“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)”.
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.
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
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.
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.
Please click here to read the English version of “Lies & Truths about the German Prostitution Act”. 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”.
Въведение за незапознатите
Митовете, които циркулират за германското законодателство за проституцията са идеален пример за това как когато повтаряш една лъжа многократно, тя започва да бъде приемана за „истина”. И тъй като противниците на проституцията и някои политици от други държави често използват Германия като пример за уж провала на легализацията на проституцията, списъкът по-долу разглежда някои от често срещаните твърдения за германския Закон за проституцията от 2002 година. Списъкът съвсем не е изчерпателен и информираните читатели няма да открият в него нищо ново. Единствената му цел е да предостави доказателства, които оборват погрешните представи и лъжите, които за съжаление твърде често се появяват в медиите и други източници.
Лъжа: Германия легализира проституцията през 2002 година.
Истина: Проституцията в Германия е легална през по-голямата част от 20ти век. Целта на Закона за проституцията от 2002 г. (ProstG) е да подобри юридическото и социалното положение на проституиращите и да премахне съществуващата дотогава представа за проституцията като нарушение на обществения ред. (more…)
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.
Se il vous plaît cliquez ici pour lire la version française de “Plus de droits pour les victimes de la traite des êtres humains”.
Interview with Heike Rabe, Policy Advisor at the German Institute for Human Rights (Deutsches Institut für Menschenrechte)
The UN calls for a global fight against human trafficking. In Germany, the focus lies on forced prostitution.* In an interview by Ute Welty for German news service tagesschau.de, lawyer Heike Rabe laments the lack of reliable data. She doesn’t think much of plans to tighten the prostitution law.
Please note that the copyright for this interview lies with tagesschau.de and is not licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Who falls victim to human trafficking? Is it predominantly a matter of so-called forced prostitution?
Where human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation is concerned, it is noticeable that the percentage of women coming from EU countries is increasing. That’s because the EU is steadily growing. These are often women who either come to Germany under their own steam for a variety of entirely different motives or who are brought to Germany. Some of these women don’t want to work in prostitution, others encounter undignified working conditions. Germany is a destination and transit country for human trafficking.
When it comes to human trafficking, the media’s attention is particularly focused on the subject of forced prostitution. Does this correspond with the facts?
No. The truths that are broadcast by the media aren’t empirically verifiable truths. There is no evidence that Germany is the biggest brothel of Europe. There is no evidence that prostitutes are also always victims of human trafficking. And there is also no evidence that the Prostitution Act of 2002 is to blame for that. Fact is, however: the measures that are discussed with regards to the pending revision of that law curtail the rights of prostitutes. They include, for example, mandatory health checks.
“Transfer of prostitution into economic life”
In your opinion, what should the revision accomplish?
I believe it’s a tall order for a prostitution law having to fight human trafficking. Initially, the Prostitution Act of 2002 was aiming to improve the working conditions, and via pension and social insurance entitlements the social welfare of prostitutes who voluntarily decided for this job. In my opinion, it is necessary to continue this process: a complete transfer of prostitution into economic life, on equal terms with other fields of activity.
Annual reports by the Federal Criminal Office (BKA) speak of victims. As Rabe explains, however, the figures actually represent preliminary investigations whose outcomes are unknown.
Following an enquiry by the parliamentary group of the Left Party, the federal government announced that last year, 625 people became victims of human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation; a slight increase compared to 2012. How significant is this figure?
This figure comes from the report of the Federal Criminal Office that is compiled annually and based on police statistics. Hence, it does not represent proven cases but potential victims, whose cases were investigated. Such investigations are conducted by the police and then handed over to the public prosecutor’s office and the courts. The report therefore does not provide any information about whether an investigation led to a charge or even a conviction.
Furthermore, human trafficking is a so-called “control offence”. The police uncover human trafficking only when their experts are looking for it. Those affected usually do not contact authorities on their own. We cannot even assume that there really is a high number of unreported cases. That doesn’t mean, however, that the situation might not be dramatic. We simply don’t know it.
“Human trafficking is a human rights violation”
Does human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation always involve forced prostitution?
I avoid using the term “forced prostitution”, because in Germany, prostitution is a profession one can pursue legally and as dependent employment – just like with other employers and employees, too. Human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation is a human rights violation. It occurs when women’s sexual integrity is harmed and they cannot free themselves from a helpless situation. But when prostitutes are “just” badly paid, it constitutes exploitation in prostitution. This differentiation is important, in order for laws, regulations and measures to be effective.
