Photo: Mock Whore ID at sex worker protest in Berlin © 2016 Friederike Strack. All Rights Reserved.
Today, North-Rhine Westphalian Health Minister Barbara Steffens and Claudia Zimmermann-Schwartz, Chairwoman of the Roundtable Prostitution in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), held a press conference about the planned Prostitutes Protection Law (ProstSchG), which they argued would further drive sex workers into illegality instead of protecting them. As part of the press release, statements from two sex workers who participated in the Roundtable were presented.The following is an expanded statement from one of them, translated from the German original published by Voice4Sexworkers. Please click here to view the press release by the Ministry of Health, Equalities, Care and Ageing (MGEPA) in NRW. This resource is in German.
Statement by Melanie, Participant at Roundtable Prostitution
I’m a single mother of two and I’ve been working as a sex worker for the past ten years. I’ve never been able to earn my entire livelihood through sex work but I didn’t want to fall back on receiving welfare or housing benefits. That’s why the additional income from sex work has always been welcome and has enabled me to afford my children normal lives free from social exclusion.
The most important principle – and that’s exactly what the draft bill before us is not based on – is that prostitution has to be decriminalised first before one sets out to regulate it. This means that sex work must not be governed by criminal law. Last year, Amnesty International arrived at the same conclusion after conducting a comprehensive 2-year study in which they interviewed sex workers, particularly in countries were sex work is heavily regulated or even forbidden. A UN report from 2012, based on research in 48 countries, also found that licensing or registration systems proved to be ineffective or benefited only a small number of sex workers. In jurisdictions that have introduced these systems, the vast majority of sex workers operated outside of them. Comparisons with countries like Germany revealed that the working and living situations of sex workers improve when sex work is legalised. But the most positive results have been accomplished in New Zealand, where the final step towards decriminalisation was taken almost 13 years ago.
The authors of this Prostitutes Protection Law did not muster that same courage. Under the guise of wanting to protect us, they drafted a bill that is entirely “exit-oriented” but mentions nothing about how to earn a living or receive benefits for one’s livelihood. The Hartz IV welfare benefits are insufficient even now, and it is for that very reason that many of us choose to engage in sex work. If one were really interested in helping us, other alternatives and practical assistance were required instead of fobbing us off with minimal basic coverage. Notably, in urban areas where the unemployment rate is high, this minimal basic coverage does not provide for sustainable future prospects.
Instead of the current plan of sinking an initial 76.2 million euros followed by 85 million euros annually into this bureaucratic monster, these funds could be used for more meaningful projects, such as counselling centres, self-help organisations, interim payments, and support for qualification measures to enable occupational reorientation. A social welfare fund for sex workers would also be a blessing, since a considerable percentage of us cannot even afford the minimum contribution towards our health insurance.
Instead of offering us the assistance we have suggested time and time again, the new law would impose insurmountable obstacles on us. Our survey among sex workers from December 2015 has also shown what they really wish for and need: effective protection from discrimination, protection against dismissal from a primary job due to engaging in sex work on the side, protection against extortionate rent, more counselling centres (particularly of the kind that don’t just offer help on how to exit, but also how to safely enter sex work), and better protection of their anonymity, especially when dealing with authorities. The ProstSchG fails to provide any of that and instead amounts to the exact opposite, since it even goes as far as to cancel out the Basic Law. If this new law came into effect, the police would be allowed to enter any private home without a court order. A simple allegation that prostitution was taking place in any given apartment would suffice as justification.
In our survey, around one third of all respondents stated they had already had negative experiences with authorities. An equally large share stated they had never outed themselves to authorities out of fear or shame. Together, they represent far more than half of all respondents. Having to explain oneself and provide intimate details to a stranger would only exacerbate this trend.
In addition, it is incomprehensible why it should be necessary to provide all our work locations or have to register anew to work in additional cities or states. These measures are simply meant to enable authorities to create movement profiles that would reveal a lot but contribute nothing to our protection.
Instead of supporting people engaged in sex work to self-organise and create individual work places, the employment situation of independent sexual service providers would be made worse. It’s not enough that the law in its current form would effectively give big operators supervisory powers over sex workers, since operators would have to record their registration details, length of stay and other specifics to pass on to authorities. The law would also strengthen the overall position of those operators by rendering it virtually impossible for sex workers to work alone or with colleagues in apartments. As a result, it would push them into the hands of the very operators who are such thorns in the sides of so many municipal politicians – just their sight, of course, not their taxes. This law pretends to protect us from heteronomy but it would cause the exact opposite: it would deprive most of us of the opportunity to self-determined and independent work.
