The myths that circulate about German prostitution legislation are a perfect example of how lies and misconceptions become accepted as “truths” if only they are repeated often enough. Since political actors and anti-prostitution activists in many countries frequently cite Germany as an example where the legalisation of sex work has allegedly failed, the following list will look at some of the common claims made about the German Prostitution Act of 2002. The list is by no means exhaustive and well-informed readers will find nothing new in it. Its sole purpose is to reiterate evidence to contradict the common misconceptions, which sadly find their way into countless media reports time and time again.
+++ Please note: This article is about the Prostitution Act (ProstG) of 2002. For information about the so-called “Prostitutes Protection Act” (ProstSchG) of 2017, please read the briefing paper “Professed Protection, Pointless Provisions – Overview of the German Prostitutes Protection Act” by the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE). +++
Lie: Sex work was legalised in Germany in 2002.
Truth: Sex work was legal in Germany for most of the 20th century. The goal of the Prostitution Act of 2002 (ProstG) was to improve the social and legal rights of sex workers. It also removed the previously existing notion that prostitution constituted a violation of public mores.
Lie: Pimping is legal in Germany.
Truth: The exploitation of sex workers and pimping, i.e. “controlling prostitution” (Zuhälterei), are illegal in Germany under Section 180a and 181a of the German Criminal Code (StGB) and punishable by imprisonment of up to three and five years respectively.
+++ Please note: The above lie was added later and is not included in versions of this article in other languages. +++
Lie: The Prostitution Act gives brothel operators the right to determine (Weisungsrecht) which clients sex workers must accept and what sexual practices sex workers must perform.
Truth: Brothel operators only have a restricted right of direction (managerial authority; eingeschränktes Weisungsrecht) which allows them to assign the work place or schedule only.
Lie: Only 44 sex workers in Germany are registered with the national insurance scheme.
Truth: The German government’s evaluation report showed that 86.9% of the sex workers who participated in the survey had health insurance. While a lesser number paid old-age pension contributions, this was connected to factors like the length of time sex workers intended to stay in the industry or individuals’ needs for security.
And where those ’44’ are concerned: as the evaluation report by the German government outlined, sex workers consider as main obstacles the uncertainty whether or not labour contracts would actually provide any social and material benefits for them, and to what extent they might be faced with unexpected disadvantages. Only a very small proportion definitely wanted a contract of employment, but the majority more or less rejected the idea of a contract. They feared that if they concluded a contract of employment, they would lose their sexual autonomy as well as their ability to themselves determine when and where they want to work. Other obstacles were the fear that they would lose their anonymity and the negative social consequences that would possibly arise if their line of work was revealed. Thus, sex workers do not disclose their occupation to insurance companies or authorities but instead register with other occupations.
Lie: Job Centres can force job seekers to take up sex work.
Truth: Conditions for taking on “reasonable work” do not mean that the unemployed will be placed in jobs or measures to integrate them in prostitution. Media reports suggesting otherwise are incorrect.
Lie: Human trafficking for sexual exploitation has increased since the adoption of the Prostitution Act.
Truth: Despite greater activities by the police, the annually compiled situation reports by the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) show no significant increase in the number of persons trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation that would indicate an expansion of the phenomenon as a result of the prostitution law taking effect.
In the year 2003, one year after the adoption of the Prostitution Act, the BKA registered altogether 1,235 persons presumed to have been trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation, an isolated spike in numbers compared to previous and following years. Ever since 2004, the annual average is 654: 926 cases (2000), 987 (2001), 811 (2002), 1,235 (2003), 972 (2004), 642 (2005), 775 (2006), 689 (2007), 676 (2008), 710 (2009), 610 (2010), 640 (2011), 612 (2012), 542 (2013), 557 (2014), and 416 in 2015.
Persons presumed to have been trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation
Source: Situation Reports by the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), 2000-2015
Although figures fluctuate from year to year, it still represents a certifiable decline of over 66% since 2003. As the government already stated in 2013, from a quantitative viewpoint, the risk potential of human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation in Germany is limited. What did increase, however, is the number of media reports about human trafficking, and thus the impression that the phenomenon itself increased. In this context, one should also note the police’s high clearance rates of crimes against sexual self-determination (rape and sexual coercion) and against life (murder and manslaughter), the former consistently above 80%, the latter around 95% or higher (BKA data from 2008 to 2015).
+++ Please note: The above paragraphs have been updated to include the most recent available data. Versions of this article in other languages do not include this update. +++
Lie: The German Prostitution Act has failed.