Not every prostitute is a victim of human trafficking. Nevertheless, it is planned to tighten the Prostitution Act to fight human trafficking.
With regards to human trafficking, what domains do you consider as similarly problematic but not adequately discussed?
Human trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation, for instance, is part of the criminal code since 2005. But structures to fight it are still simply missing. With regards to sexual exploitation, there are networks in almost every federal state, where NGOs and government agencies cooperate. The “Federal/Länder Working Group Human Trafficking” fulfils a similar role on the federal level. But those groups do not deal with the subject of labour exploitation.
“Where does the money go to?”
Human trafficking is a big business on global scale, said to generate up to 40 billion dollars per year. Do you think this figure is realistic?
It’s difficult to verify this amount. Nor can I verify the unbelievably high profit margins that are mentioned in connection with human trafficking. Comparisons are always made with the profits of arms or drug trafficking. I just wonder where all the money goes to. When those affected enforce their claims in court, to receive compensation, damages for pain and suffering, or lost wages, then there’s suddenly no money left anymore.
From time to time, women in such proceedings are awarded a few thousand euros. That’s nothing compared to what they are legally entitled to, if they provided services to clients for years or were victims of rape for years. Fighting human trafficking must therefore also consider property aspects. Law enforcement authorities could for example secure or confiscate assets generated from criminal activities.
“Further enhance victim protection”
That means, what’s happening right now isn’t sufficient?
I can imagine various measures that go beyond mere law enforcement. Victim protection, for example, isn’t developed well enough. Women who aren’t from the EU and do not have a regular residence permit usually have to leave Germany immediately, if they are picked up at a brothel or on the street.
They are only allowed to stay, if and for as long they cooperate and testify against the offenders in criminal proceedings. However, it can take two, three years until a trial concludes. During this time, the women are left without any prospects, any job, and without their family, only to then, after the trial is over, having to leave anyway. You tell me, who would seek help from law enforcement authorities in such a situation?
Heike Rabe is a fully qualified lawyer and since 2009 a research associate at the German Institute for Human Rights. From 2009 to mid-2013, she led the project “Forced labour today – Empowering trafficked persons”. Since the beginning of 2014, she focuses on access to justice for victims of human trafficking and gender-based violence.
Photo: German Institute for Human Rights/S. Pietschmann
The interview was conducted by Ute Welty for tagesschau.de, a news service by the German public-service television network ARD. Please note that the copyright for this interview lies with tagesschau.de and is not licensed under a Creative Commons License.
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. The photos above did not appear in the original article.
Since the term “forced prostitution“ is contested, this author usually puts it into quotation marks. For this translation, they are added only where they 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
This article first appeared on Research Project Korea in December 2013. As this blog deals with the subject of prostitution regulation in Germany exclusively, I reposted it here to illustrate the outset of the plans of the current ruling coalition of Conservatives and Social Democrats to revise the Prostitution Act of 2002, as laid out in their coalition agreement.
Human Trafficking and Prostitution in the coalition agreement
As the fight against „forced prostitution”, or rather human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation* has received much attention by the media and the general public in Germany for quite some time, the subject has now also become an element of the coalition negotiations between the Conservatives (CDU/CSU) and Social Democrats (SPD).
Earlier this year, a law to fight human trafficking and control brothels, introduced by the ruling coalition of Conservatives and Liberals, had failed to pass the Bundesrat, the upper house of the German parliament, as “it didn’t satisfy the declared goal to reduce or rather fight human trafficking as well as to enable the necessary control of brothels (official statement of the Bundesrat), nor did it meet the fundamental concerns of experts.
The coalition agreement between the CDU/CSU (the Conservatives) and SPD (the Social Democrats) suggests that the Conservatives remain unwilling to revise the law as advised by the Bundesrat, whereas the Social Democrats, who passed the German Prostitution Act of 2002 together with the Greens, appear to have given up their resistance and now support the plans of the Conservatives, when only in September, they voted against them at the Bundesrat.
The coalition agreement includes the follow passage about the subject “Human Trafficking, Brothels”.
We want to better protect women from human trafficking and forced prostitution and punish the perpetrators more consistently. In the future, criminal convictions shall no longer collapse due to a lack of victims’ testimonies. In consideration of their contributions to investigations and criminal proceedings and of their personal situations, we will improve victims’ rights of residence and provide them with intensive support, care and counselling.