The authors also further the “laissez fairy tale” of prostitution businesses not being subject to strict regulations and the poor police having no way of controlling anything. Nothing could be further from reality. Rather, it is an attempt to win approval for the draft bill from the public instead of explaining to them why an annual 85 million euros should be forked out for measures that will not help sex workers or those municipalities already short on funds.
The draft bill consistently lacks the principle of impartiality. It is blatantly apparent that the authors were unable to discard the stigma attached to sex work, against which (incidentally), no steps have ever been taken since the current prostitution law came into force.
Instead, the measures planned under the Prostitutes Protection Law aggravate and intensify the very stigma which sex workers around the world cite consistently as the the main obstacle in their daily lives. The wording of the draft bill and the claims made in the substantiation for the law exacerbate the pre-existing prejudices and clichés. If sex work is mentioned in the same breath as criminal activities and sexual exploitation, that is the image that manifests in people’s heads.
Those who dismiss the few sex workers who dare to stand up for their rights as “privileged” should rather become aware of their own complicity in the stigmatisation of sex work. Instead of drafting laws that will curtail the options of all sex workers, the focus should be to add to options available to them. Those who would be affected the most by this law are the very people who already have too few options to begin with, namely migrants and trans* people, and who are often subject to multiple discriminations on a daily basis.
My participation in the “Roundtable on Prostitution in North Rhine-Westphalia” was the first time I experienced people talking with me. Usually, people only talk about me, even when I’m present. The Roundtable proved that it is entirely possible to sit down with the actual experts – us (!) – and find solutions. If one doesn’t talk with sex workers one ends up with the very result the ProstSchG represents: an impractical and discriminatory special law, which excludes us from equal participation in economic life and renders us socially vulnerable.
Original by Voice4Sexworkers. Translation by Matthias Lehmann. Proofreading by Christy Swain and Gabriel Pettyjohn. Published with kind permission.
The plans for the “Prostitutes Protection Law” have reached a cul-de-sac, explains Criminal Law Professor Dr. Monika Frommel. Rather than patronising sex workers with criminal and police laws, they should be protected from exploitative brothel operators by using the trade law.
By Prof. emer. Dr. Monika Frommel
Please note that the copyright for this article lies with Dr. Monika Frommel and is not licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Why do politicians fail yet again  to adequately regulate prostitution during this legislative period? The goal of a reform should be to control brothel operators as effectively as possible. But instead, a draft bill has been created that will achieve the opposite: the strict and bureaucratic monitoring of sex workers. Brothel operators, on the other hand, have little to be afraid of.
Instead of “protection” from exploitation, the draft bill, modified several times and unlikely to draw a consensus, includes the duty to register and undergo health checks for those individually engaging in this line of work (it was once called “Bockschein”). [A1] Health authorities are supposed to be responsible for those health checks but they can neither provide comprehensive advice nor offer affordable HIV prevention. If one dictates mandatory health checks carrying potential sanctions anyway, one creates an entirely useless Normenfalle [lit. trap of norms; numerous regulations that are impossible to abide by at all times, which in turn renders them permanently criticisable and sanctionable; translator’s note]. The new provisions concerning police powers are unreasonable anyway. What’s missing is the tailwind for an adequate reform. Headwind there is plenty, however, for example from the fringes of the women’s movement, once interested in emancipation [but now arguing that] buying sex should be banned, clients of “forced prostitutes” should be punished, 90 percent of prostitutes were victims of human trafficking, and prostitution constituted an attack on “women’s dignity” – hard to believe that women who regard themselves as emancipated engage in such proxy battles. [A2] So far, they haven’t gotten their way, but they’ve nevertheless caused damage.
“Economically weak independent entrepreneurs exist not only in this line of work”
It’s simply absurd to prosecute exploitation – as hitherto – via the bizarre detour of making claims about human trafficking, a criminal offence whose legal definition has up until recently been regularly expanded at the instigation of the EU. Everybody involved has known for years that this leads nowhere and cannot lead anywhere. So why then repeat in the future what had not been thought through in the past already but was only ideologically motivated? The ideology is known: human trafficking is always forced labour, prostitution is almost always forced prostitution (apart from a few exotics). How do politicians for women’s affairs get to this simple equation? Many people work under economic constraints. (Apart from extreme exceptions) Brothel operators and third parties force nobody into prostitution. Economically weak independent entrepreneurs exist not only in this line of work. From that perspective, providing sexual services is a job like any other. A “Prostitutes Protection Law” could make sense. What doesn’t make sense is to speak about “coercion” and “voluntariness” exclusively in the context of prostitution but not in other lines of work, where poorly qualified workers are also being exploited. Not the work itself is harmful but the unchecked economical necessity to serve too many clients in order to be able to afford too high rental fees and extra costs. What is now planned complicates the work of those engaged in sex work without providing any benefits for them.
