“Politically motivated despotism” | Statement by sex worker counselling centre Doña Carmen in response to the derecognition of its charitable status
“Closed due to charitable status”
“Imagine if journalists asked us about our opinion about the planned ‘Prostitutes Protection Law’ and we had to say, “Sorry, we can’t talk about that, because our work must benefit the public.” – Franziska Funk, sex worker and member of Doña Carmen e.V.
Derecognition of Doña Carmen’s charitable status due to advocacy for the recognition of sex work as work
+++ Update +++ Following a petition by Constance journalist Dennis Riehle, the Hesse state parliament called on the state government to clarify why attac e.V. and Doña Carmen e.V. had their charitable statuses derecognised for engaging in political causes. The state government must now examine the legal situation. Riehle commented: “The petition was dealt with relatively quickly, which in my view indicates that the members of parliament share the concern that this matter, which can hardly be described as coincidental, requires clarification. The authorities will only be able to dispel the doubts if they produce valid arguments.” (Source: Dennis Riehle)
In September 2015, the Frankfurt tax office revoked the Gemeinnützigkeit (charitable status, lit. benefit to the public) of Doña Carmen, Association for the social and political rights of prostitutes, with immediate effect, and backdated its decision retroactively to 2011.
At first glance, the reasons appear contrived: “supporting women in prostitution in tax-related matters”; “offering guided tours through brothels” during the open night at Frankfurt’s station quarter (Bahnhofsviertelnacht). One can only shake one’s head.
But the core accusation levelled against Doña Carmen makes one’s ears prick up: the association is blamed for pursuing political goals, “continuously” and “in a non-neutral manner”, “by campaigning for political interests of prostitutes”. Explicitly, Doña Carmen is charged with engaging in “advocacy for the recognition of sex work as work”. Henceforth, the Frankfurt tax office no longer holds this as a charitable cause.
“Gemeinnützigkeit” as political weapon
The decision by the Frankfurt tax authority – should it become a legal precedent – is politically explosive since the “charitable status” (Gemeinnützigkeit) is used as a political weapon and the Charity Law (Gemeinnützigkeitsrecht) is being politicised in a reactionary manner. The goal here is to terminate a political consensus, in place for nearly 30 years, which recognises counselling centres for sex workers, which are normally set up as charitable organisations, as experts on the subject of sex work and as advocates for sex workers’ concerns.
Today, Doña Carmen is the target. And tomorrow?
The derecognition of the charitable status has serious repercussions for Doña Carmen with regards to the funding of the counselling centre’s work and causes major problems. Due to chronic underfunding, other counselling centres would experience the same problems. Today, Doña Carmen is being targeted. And tomorrow?
Other associations, e.g. Hydra e.V. in Berlin, Nitribitt e.V. in Bremen, Madonna e.V. in Bochum or Kassandra e.V. in Nuremberg, to name but a few, are all recognised as charitable, although structurally, their statutes are no different. On their websites, they also list political demands that are aimed at the recognition of sex work as work. Thus, if this is about the derecognition of the charitable status of counselling centres for sex workers, then the respective authorities should have no difficulties in proceeding, if they applied the standards of the Frankfurt tax office.
Blatant case of political despotism
The derecognition of Doña Carmen’s charitable status is a blatant case of political despotism and illustrates how these things develop:
Since 2001, Doña Carmen conducts guided tours through Frankfurt’s brothels. Since 2009, this also includes tours as part of the open night at Frankfurt’s station quarter (Bahnhofsviertelnacht). The tax office has been aware of all that for a long time, since the tours were listed in the activity reports presented for the recognition of the charitable status during previous years. Since Doña Carmen’s charitable status was recognised in the past despite the brothel tours, it indicates that it is not the practice of Doña Carmen that has changed but the views held by the Frankfurt tax authorities.
The same applies for engaging in advocacy for the recognition of sex work as work. Doña Carmen has uncompromisingly demanded this right ever since its establishment 18 years ago. Throughout all those years, the association’s charitable status has been reviewed repeatedly without any objections, on the basis of activity reports. Now, however, engaging in advocacy for the recognition of sex work as work has suddenly cost Doña Carmen its charitable status. This is, without a doubt, political despotism.
Timing is not coincidental
It is no coincidence that this derecognition of the charitable status happened at the very time when plans are made for a “Prostitutes Protection Law”, one of the most repressive legislative proposals against sex workers in German history. The federal government currently prepares to adopt a law, which would include the forced registration of sex workers, a measure last in place under the Nazis. In light of these circumstances, it’s nothing short of brazen to demand from counselling centres like Doña Carmen political “neutrality”. It’s probably not a coincidence either that those who have decisively campaigned for the rights of sex workers are targeted first.