Truth: The Prostitution Act of 2002 has not been evenly implemented in Germany’s federal states and more often than not is circumvented by using by-laws. As Rebecca Pates states, “the [Prostitution Act] might in fact have the distinction of being the only federal law intentionally not implemented by Germany’s public administration”. A law that isn’t implemented cannot fail. QED.
Please note: there is certainly further evidence to counter the above claims. For the purpose of this rather general introduction, sources were limited to the government’s evaluation report, the annual reports by the Federal Crime Office, one academic article, and one blog article. Please leave a comment below if you wish to know more about any of the above or any additional points.
Se il vous plaît cliquez ici pour lire la version française de “Mensonges & Vérités autour de la Loi Allemande sur la Prostitution”. Clicca qui per leggere la versione italiana di “La Legge Tedesca sulla Prostituzione: Bugie e Verità”. Моля, кликнете тук, за да прочетете българската версия на “лъжи и истини за германския закон за проституцията”.
Reflections about Sex Work, Solidarity and Political Efficacy
After the Conference “Fantasies That Matter – Images of Sex Work in Media and Art”
I am a sex worker from Berlin and for the last two years, I’ve been an active participant in the sex workers’ rights movement. Fighting against the tightening of Germany’s prostitution legislation, which thankfully was relatively liberal so far, is crucial for me. On the weekend from August 8-10, I attended the conference “Fantasies That Matter – Images of Sex Work in Media and Art”, part of the International Summer Festival at Kampnagel in Hamburg.
As a sex worker activist, I am particularly concerned with and unhappy about the presence and lopsidedness of the prostitution myths, which are reproduced by the media. Ever since I began to engage in political work, I realised that the methodical dissemination of horror scenarios about sexual services is the main obstacle to my political goals. The public as well as the political actors, with whom we negotiate, including those who are progressive, seem to be entirely fact-resistant when faced with rational arguments, because an emotionally charged myth, exclusively fed by propaganda lies, has replaced factual analyses.
That is why I was very glad when I learnt about the “Fantasies That Matter” event. Last year, I participated and co-organised various political events by sex workers; I’m a member of the newly founded professional organisation for sex workers; I previously managed a network for sex workers myself; and I also attend a regular get-together of sex workers in Berlin. Sex worker-only spaces are essential and irreplaceable.
Images of Sex Work in Media and Art
The conference “Fantasies That Matter” was a continuation of the initiative of Missy Magazine, which greatly contributed to a more differentiated journalistic examination of the subject throughout the last year. The organisers managed to put together a cultural-scientific, political, and artistic event and embed it into the summer festival at Kampnagel, a renowned venue for cultural, dance, and theatre events. For a whole weekend, the focus was given to images of sex work in media and art.
The conference marked the first time that dominant discourses about sex work were examined in this way in a public, cultural-scientific setting. The organisers had widely distributed their invitations and the conference pass was free of charge, to reach the widest possible audience. The plan worked and the diverse members of the audience took the opportunity to question their own fantasies and projections about sex work.
I was especially grateful for the opportunity to experience pioneers of the sex workers’ rights movement live and get to know them. The memory of the encounters with Annie Sprinkle and Carol Leigh will stay with me for a long time.
In addition, there were further sex workers present on stage, delivering both speeches and performances. Some of the speeches were a little cumbersome and quite a bit distant from my own reality as a sex worker. Then again, it was the very subject of this event to look at the images that exist of my occupation, which often have little or nothing at all to do with reality.
The fact that the event was almost entirely held in English wasn’t ideal, as some of the contributions and debates were so complex, that even those with a good command of the English language had difficulties to catch it all.
Nevertheless: the conference was extremely informative and gave me new perspectives on the fatal, argumentative link between human trafficking and prostitution that is material to current debates.
The myth of the whore who gets abducted against her will – she’s almost always female – disqualifies her as an agent whose decisions need to be respected. One of the purposes of the so-called “rescue industry” is to deport people back to their native countries – “in their very best interest”.
The whore who speaks for herself, on the other hand, and who doesn’t submit to the victim discourse, is taboo. She is ignored because it is assumed that she is traumatised, abused, unable to judge the circumstances she’s in, she lies, or she’s been bribed or blackmailed by the imaginary pimp lobby. She is losing her status as a human being. If she doesn’t want to be saved, she loses her right of support. She is dangerous for those who oppose prostitution because she could point out that that sex workers are by no means all female or that she considers other measures as important to solve real existing problems, e.g. poverty, legal discrimination, stigmatisation, uncertain residence status, and many more. The talking whore who points out that prohibitions take away the basis of her livelihood without offering a better alternative must not exist. Her demands and her existence threaten the very foundation of bourgeois morality and order.
