Sex Work Regulations in Germany

Posts tagged “human rights

Sexual violence and prostitution: The problem is your image of us

It's not my occupation that's the problem but your bourgeois morality. Matt Lemon Photography. All Rights Reserved.

“It’s not my occupation that’s the problem but your bourgeois morality.“
© Matt Lemon Photography. All Rights Reserved.

By Marleen Laverte1

Sexual harassment happens in prostitution as it does in any other job. Solutions are needed that do not criminalise all clients.

“If somebody grabs at you, take his hand away immediately and make it clear that he mustn’t touch you without paying!” That was one of the first tips I got from a fellow sex worker. Back then, in 2011, when I began doing business at Café Pssst!, a bar with back rooms. I sounded out potential clients while flirting with them – the kind who put their hand on a woman’s ass or breast but eventually would not go to one of the back rooms with them. They had to go to the bank first to withdraw cash, they would say, and then simply did not return, as expected.

Generally speaking, our clients know very well how to behave and treat us respectfully – after all, they are sons, partners or fathers, not monsters devoid of empathy. As in the gastronomy, however, the risk of encountering the occasional client who will grab at you without your consent is relatively high. Or steal your time, i.e. money.

In most brothels, prostitutes warn each other of such transgressive clients. We swap information about what to watch out for or what kind of clients to better reject, if you had enough of their attitude. At some of the online portals, we warn each other of clients who acted violently or inappropriately.

Sex worker networks in English-speaking countries run their own databases, so-called Ugly Mugs schemes, to save fellow sex workers from having the same bad experience with a client that they made, from transgressions to violence. For the German-speaking area, we got a “Client-Knigge” [etiquette manual] where clients can read in cold print what is and is not acceptable.

Despite all competition, whores generally support one another when it comes to sharing how to best deal with those rare “black sheep”. Peer projects of the sex workers’ rights movement – like Hydra, Trans*Sexworks or profiS by move e.V. – empower sex workers to stand up against violence and process their experiences better.

Contradictory role expectations

Although it is obvious, let me make one thing clear: each transgressive or violent client is one too many! Encounters with those clients are the ones that occupy our minds for a longer period of time. To digest them, we reflect on those experiences time and time again.

The dominant stereotypes about prostitutes, which also influence our own thinking, make it difficult where to draw the line when it comes to transgressions or violent behaviour: some say that as “fallen women” we have no one but ourselves to blame and consider those experiences as occupational hazard.

Then there are also those who believe that prostitutes cannot be raped since we are apparently ready to go to bed with anyone at any time. Others again believe the exact opposite: that any and all sex with clients is rape.

Even if you do not need to process any rudeness, these contradictory role expectations can subtly unsettle you about which point of view to adopt. And yet, we are neither “fallen” nor incapable of expressing or withholding consent, nor are all our clients perpetrators.

The range of violence perpetrated by clients is wide and diverse. At worst, it includes murder, and serial killers – not just in the US – more often than not choose prostitutes as their victims since they can reasonably expect that police investigations into murders of sex workers will be conducted less rigorously. Besides, due to the stigma attached to sex work and fear of the police, sex workers hardly report incidents. Not in Germany, and certainly not in countries that criminalise clients. 

The police are not innocent

And yet, recent reports by fellow sex workers from France [and Ireland] have shown that ever since the criminalisation of clients was adopted, it is especially the respectful clients who stay away, whereas the brutal ones readily accept the small risk of getting caught. In turn, the decrease of clients means that whether they like it or not, sex workers have to accept significantly more violent clients if they want to avoid falling into poverty as adequate job alternatives are few and far between.

It should not come as a surprise that the combination of different forms of discrimination – having a trans* identity, poor knowledge of the German language, being Black or of colour, being of Romni or another ethnic background – increases the level of violence people experience in sex work, too.

Besides violence by clients, one must not ignore the enormous amount of violence perpetrated by police officers around the world. More often than not, perpetrators hide among the very people of whom politicians and anti-prostitution activists expect to protect us. In Germany, cases of extorted sex (“give me a blow job then I’ll let you go”) are perhaps not as high as elsewhere but the German police is not innocent either. Fellow sex workers have reported of psychological violence, e.g. through forced outing during driver’s license checks, sexualised remarks during raids, pretending to be clients, or being asked transgressive and patronising questions when trying to file a complaint.

Social exclusion, especially the attempts to rid cities of street-based sex work, has led to the adoption of laws whose sole purpose is to displace or jail prostitutes. When initiating contact with potential clients gets outlawed, as has happened in Hamburg’s St. Georg Quarter; when sex workers return to off-limit zones [Sperrbezirke] in order to make enough money to pay fines levied against them and are repeatedly caught until the initial administrative offence is converted into a criminal offence; when a dozen sex workers sits in jail as a result of all that – then I consider that a deprivation of prostitutes’ liberty by legislative and executive authorities

Sweepingly pigeonholed as victims

Our boundaries deserve the same respect as everyone else’s. Arriving at this self-evident realisation can be hard sometimes in a society that segregates and sweepingly pigeonholes us as victims.