Attack on sex workers’ rights
But mind you: the attack on counselling centres is actually one on sex workers. They are the target. Not only are their rights supposed to be eroded, but also their opportunity to access practical support. Therefore, the termination of the political consensus with regards to counselling centres will not be without effect for sex workers. In light of this reactionary development, the rights of sex workers have to be defended even more decisively and more specifically. Doña Carmen will continue to do so in the future. Authorities like the Frankfurt tax office will not bring us to our knees!
Request for donations
Doña Carmen is also in need of financial support and solidarity, however. We ask all those who value our work and commitment for donations, since our own resources won’t suffice to stem the costs for the pending litigation to regain the charitable status at the fiscal court.
Please note: Donations to Doña Carmen e.V. are currently not tax-deductible due to our officially certified advocacy “for political interests of prostitutes”, especially for the “recognition of sex work as work”. However, you can certainly receive written proof of your donation. For details on how to donate or contact us, please click here.
A PDF document containing a detailed analysis of the reasons given by the Frankfurt tax authorities for the derecognition of Doña Carmen’s charitable status can be downloaded on Doña Carmen’s website. This resource is in German.
Translation by Matthias Lehmann. Every effort has been made to translate this article verbatim. As a result, the wording may appear unusual on some occasions. Photo by Image Party (Creative Commons 0 License). Text superimposed.
“The demand to decriminalise sex work is a necessary step but it doesn’t go far enough.”
By Theodora Becker*
With its decision to issue a recommendation to governments on how to safeguard sex workers’ human rights, Amnesty International has caused outrage, because it includes the demand to decriminalise sex work. What this means is to abolish laws and regulations that either directly subject sex workers to prosecutions, arrests and fines, or criminalise the organisation, support and intermediation of sex work. [According to Amnesty’s draft policy on sex work,] third parties participating in transactional sex should only be penalised, if they exert force and pressure on or violence against sex workers. Clients, too, should not be penalised simply for being clients.
“Germany is not the role model for decriminalisation”
Among opponents of prostitution, this suggestion has caused outrage. They are of the opinion that it would promote pimps, human traffickers and other exploiters of prostitutes and enable them to avoid prosecution, while the poor prostitutes would be exposed to them all the more helpless. People like to refer to the German situation to decry what decriminalisation would lead to. However, there are several things to note. Germany is not the role model for decriminalisation that Amnesty has in mind. Prostitution in Germany is largely, but not completely decriminalised. The main relic of the old criminalising and regulatory regime are off limit ordinances, which allow cities and municipalities to prohibit prostitution in certain areas “for the protection of youth and public decency”. They use them plenty, and in a discriminatory manner, too. A new off limit zone in the city of Dortmund was recently justified with the argument that street prostitution had become too attractive for [female] sex workers from Romania and Bulgaria, and that the city no longer wanted to provide such a magnet for Eastern European migrants.
It is necessary to distinguish between decriminalisation and legalisation. Decriminalisation signifies the abolition of criminal laws and ordinances that [exclusively] deal with sex work in a discriminatory manner. Legalisation would be the implementation of certain legal regulations of sex work. Sex worker organisations around the world demand decriminalisation as a necessary first step. Amnesty remained consciously noncommittal with regards to a concrete model of legalisation but established minimum standards that such a model should fulfil. Once again, Germany is hardly a role model in that regard. The plans for the new “Prostitutes Protection Law” [#ProstSchG] include mandatory registrations for prostitutes, which are not only problematic in terms of data protection, but in addition, they are discriminating against sex workers, for whom the measure has no benefits. In addition, the access to social security and labour rights, which Amnesty both calls for, is also not always guaranteed in Germany, especially not for migrants. And the fight against stigmatisation, which Amnesty demands from governments, is also not really fought with dedication in Germany.
“Decriminalisation must include third parties”
That the decriminalisation must include third parties to protect the human rights of sex workers is obvious: in France, for example, even lessors of apartments, where people engage in sex work, are liable to prosecution. If sex workers would report such a lessor, for example for an unacceptably high rent, they would effectively find themselves working on the street. Only in a decriminalised setting would they be able to insist on fair conditions.