“Fantasies That Matter” provided plenty of information and good arguments that reminded me again of the nature of the propaganda machine which we are dealing with, and how the political discourse about sex work is embedded into the political order of gender, race, ethnicity and migration policies. I am glad and very grateful for the work of people who have made it their profession to deconstruct these myths.
The work of Annie Sprinkle, for example, is absolutely irreplaceable for the motivation and vision of my own type of sex work. The creative energy with which she lives, performs and spreads her feminist, sex-positive agenda, and how she links radical political activism with art, humour and passion, is time and again a source of inspiration and positive strength for me.
She vividly demonstrated again how very essential solidarity and a broad political basis are for the fight for sex workers’ rights. Among other things, Annie reported how web masters, decorators, people who book sex workers’ appointments and anyone else involved in any “promotion of prostitution” risk jail time in the US, and how there were cases where very high bails were set and these people had to spend time in jail while awaiting bail money. As a German sex worker, I find it almost unconceivable. It made it clear to me, how many cultural differences there are in the movement that I’m a part of, and how much more important it therefore is to demonstrate global solidarity with the whores’ movement.
Annie’s call for general solidarity and for the demystification of the term “sex worker” was met with broad approval from the audience.
At the closing discussion on the final day of the conference, some of my colleagues took the stage, demonstrating with their creative, performative act at this quite theoretical event how to appropriate the discourse – superb!
Only when as many of us as possible speak up and make themselves visible will our diversity ever be perceived.
After the conference, a massive wave of criticism swept through different blogs and Twitter feeds, which quickly turned into a shitstorm. Although I deem some of the criticism as important and consider it worth discussing, I find the atmosphere in those debates entirely inappropriate, untenable, and destructive.
Therefore, I like to address some of the points of contentions that appeared both during the final discussion and afterwards on social media sites.
Who can call themselves a “whore“? Sex worker – an identity?
The concluding panel discussion sparked a lively debate about the question whether or not it would be appropriate if people called themselves “whore” if they weren’t in fact sex workers themselves.
The debate was triggered by Annie Sprinkle’s call for as many people as possible to demonstrate their solidarity with sex workers who are imprisoned and threatened with repression, and to refer to themselves publicly as “whores”.
The critics, who unfortunately also hit below the belt, feel they need to maintain a sharp division here, and they go as far as to deny Annie Sprinkle her identity as a “real” sex worker. Annie Sprinkle worked for over 20 years in the sex industry and was imprisoned as a result of that. She is now working as an artist using explicit content, and because of that, she is not only threatened with further imprisonment, but also experiences hostility and even murder threats, as her work touches upon deeply ingrained moral taboos.
I can of course understand the argument that there is a difference between experiencing discrimination, violence and persecution because of working as a sex worker, and “simply” feeling and acting in solidarity. I also have no interest in seeing the term “sex worker” become the sort of fashionable or lifestyle term as is by now the case with the term “queer”.
Nevertheless, I believe that in focusing the political debate on maintaining the exclusivity of the term “sex worker”, one loses sight of the political goals of the sex worker movements, and doesn’t support them but weakens them.
By means of an example, I will once again explain how I understand Annie’s appeal and why it makes sense to me.
The conference was an initiative by Missy Magazine, the only German feminist publication that continuously defends the rights for sex workers. As a result, the magazine has lost subscribers, just like anyone in Germany who speaks out in favour of sex workers’ rights instantly loses their legitimacy to call themselves feminists due to the monopoly position of a “vulgar feminism” in Germany that is absolutely hostile to prostitution. In the United States, Missy’s work in solidarity with whores might even be considered as promoting prostitution and result in criminal prosecution. For Annie Sprinkle, this means that their work falls under her expanded definition of the term “sex work”. Therefore, the Missy women were “media whores”.
I also consider conceptualising the term “sex worker” too narrowly as problematic since it is very fragile, for various reasons.
Sex work on its own is not an identity but an occupation, which in most cases, people engage in temporarily. Strictly speaking, people thus permanently acquire and lose that status again.
Many who engage in sex work wouldn’t even call themselves sex workers. They would also not have come to this conference or attend one of the self-organised sex worker conferences. Shying away from labelling oneself a sex worker is deeply connected to the stigma that remains attached to sex work, even in Germany, over ten years after the Prostitution Act has come into force.