If legislators were interested in a rational, long-term solution and not in phoney, moralising debates, what would be the goal of an effective regulation under the trade law? Technically, brothels would be classified as commercial enterprises requiring permissions from licensing authorities. This would depend on the constantly verifiable compliance with minimum requirements. Experienced authorities could respond flexibly whenever operators would fall short of the specified minimum standards. Those who work there (independently) could examine the files at the trade office and check if the fees deducted for operational costs are in fact realistic, just as tenants have the right to control such matters and have tenants associations who support them in that. Why shouldn’t that be possible at brothels?
“The planned Prostitutes Protection Law relies too heavily on the police”
Only if the trade supervisory board cooperated with those working there would there be a chance to recognise if and where exploitation occurs – which is actually liable to prosecution in accordance with §180a StGB [German Criminal Code; tn] (Exploitation of Prostitutes); but if the responsible trade supervisory board isn’t furnished with the relevant powers, it cannot be proven. Instead of the currently empty threat of criminal proceedings, several more flexible legal instruments could be used. If operators would not fulfil their requirements, one could bar them and their representatives (or straw men) from any further activity in this industry.
Therefore, trade supervision would be the solution, but faced with diffuse resistance , the Ministry of Women’s Affairs could not prevail, and it hadn’t planned anyway to discuss the subject earnestly. Viewed in this light, nobody’s surprised that the Prostitutes Protection Law, planned in 2014, continues to rely all too heavily on the police and for that reason has ended in a cul-de-sac. Under the terms of this law, sex workers would have to register with authorities, otherwise they would commit an administrative offence. They would also have to regularly repeat this procedure, and every time they would work at a new location, which is frequently the case, they would have to register anew. In addition, they would always have to carry with them a certificate documenting their timely attendance of mandatory health checks (at the health authorities). What kind of protection is that supposed to achieve?
About Dr. Monika Frommel
Dr. Monika Frommel is an emeritus criminal law professor. She studied Law at the University of Tübingen and at the Ludwig Maximilians University Munich, where she obtained her doctorate in 1979 and received her habilitation in 1986. Until 2011, she was the director of the Institute of Sanction Law and Criminology at University of Kiel. Since 1990, she is a co-editor of the legal journal Neue Kriminalpolitik. Her current research interests include criminology from a feminist perspective, in particular the reform of sexual criminal law, and ethics in reproductive medicine.
Photo: Usage Worldwide
 In 2014, there still seemed to be hope. See Monika Frommel „Gelingt es in dieser Legislaturperiode, die Prostitution angemessen zu regulieren?“ in: Kritische Justiz 1/2015, pp. 96–109.
 This resistance has persisted since 2002. In 2014, even state governments ruled by coalitions of Social Democrats and Greens clearly signalled that they were not ready to agree to controls by the trade supervisory board.
[A1] Bockschein was a colloquial term for a public health certificate, which sex workers had to produce until 2000. The name derives from the Bock, the gynaecological examination chair.
[A2] Since one reader felt it was unclear whether Dr. Frommel was arguing that buying sex should be banned or quoting prostitution abolitionists, the insertion “[but now arguing that]” was made here.
Translation by Matthias Lehmann. Research Project Germany. I would like to thank Dr. Frommel for her permission to translate and publish her article. Every effort has been made to translate this article verbatim. As a result, the wording may appear unusual on some occasions. The photo above did not appear in the original article. Photo: “Cul-de-sac” By StockSnap CC0 Public Domain. Footnote A1 was added for further clarification.
The German original of this article was first published as “Prostitution: Gewerberecht statt Gängelung” at NovoArgumente (January 25th, 2016). Please note that the copyright for this article lies with Dr. Monika Frommel and is not licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Prostitution: Beyond an infantilising feminism – A translation of an earlier article by Dr. Frommel
“I thought it was all different!” – Video highlights from a symposium about the German Prostitution Act in December 2013, where Dr. Frommel was among the panellists
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.