Furthermore, we will comprehensively revise the Prostitution Act with regards to the regulation of prostitution and improve the legal authority of the police to control brothels. We will take action not only against human traffickers, but also against those who knowingly and willingly take advantage of the plight of victims of human trafficking and forced prostitution and abuse them with sexual acts. In the fight against human trafficking, a stronger focus will be placed on labour exploitation. (Translation by Matthias Lehmann, Please see original text here.)
While at first glance, this may sound as if Angela Merkel was keeping her promise to dedicate some extra attention to the subject, the passage actually holds a number of flaws, which will be illustrated below.
1. Gender bias
“We want to better protect women from human trafficking and forced prostitution”
Male and transgender sex workers are not mentioned, although particularly the latter are disproportionately affected by violent assaults.
More often than not, trans*women have to rely on sex work since the job market doesn’t offer them sufficient alternatives to make a living. Faced with violence, street-based migrant sex workers are faced with particular difficulties, because they cannot turn to the police. All in all, they are even less visible and noticeable than other trans* women. [Source: Gays & Lesbians from Turkey, GLADT e.V.]
2a. No unlimited right of residence for victims of human trafficking
“In consideration of their contributions to investigations and criminal proceedings and of their personal situations, we will improve victims’ rights of residence and provide them with intensive support, care and counselling.”
One of the few aspects prostitution proponents and opponents agree upon is that victims of sexual exploitation should be granted an unlimited right of residence regardless of their court testimonies against human traffickers. Quote from the referral to the arbitration panel by the Bundesrat:
Another important component to effectively fight human trafficking is to strengthen victims of human trafficking. The law excluded this part. The framework of his right of residence needs to accommodate the particular needs of the situations in which the persons concerned are in. Limitations to the right of residence, for example, must not prevent the participation in witness protection programmes.
Although the coalition agreement doesn’t exclude the right of residence entirely, the wording remains vague to such an extent, that a real reform is hardly to be expected. The question of the compensation of victims also remains open, since the funding and feasibility of the intensive support, care and counselling are not addressed.
2b. Irrelevance of the testimonies of victims of human trafficking
“In the future, criminal convictions shall no longer collapse due to a lack of victims’ testimonies.”
One of the most dangerous ideas is the proposition to ignore the testimonies of alleged or actual victims of human trafficking during criminal proceedings. While the frustration of law enforcement officers over the difficulty to obtain evidence is comprehensible, the solution can’t be to disregard the testimony or the refusal to give testimony of victims of human trafficking.
This would mean that the testimony of law enforcement officers and third parties would outweigh the testimony of the victims themselves. In light of the xenophobic hypothesis by anti-prostitution activists that poverty in the countries of origin alone is sufficient proof of coercion where migrant sex workers are concerned, it is to be feared that detectives like Helmut Sporer from the criminal investigation department in Augsburg, and others like him, would simply dismiss the testimonies of sex workers.
Sporer, who among other things demands a registration law for prostitutes and the reintroduction of mandatory health checks, shares the view of feminist and anti-prostitution activist Alice Schwarzer, that around 90 per cent of all women in prostitution work “under coercion or due to hardships, or pretend to do it voluntarily”. Judging from this statement, Sporer denies the ability of 90 per cent of all sex workers in Germany to make decisions according to their free will. Combined with the plans to ignore the testimonies of alleged victims of human trafficking in the future, this mentality poses great risks for the situation of self-determined sex workers.
3. Misrepresentation of the control of brothels
“Furthermore, we will comprehensively revise the Prostitution Act with regards to the regulation of prostitution and improve the legal authority of the police to control brothels.”
Despite claims to the contrary from the Conservatives and some Social Democrats, there are already control mechanisms in place and they are extensively used, too.
In the state of Berlin, tax fraud and criminal investigation officers can control any brothel without cause at any given time, as the squad leaders of the ‘AG Rotlicht’ (Task Force “Red Light”) of the criminal investigation department in Berlin confirm.
At a recent panel discussion organised by Alice Schwarzer in Berlin, social worker Sabine Constabel reported that in Stuttgart, all sex workers are monitored and recorded. In its 2012 report Human Trafficking for the Purpose of Sexual Exploitation, the State Office of Criminal Investigations in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) mentioned that despite the high density of controls in NRW, the number of victims of human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation had declined. As the report points out, there is no identifiable effect of the Prostitution Act on the situation of victims of human trafficking.
Therefore, the claim that the police is lacking the legal authority to control brothels is incorrect where Berlin, Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia is concerned. In fact, the legal authority of the police, which is regulated differently on a state level, remained unaffected by the Prostitution Act. When anti-prostitution activists make claims to the contrary, they are either poorly informed or deny this fact intentionally, whereas politicians utilise the subject to cut a good figure in front of their citizens.