I am still hitting brick walls and make myself unpopular here, because I ask tantric masseurs and masseuses to declare themselves to be in solidarity with sex workers and join their movement. There’s a lot of reservation, however, because tantrics don’t wish to be mentioned in the same breath with “common prostitutes”.
In addition, the extent of the stigma follows the usual axes of discrimination: gender, ethnicity, nationality, residence status, age, class, wealth, and beauty, to name just a few.
People of colour with a German passport will make different experiences in a tantric massage parlour than their white counterparts, and both will make different experiences if they worked in a sauna club close to the Czech border. In turn, people without residence permits might not even be able to earn a lot of money in both places but work underground and without protection. But all of them would make entirely different experiences if they worked in countries where selling sexual services is criminalised.
Moreover: what are these sexual services anyway? Does it require penetrative sex? We have come to recognise webcam models, porn actors, strip dancers or erotic masseurs and masseuses as sex workers. In my own work, penetration plays only a minor role, but it falls nevertheless under the Prostitution Act and I consider myself a sex worker. What about the people who predominantly work with sexual energy, lead tantric workshops, or provide sexual assistance? We already know socially recognised occupations that deal with sexuality. In Annie’s view, people in those professions are also sex workers and I share her view.
Which notion of sexuality can a possible definition be based upon? Do we conform to definitions set out in the relevant local legislation? Or shouldn’t we acknowledge that the intensity of the prostitution debate indicates how strong the reactionary force is to maintain control over sexual and reproductive practices and to limit them?
How can we, given how diverse we are, still speak of “we”, and who are “we”?
The experience of the sex work stigma is the foundation of our sex worker community. I believe that if we understand ourselves as a political movement that agitates against this stigma, then it’s crucial to create critical awareness about that in our communities. The more people out themselves and identify as “whores”, the sooner it will become apparent, that sex work exists in the midst of our societies – not at the margins!
Sex workers and clients go to the baker’s, raise children, have relationships and pay taxes. They got friends, lovers, siblings and parents.
It must be evident how diverse “we” are and that the stigma affects some more than others, for various reasons. But I believe what we need above all is solidarity.
The relationship between „allies“ and sex workers – Why solidarity with sex workers is important for everybody
In the internal discussions following the conference the question was raised over the relationships between so-called “allies” and sex workers. The tone in some of these debates really angered me.
If we, as a political movement, do not recognise racism, sexism or the sex work stigma as problems that affect society at large, then a sufficient political force able to make an impact on our societies will never materialise.
Marginalised communities exist at the fringes of societies, but their “problem” affects everyone.
Everyone has the right to explore that, to fight that, to write about that, and to make it the subject of their artistic work!
Moreover, every person who discusses sex work publicly and in a differentiated manner runs the risk of being ostracised, and in some countries they might even get arrested. I can agree or disagree with journalists, I can contradict their assumptions or question their positions. But the reprehension of the so-called “allies” and the speculation about their motives in the debates following the conference seems hair-raising to me.
It can’t be that we silence and deny each other the legitimacy to speak. That is the same kind of censorship that is imposed on us externally. It is a matter of being heard and being visible, especially because we have different things to say.
Research about sex work that doesn’t include sex workers is certainly without foundation. Needless to say, at this conference about images of sex work in media and art, many sex workers were invited and present.
Disrespectful attacks against Carol Leigh, Annie Sprinkle and the initiators of the conference only benefit the enemies of sex work. I appeal to you to not waste any energy on pulling apart our own ranks, because currently, decisions are made that affect the lives of sex workers (and their allies) without including them in any way, not only in the German parliament but also in many other countries.
In this very moment, „whores“ in Germany are losing their status as civil citizens and will soon be forced to register with authorities. I find this alarming and our fighting spirit should be directed against that.
That is why I join in with Annie and Carol and call for: Whore solidarity worldwide.
Kristina Marlen works as a tantric dominatrix in Berlin. She majored in law and physiotherapy before she decided to focus on sex work. She gives sessions and teaches workshops about explorative sexuality. She defines herself as queer. Besides this, she’s a dancer, singer, and performer.
Translation by Matthias Lehmann. Research Project Germany. Every effort has been made to translate this interview verbatim. As a result, the wording may appear unusual on some occasions. A German version of this article is available here.
Interview with Fabienne Freymadl, Political Spokeswomen for the Professional Organisation for Erotic and Sexual Services (Berufsverband erotische und sexuelle Dienstleistungen, BesD)
In an effort to curb “forced prostitution”*, the ruling coalition of Conservatives and Social Democrats has agreed on basic principles to reform the German Prostitution Act of 2002. In an interview by Barbara Dribbusch for German daily die tageszeitung, Fabienne Freymadl, political spokeswoman for sex worker organisation BesD, warns against a moralising law and explains why the reforms will harm sex workers* and fail to accomplish their alleged goal.