Sex workers are robbed of the opportunity to lead a differentiated public debate about violence in prostitution. How do you deal with the fact that you chose this occupation after careful consideration, knowing full well about the potential dangers? Who do you take as a role model? How do you deal with violence, without playing it down and without generalising it?

Solutions are needed that do not criminalise all clients. There is a lack of understanding that first and foremost, it is social prejudices about prostitution that render it difficult for us to protect ourselves. That is because they lower the threshold to use violence against us – among clients, among the police, among everyone. I wished that sex workers would be listened to, and that we would be consulted about which measures we consider useful to prevent violence, and which we do not recommend.

Even if may be uncomfortable for many people: publicly visible campaigns representing our clients and us as respectable people would be more effective than forced registrations.2 Because we are not the problem but the prejudices you have against us.

The author is a sex worker and wrote here under her pseudonym.

The “Prostitutes Protection Act”, which came into effect on July 1, 2017, introduced the mandatory registration of sex workers as well as mandatory health counselling sessions and the possibility of issuing administrative orders against them. For further information, please refer to the Briefing Paper by the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE), titled “Professed Protection, Pointless Provisions – Overview of the German Prostitutes Protection Act (Prostituiertenschutzgesetz – ProstSchG)”. Interested readers may also refer to ICRSE’s Community Report “Exploitation: Unfair labour arrangements and precarious working conditions in the sex industry”.

Translation by Matthias Lehmann, co-founder of SWAT –  Sex Workers + Allies Translate.

SWAT Logo © Helen Chan for SWAT

“The aim of SWAT is not only to provide sex workers and allies with a network to enable sex work knowledge sharing across as cultural and language barriers, but also to reward contributors for their work whenever possible.”

Please click here for information about SWAT in 18 languages. Please contact SWAT via email if you would like to contribute your skills. You are also invited to join the SWAT Facebook group.

The translator would like to thank Marleen Laverte for her comments on the first draft of this translation. Every effort has been made to translate this article verbatim. The photo and video above as well as the second footnote did not appear in the original article. 

The German original of this article was first published as “Sexuelle Gewalt und Prostitution: Das Problem ist euer Bild von uns” at die tageszeitung (November 20th, 2017). Please note that the copyright for this article lies with die tageszeitung and is not licensed under a Creative Commons License.


Professed Protection, Pointless Provisions – Germany’s new “Prostitutes Protection Act” (ProstSchG)

Zwangsregistrierung - Nicht mit uns! Sex worker protest in Berlin against the ProstSchG © 2015 Emy Fem

“Forced registration – Not with us!” Sex workers and allies demonstrate against the ProstSchG in front of the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs in Berlin © 2015 Emy Fem

ICRSE launches Briefing Paper on
Germany’s new ‘Prostitutes Protection Act’

[Deutsche Version hier]

To mark the International Sex Workers’ Day, celebrated each year on June 2nd to commemorate the occupation of the Saint-Nizier Church in Lyon, France, by 100 sex workers in 1975, ICRSE launches a briefing paper titled “Professed Protection, Pointless Provisions – Overview of the German Prostitutes Protection Act (Prostituiertenschutzgesetz – ProstSchG)”.

ICRSE ProstSchG Briefing Paper Cover [English]The briefing paper was developed by ICRSE in collaboration with Hydra e.V. and the Professional Association Erotic and Sexual Services (Berufsverband erotische und sexuelle Dienstleistungen, BesD e.V.). It aims to offer policy makers, sex workers, and sex workers’ allies an analysis of Germany’s new “Prostitutes Protection Act” and its expected impact on sex workers, and outline recommendations from the sex worker community.

As noted therein, ICRSE has serious concerns about the ways the “Prostitutes Protection Act” will significantly undermine many of sex workers’ fundamental rights. The mandatory registration of sex workers and the possibility of issuing administrative orders against them limit their right to freedom of vocational choice, and the extensive means of surveillance that the “Prostitutes Protection Act” affords the authorities infringes the constitutional right of the inviolability of the home. The recording of personal data in connection with information about persons’ sexual life is a particularly serious issue as it violates the fundamental right to informational self-determination and the directive of the European Parliament on “the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data”. Given the impossibility of providing absolute data protection, the upcoming collection of this personal information is highly problematic.


The “Prostitutes Protection Act”, in the form that it will come into effect on July 1, 2017, only pretends to be a law for the protection of sex workers. The regulations provided therein fail to support both sex workers and trafficked persons. Instead, the law will force sex workers into illegality, especially those working together at apartments as well as migrant, trans, and otherwise particularly vulnerable individuals in sex work. What is labelled as protection is in large parts simply a law aimed at repressing sex work.

We invite sex workers and policy makers to read the briefing paper and take note of the recommendations from the sex workers’ community.


Click here for the English version.
Click here for the German version.


Authors: Angela Herter and Emy Fem
Contributing Author and Copy Editor: Matthias Lehmann (Research Project Germany)
Translation: Ursula Probst
Design: Aleksandra Haduch
Photos: Matthias Lehmann and Emy Fem

ICRSE ProstSchG Briefing Paper Quotes [English]

This article was first published as “Sex Workers’ Rights Day: ICRSE launches Briefing Paper on Germany’s new ‘Prostitutes Protection Act’” on the website of the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE) on May 31st, 2017. Republished with kind permission.

“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.