4. Obstruction of the fight against „forced prostitution“
“We will take action not only against human traffickers, but also against those who knowingly and willingly take advantage of the plight of victims of human trafficking and forced prostitution and abuse them with sexual acts.”
The above mentioned frustration of law enforcement officers over the difficulty to obtain evidence is as comprehensible as the general intention to punish those who knowingly take advantage of the plight of victims of human trafficking. In practice, prove of this knowledge is difficult to not at all possible to obtain, and this passage in the coalition agreement leaves this question unanswered.
It is to be feared that clients of sex workers will shy away from cooperating with the police, should there be uncertainty over whether or not they could face punishment if they were to report suspicions. As in my previous article, I would like to cite Pye Jacobsson, a sex worker and spokesperson for Rose Alliance, an organisation by and for sex and erotic workers in Sweden.
“In the sex industry there are people that are being abused, that are suffering, that are trafficking victims etc. But the normal way for the police to find out is not from sex workers, it’s from clients. Because there are clients who are actually not assholes, they will say ‘this doesn’t look good’, they will call the police. And of course now they don’t call the police anymore, because if they call the police they will be accused of a crime.” (To view the interview, please click here.)
5. Lack of definitions
“In the fight against human trafficking, a stronger focus will be placed on labour exploitation.”
Since the passage is titled “Human Trafficking, Brothels”, the coalition agreement here does not appear to refer to labour exploitation in general, but to human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation exclusively. One can assume that the above sentence hints at so-called flatrate brothels, about which Undine de Revière, sex worker and spokesperson for the Trade Association Erotic and Sexual Services (BesD) in Germany, states the following.
Generally, we favour maintaining the diversity of work places and work modes of sex workers. I know women who like to work exactly like that – because they don’t want to be bothered with client acquisition, because they value the fixed daily income, and because their earnings are often not worse but sometimes even better there. And, to say it directly: at first glance, the flatrate stuff sounds, let’s say, overstraining. But it’s predominantly an advertising ploy. Those customers pay once and then want to do it ten times, but can only do it twice. But of course there are women who are unable to cope with it, and who do not want such working conditions and find them terrible.
The exact plans of the looming coalition of Conservatives and Social Democrats where a regulation or ban of flatrate brothels are concerned remain nebulous, as so many aspects in this passage of the coalition agreement.
Conclusion: A sham of the “forced coalition”
Just as the law to fight human trafficking and control brothels by the coalition of Conservatives and Liberals, which failed to pass the Bundesrat, the plans of the prospective “forced coalition” of Conservatives and Social Democrats fail to lay the foundations to effectively fight human trafficking and provide protection as well as an unlimited right of residence for victims of human trafficking. Furthermore, there is again a lack of definitions, definitions, definitions.
The question of the funding for the planned measures remains open, just as the question how to prove it when someone knowingly and willingly takes advantage of the plight of victims of human trafficking and “forced prostitution. This proposition to no longer take the testimonies of alleged victims of human trafficking into account is particularly alarming, as it opens the door for paternalistic law enforcement officers to disempower and infantalize self-determined sex workers and migrants. In light of Helmut Sporer’s advocacy to reintroduce mandatory health checks for sex workers, it seems possible that forcing sex workers into mandatory “rehabilitation programmes” may be next.
This sham by the CDU/CSU and SPD indicates a fundamental misjudgement of the subject matters, caused by the continued disregard of the opinions of experts, sex workers and other affected parties. Judging from this coalition agreement, one thing is certain: these plans will neither help to effectively fight human trafficking, nor will they provide an effective protection for victims of human trafficking. Instead, an erosion of sex workers’ and migrants’ rights is to be feared.
In closing, I would like to pass the word to the aforementioned Undine de Rivière.
As if the hastily composed law right before the parliament’s summer break wasn’t enough, we are yet again faced with a smorgasbord of discriminating and counterproductive symbolic politics that aims to satisfy the public pressure created fuelled by sensational media and hate campaigns as quickly as possible. For the second time within the space of a few months the chance is squandered to work in an objective and considerate way and together with those affected on practical solutions for the actual problems in the industry.
Since the term “forced prostitution“ is contested, it is here put into quotation marks.
“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
About this translation
While I always try to provide as many English language sources as possible, most of the links in the above article lead to German language sources. Please use a translation website or post any questions you might have in the contact form below.