Please note that the copyright for this interview lies with taz.de and is not licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Ban on Flat Rate Sex and Gang Bang Parties
In the future, sex workers will have to register with the authorities, the owners of brothels will have to submit to reliability checks, and flat rate sex and gang bang parties are going to be outlawed. These measures are part of the planned reform of Germany’s Prostitution Act, which members of the ruling coalition agreed upon on Thursday. Sex workers, however, reject the plans.
Manuela Schwesig, Federal Minister for Family Affairs (Social Democrats), declared that the new regulations meant that for the first time, there would be “clear rules for legal prostitution in Germany that will protect the women”.
Social Democrats (SPD) and Conservatives (CDU/CSU) still negotiate on other items, including a minimum age for sex workers of 21. Conservatives want to raise the minimum age for sex workers from 18 to 21.
Among the already agreed items is the introduction of binding obligations for sex workers to register. Sex workers will then have to register and deregister with municipal authorities. Federal states will have to decide which local authority will be responsible, said a spokeswoman of the Federal Ministry for Women. [This is actually the same as the Ministry for Family Affairs. The full name of the ministry is ‘Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth’. A/N]
A law demanding mandatory registration would harm the women, criticised Fabienne Freymadl, political spokeswoman of the Professional Organisation for Erotic and Sexual Services (BesD), where sex workers in Germany are organised.
Fear of mandatory registration
Especially sex workers who work on a part-time basis do not want to register due to the risk that their data may be passed on to third parties and women could be outed for their stigmatised profession, said Freymadl. If women experienced assaults, they could henceforward not report them to the police anymore, if they weren’t registered with the authorities.
The BesD is also critical of the planned “statutory permission requirements” and “reliability checks” for brothel owners. According to the new regulations, brothel owners with criminal records can be barred from operating brothels. However, an exemption from the statutory permission requirements is planned, if individual persons sell sex in private apartments.
It remained unclear, however, what actually was defined as “brothel”, said Freymadl. An apartment rented by three women to use for sex work could potentially be labelled as a brothel, too.
Outlawing flat rate sex and so-called gang bang parties showed how moralising the debate actually was, the association’s spokeswoman added. Outlawing certain business models and practices, which the public perceived as particularly demeaning, contributed nothing to fight “forced prostitution”, since criminals wouldn’t heed such bans anyway.
Flat rate offers are a “publicity ploy”
So-called flat rate sex meant that men paid a flat fee and could then stay several hours at a brothel and have sex as many times as they wanted to. But that’s just a “publicity ploy”, said Freymadl. Usually, those men managed only one or two sexual encounters that led to an orgasm. Most men couldn’t go on after that. This business model had the advantage for women in the brothel that they could better plan what income to expect, compared to each customer paying for each sexual encounter separately.
So-called gang bang parties also evoked a false impression among the public, according to the association’s spokeswoman. At gang bang parties, a sex worker has oral, vaginal or anal sex with several men simultaneously, and with that, sex workers earned a relatively high amount of money in a relatively short amount of time. The public considers this practice as demeaning for women.
But if such encounters were voluntary, they represented merely a particular practice, emphasised Freymadl. It wouldn’t make sense to limit the complexity in the business to fight “forced prostitution”, which fundamentally, and independent from whatever practice, represented a grave human rights violation and a criminal offence.
Sex work as Freelance Occupation
The trade association of sex workers demands to recognise sex work as a normal freelance occupation and by doing so, to abolish the prohibition of sex work in off-limit zones.
The remaining points of contention regarding the reform of the prostitution law are to be clarified in the early fall. The plan of the Conservatives to punish customers of “forced prostitutes” remains controversial. Critics fear that even less customers would then provide tip-offs to the police about “forced prostitution”, should they involuntarily encounter such women.
The organisation pursues the aims of: improving the working and living conditions of sex workers, providing information and explanations about the different aspects of sex work, imparting a realistic picture of sex work and acting against the discrimination and criminalisation of those who are involved in sex work. Click here to learn more.
The interview was conducted by Barbara Dribbusch for taz.de, a left-leaning German daily. Please note that the copyright for this interview lies with taz.de and is not licensed under a Creative Commons License. The photos above did not appear in the original article.
Translation by Matthias Lehmann. Research Project Germany. Every effort has been made to translate this interview verbatim. As a result, the wording may appear unusual on some occasions.
