feel pessimistic. F. said she couldn’t stand to move to another country again. She said she became all too aware of what those fanatics were doing against her, when her son came back from school one day and asked her whether or not she was a free woman. F. heard about institutional decisions in favour of terminating sex workers’ custodial rights, and it’s only because her son is old enough – he is already attending high school – that she is not particularly afraid the same could happen to her.
“How is it possible that we are going backwards instead of making progress? Who are those women and why do they want to ‘save’ us even though there is no need for us to be rescued?” I replied that I wouldn’t know either. One thing is sure: they call themselves feminists and they are transforming the internal debates between different feminists into a sort of war between fundamentalism and secularism. As a result, it has become impossible to have any meaningful discussion without suffering their insults.
I asked F. if she would stay in Germany, if the government would go through with its plan to pass legislation requiring sex workers to register with the police, a measure last seen under the Nazis, and a number of other anti-libertarian impositions. She replied, “No. I’ll probably go to Switzerland or Austria. I don’t want to be thrown in jail again simply for doing a job that nobody forced me to do.”
Translation by Antonella Garofalo. Edited by Matthias Lehmann. Research Project Germany. I would like to thank Eretica Whitebread for her permission to reblog this article and Antonella for translating it from the Italian original.