Amnesty does not just talk about the decriminalisation of sex work but about various other measures governments should take to contribute towards providing people, who only choose sex work due to a lack of alternatives, with more opportunities. Those include socio-political and anti-discriminatory measures. Amnesty acknowledges that poverty, a lack of education, discrimination, and restrictive migration policies are jointly responsible for people working as sex workers who would prefer not to. It would be nice if opponents of prostitution would also come to this realisation: instead of constantly pushing the narratives of pimp networks and organised crime, they could say a thing or two about the economic conditions that push people into prostitution – just as they push people into other precarious labour conditions. The entirely undifferentiated reaction to Amnesty’s resolution once more unmasked the position of [prostitution] abolitionists.
*Theodora Becker is a PhD candidate at the Free University Berlin and an activist with Hydra e.V., a meeting and counselling centre for sex workers. The German original of this article was first published at leftist weekly Jungle World. Translation by Matthias Lehmann, Research Project Germany. As in the translation, Theodora Becker used the terms “prostitute” and “sex worker” interchangeably in her original text.
“There are already trade laws in place to take action against exploitation” – Interview with Theo from sex worker association Hydra e.V.
This interview was conducted by Ariane G. and published at Kaufmich magazine, a social network for escorts and their clients.
Ariane: Statutory permissions are planned to be designed in accordance with other statutory permissions under trade law. Why do you hold a general obligation to notify as sufficient?
Theo: Politicians want to push through the highest possible requirements. But there are already trade laws in place to take action against exorbitant rents and exploitation. There’s no need for statutory permission requirements. For apartments, where only a small number of [sexual service] providers work together, it would presumably be very difficult to satisfy stringent requirements.
Ariane: From the point of view of sex worker organisations, what would contribute to improving working conditions?
Theo: We are currently working on proposals. The Professional Association [erotic and sexual Services, BesD] is developing proposals suited to the different types of work places where sex work takes place. The question is how to make those conditions legally binding and where to enshrine occupational safety measures.
Prohibition of flat rate and gang bang sex
Ariane: Why prohibit flat rate and gang bang sex and what are the arguments? Why do people think that those forms endanger or nullify one’s right to sexual self-determination? What is the opinion of sex worker organisations about this?
Theo: Sex workers don’t hold a unified view on this subject matter. I know of colleagues, where the flat rate model can well be positive. First of all, it’s a different payment model, where sex workers aren’t paid per customer but per day, and that is not coercive per se. In this respect, prohibiting it was populist and doesn’t serve to improve working conditions. Of course breaks have to be guaranteed and operators must not be allowed to dictate that a sex worker has to service all customers. However, no labour rights standards have been established. Sex workers usually work on a self-employed basis, which makes sense since [sex work] is a highly individual service provision, which is where there is and must be only a limited right of direction [Weisungsrecht].
Mandatory condom use
Ariane: Where do you stand on the proposal to prohibit advertising unprotected sex and promote safer sex?
Theo: At the Professional Association [BesD], there’s a certain amount of sympathy for a prohibition of such adverts to counter such developments in AO [“everything without”] portals. A law prescribing mandatory condom use, however, would be absurd since there’s no way to control it. We are firmly rejecting this. [Sex] education is more meaning- and respectful. It is a challenge, however, to reach those sex workers, who only work over the internet, with such services. So far, there are mainly outreach programmes and services offered by health authorities, which don’t quite manage to reach those people. There are no ready-made concepts for that yet.
Ariane: At Kaufmich, we already try to promote safer sex practices by introducing the Safer Sex Button [on escorts’ profile pages]. How can awareness be raised that using condoms for oral sex is also part of practicing safer sex?
Theo: Even if safer sex was enforced on Kaufmich via prohibiting adverts [for unsafe practices], closed forums will continue to exist, where one can exchange information about service providers who work unsafely. It’s important to educate people about which practices carry what type of risks. Sex workers should make informed decisions for themselves.
Ariane: The municipal registration of sex workers across all sectors and segments of the industry is also part of the key issues paper. Which authority – maybe even the police? – is supposed to control sex workers? What do you think about the stigmatising special treatment, which could be used to create comprehensive motion profiles of sex workers?
Theo: We expect that many colleagues won’t get registered, especially those, that haven’t outed themselves. The risks that come along with [forced registration] are difficult to gauge. The protection of such sensitive data is not guaranteed. Many will probably work illegally. In Austria, there is a police registration and a majority of sex workers is registered, especially migrants probably because they are afraid to be deported otherwise. Austrian sex workers look for a niche where they can work. It remains to be seen in how far the stamp has negative consequences later, when they want to stop sex work.
Theo is chairwoman of the board of sex worker association Hydra e.V. You can follow Hydra on Facebook. Ariane G. is a former sex worker and an advocate for sex workers’ rights. She tweets at @hauptstadtdiva. Translation by Matthias Lehmann. Click here to view the German original.