While it could be argued that the terms “prostitution” and “whore” carry a different connotation in German, they were replaced with the terms “sex work” and “sex worker” for this translation, apart from the quote by Manuela Schwesig and the name of the law.
Since the term “forced prostitution” is contested, this author usually puts it into quotation marks. For this translation, they were added although they did not appear in the original text.
“Forced prostitution doesn’t exist. Prostitution is a voluntary sexual service provision that is based on the premise of mutual consent between adult contractual partners. Without this consent, it is not prostitution but forced sexuality, i.e. sexualised violence.” Press Release by the Federal Task Force Law and Prostitution, March 14th, 2005
In April, the Upper House of the German Parliament, the Bundesrat, passed a resolution calling for an objective debate and differentiated measures amid plans by the ruling coalition of Conservatives and Social Democrats to reform the German Prostitution Act of 2002 (ProstG). Below is a response by the Trade Association Erotic and Sexual Services (BesD), a German sex worker organisation founded in October 2013.
Equal Treatment Under The Law
On April 11th, 2014, the Bundesrat, the Upper House of the German Parliament, called for an objective debate and differentiated measures to regulate prostitution and sex businesses, following a proposal by the Saarland, one of Germany’s sixteen federal states.
According to the Bundesrat, the public debate about prostitution is frequently affected by prejudices, a lack of knowledge and sensationalism. The Bundesrat found no solid evidence supporting the claim that human trafficking in Germany had increased and it confirmed that the number of reported cases had actually decreased despite an increase in police investigations. The Bundesrat also rejected the blanket equation of human trafficking and prostitution and emphasised the protection of prostitution under Article 12 of the German Basic Law (GG), which guarantees the freedom to choose one’s occupation. At the same time, it called for further measures to protect victims of human trafficking, e.g. by granting them the right of residence.
Furthermore, the Bundesrat deemed the introduction of a law to criminalise clients an unnecessary and counter-productive measure. On the one hand, § 138 of the German Criminal Code (StGB) already prohibits knowingly taking advantage of the plight of trafficking victims, and on the other hand, the police actually receives a considerable number of tip-offs in regards to human trafficking from clients themselves.
The Bundesrat also opposed the re-introduction of mandatory health checks for sex workers, thus paying tribute to the successful preventive measures by the German AIDS Service Organisation and the local health authorities. Mandatory health checks represented grave infringements of basic human rights, and there was no evidence that they could halt the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. In addition, the measure could create the wrong impression that other precautions (e.g. condoms) were then unnecessary. Sensible and effective, on the other hand, were the expansion of voluntary, anonymous counselling services, which already formed part of the Protection Against Infection Act (IfSG).
The Trade Association Erotic and Sexual Services (BesD) welcomes the objective discussion of the Bundesrat about prostitution and confirms its assessment of the above mentioned points. However, in light of the continued societal stigmatisation of sex workers, we consider the reform plans of the Trade Regulation Act (GewO) and the Criminal Code (StGB) that were also mentioned in the resolution as problematic.
The Bundesrat called for an introduction of statutory permissions for “sex businesses”. While it correctly identified that to begin with, a definitional clarification of the term “sex business” is necessary, it did not realise that the legal definition of the term “reliability” is also extremely insufficient. A business can have its operating licence denied if an applicant is deemed “unreliable”. In case of doubt, this leads to a situation where an official needs to make a discretionary decision. Especially in a trade that is subjected to numerous societal taboos and prejudices, this creates incalculable entrepreneurial risks. As a result, smaller businesses unable to afford taking legal action will be threatened with closure. The imposition of statutory permission requirements for the granting of operating licences raises similar concerns.
We also vehemently reject the idea mentioned in the resolution of introducing a registration of sex workers according to § 14 Trade Regulation Act (GewO). Sex workers are affected by the moral condemnation of prostitution: our occupation is not socially accepted. An outing in connection with business registrations or brothel concessions is inacceptable for most sex workers. Many lead a double life out of their own free will or out of necessity to protect themselves from the negative consequences of stigmatisation. Up until now, the tax registration was sufficient for us. We could trust upon the tax office not to disclose our personal data. The Trade Regulation Act (GewO) lacks a corresponding safety measure.
As the Bundesrat admitted, the introduction of the Prostitution Act (ProstG) has led to an authorisation of the state police forces and to a greater density of police raids in “sex businesses”. Therefore, it should be examined to what extent the legal registration of sexual service providers and/or “sex businesses” might have the potential to undermine our fundamental right of inviolability of the home under Article 13 of the German Basic Law (GG). The urgency becomes apparent that not only the term “sex business” needs to be defined, but there also needs to be a legal differentiation between running a “sex business”, merely renting out premises, and actually engaging in prostitution, e.g. at a private apartment.
Especially in light of the above, we are very concerned over the proposal to withdraw the so-called landlord privilege in the Criminal Code (StGB). Operators of sex businesses who might not do anything other than ordinary employers – namely, giving work instructions to employees who are financially dependent on them – are already sailing close to the wind due to § 180a and § 181a of the Criminal Code (StGB). Putting landlords on the same level as them would mean to further push our trade towards criminality. For independent sexual service providers it would then be more difficult to rent suitable premises to work in safety and be in control. On the contrary, working in dependence on “middlemen” would become more attractive again. To protect our independence we therefore not only reject to criminalise our clients but all attempts to criminalise sex work in connection with a reform of the Prostitution Act (ProstG).
With regards to the suggestion by the Bundesrat to standardise the age of consent, we support a standardisation to 18 years of age. The well-meant approach to increase the age of consent to 21 years of age misses the point of the lived realities in our trade. Beginners between 18 and 21 years of age would be denied access to safe work spaces, leaving them vulnerable to criminals and forcing them to work at locations without protection from dangers.
Putting the age of consent to 21 years of age, already a reality under § 232 art. 1 sen. 2 of the Criminal Code (StGB), has led to the fact that a considerable number of trafficking victims in Germany are German citizens who are classified as victims solely because they are between 18 and 21 years old, without the necessity of any form of exploitation or violence having taken place.
In our view, equal treatment under the law with other occupations, including the age of consent, is the best means to promote the destigmatisation of sex work. In contrast, legal exceptions, especially in areas of criminal law, cement the particular perception of sex work among the population. It promotes the formation and cultivation of myths and prejudices, which are repeated over and over again to legitimise the continued discrimination of sexual service providers.
Alternatively, one could consider including the prohibition of discrimination based on one’s choice of occupation in the General Equal Treatment Act (AGG) or the recognition of sex work as freelance occupation. Social insurance structures for sexual service provides could be designed according to the model of the Artist Social Fund (KSK). With regards to the operation of a “sex business” we see no advantages of statutory permission requirements compared to the common duty of disclosure, which under § 14 of the Trade Regulation Act (GewO) applies for the absolute majority of all businesses and is therefore sufficient.
Click here to read the original statement in German.
“I thought it was all different!”
Highlights from a symposium about the German Prostitution Act at the Urania Berlin on December 9th, 2013. The event was organised by Felicitas Schirow who had invited experts from the fields of justice, criminology, social work, sociology, and social sciences, as well as an expert from the Berlin State Office of Criminal Investigation (LKA) and two women’s rights spokeswomen from the Left Party and the Greens.
Quotes in English translation
“The Swedish Model has led to bizarre outcomes. Firstly, prostitution in Sweden has not decreased. Secondly, in order to prosecute punters, the police can only conduct investigations under degrading conditions. In my view, if you want to create a law, as the coalition agreement suggests, then you should first do proper research about legal facts, before you conclude some backroom deal without rhyme or reason that only serves to make matters worse.”
Percy MacLean, Chief judge at the Berlin Administrative Court (ret.), former director of the German Institute for Human Rights, recipient of the 2004 Carl von Ossietzky Medal by the International League for Human Rights (ILHR) which honours citizens or initiatives that promote basic human rights
“We say that the prostitution law needs to be updated. The interior ministers have demanded (a reform) in 2010, but it still hasn’t been implemented. What is now being demanded in the media is in fact the long overdue implementation of this resolution. I believe it’s justified to say that prostitution isn’t a job like any other but to automatically equate prostitution with human trafficking isn’t fair, isn’t appropriate, and doesn’t contribute to the discourse. I’ve met enough women that prostituted themselves voluntarily, that were neither forced nor went into that line of work due to economic necessities, and I believe the state should acknowledge that. We witness it in our daily work, and that is why I always ask for a factual and differentiated view, maybe with a few uncomfortable comments by the police.”
Heike Rudat, Director of the unit dealing with organised crime at the Berlin State Office of Criminal Investigation (LKA)
“If there is no majority for a sensible law, then I believe we don’t necessarily need a (new) law. Article 180a of the Criminal Code – that is one of the four laws that were adopted in 2002, at least one, that’s a significant share – prohibits brothel owners to offer prostitution in a fashion that limits the personal and economic liberties of those employed there. If extortionate rents and fees are charged, if no receipts are given for the payment of provided services etc. – those aren’t findings of the department for organised crime but from female police officers that work in the milieu – then those would be concrete facts that would raise the suspicion of exploitative prostitution being offered there, and existing laws already allow for such a brothel to be controlled. I would have no objections if legislation would further clarify these matters but then one must no longer view them from the human trafficking angle but talk about price controls through the Trade Supervisory Office, about the prevention of exploitative prostitution, and about the implementation – at long last – of the Prostitution Act, and one would have to completely change the jargon. The Prostitution Act was torpedoed. Let us finally put the Prostitution Act into effect. And, dear women, if you believe you need to be dominated by an old woman named Alice Schwarzer, oh my…”
Prof. Dr. emer. Monika Frommel, Criminologist, former director of the Institute of Sanction Law and Criminology at the University of Kiel
“Since there are repeated calls again for controls, controls, and more controls, let’s take a look at the subject of health. I can honestly say that Berlin’s outreach clinics seldom report the outbreak of diseases where the general public is concerned, and the women (in prostitution) are also free to visit a doctor. Their bodies are their assets. They have to be fit. They can’t say, all right, nothing to worry about, I might spread some diseases a little. It’s been suggested time and again that prostitutes are guilty of spreading venereal diseases. It’s wrong. That occurs on different levels.”
Ilona Hengst, Social worker with 25 years of experience working with sex workers, previously held positions at several district offices in Berlin
“There has to be collaboration with sex workers, women’s projects and all stakeholders to pull together in one direction, to get this discourse into the right direction, because currently, it goes into the wrong one.”
Evrim Sommer, Spokeswoman for women’s rights and member of the Berlin parliament for the Left Party (Linkspartei)
“Others have already mentioned the right of direction (Weisungsrecht) here today. I believe it’s very important to emphasise this subject, since the idea of further restrictions on the right of direction was also discussed among the Greens. Some suggest that brothel owners should no longer be allowed to assign the workplace or schedule, which to my knowledge are the only aspects the (already restricted) right of direction permits them to control. I believe this is the wrong debate. One should better come out and admit that one’s actual goal is to prohibit prostitution than trying to further restrict the right of direction, just to make it impossible to work in prostitution.”
Gesine Agena, Spokeswoman for women’s rights and member of the federal board of the German Greens
“What actually happens in the setting of prostitution, when a client comes to a prostitute or talks to her? When the client goes to the prostitute, assuming they’re both adults, then it’s usually the prostitute who specifies and determines things relatively clearly, because most men, at least in my experience, are not necessarily in a position to clearly express what they actually like or want, and so she is the one making suggestions. Then they negotiate, about the price, too, and once they come to an agreement, the door closes, or the car door closes, or wherever they go together, and then a sexual service is performed. It’s a sexual and proactive act. The woman neither sells her body, nor does she sell her soul. Some people, and our society is no exception, apparently cannot imagine that women can actively offer and negotiate those services, and that they are basically in charge of these situations. I believe this is something that is very difficult to communicate and where we always get stuck at the client/prostitute level, e.g. where the criminalisation of clients is concerned. And where physical or sexualised violence does occur, we enter an area, also where criminal proceedings are concerned, of bodily harm, grievous bodily harm, rape etc. That is one level.”
Christiane Howe, Sociologist at the Institute for Social Studies at Humboldt University Berlin
“Over the last few years, sex workers have told me time and time again about the physical and verbal abuse sex workers experience at the hands of police officers, including rape and the demand of “freebies”, i.e. sexual services in exchange for not being arrested, and there is ample documentation of this happening. Licensing or registration models have proven ineffective, or rather, where there’s a positive impact, it benefits only a small number of sex workers, since it was shown that in places where such models were introduced, the vast majority of sex workers worked outside of those legal frameworks. In addition, the measures that are involved often represent human rights violations, such as the forced outing of sex workers through compulsory registration schemes or mandatory health checks, which were both suggested by the editorial staff of the EMMA magazine and Mr Sporer from the criminal investigation department in Augsburg.”
Matthias Lehmann, Doctoral Researcher at the Faculty of Law, Queen’s University Belfast
“I organised this event so that politicians, who will someday, maybe soon, create laws affecting us, cannot say they would have made different decisions if they had known about the contents of this event.”
Felicitas Schirow, Since 1997 Owner of the brothel “Cafe Pssst!” in Berlin Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf. The decision by the Berlin Administrative Court on December 1st, 2000, to declare the withdrawal of her pub license as unlawful is widely seen as precedent that triggered the adoption of the Prostitution Act of 2002.