Sex Work Regulations in Germany

Posts tagged “North Rhine-Westphalia

Prostitutes Protection Act: Conservatives Fully Achieved Their Objectives

Photo by Abigail Lynn on Unsplash (royalty-free image, please credit her when using this image)

Photo by Abigail Lynn on Unsplash

Haga clic aquí para una traducción al español de este artículo.

ProstSchG well on its way to achieve Conservatives’ goals

A flurry of recent media reports have suggested the Prostitutes Protection Act (herafter ProstSchG) had failed to achieve its stated goals and would not sufficiently protect people engaged in prostitution.

Voice4Sexworkers, a project by and for sex workers, firmly rejects that notion:

The ProstSchG is well on its way to achieve all of the federal government’s desired goals and effects, especially those of the conservative parties [Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Christian Social Union (CSU) in Bavaria, together known as die Union]. It may have taken a while, but now, around two years after the ProstSchG went into effect on July 1, 2017, it has become increasingly apparent that the law’s consequences, which we expected and predicted, have materialized up and down the country.

As interior minister Horst Seehofer (CSU) aptly noted on June 6, 2019, when speaking about the legislative process in Germany:

“The law is called the Data Exchange Act. Introduced completely quietly. Quietly, probably because it’s complicated, so it didn’t attract as much attention. Over the last 15 months, I’ve made the experience that you have to make laws complicated, then [laughs] they don’t attract so much attention. We’re not doing anything illegal, we’re doing what’s necessary. But even necessary things are often illegitimately called into question.”

While the subject here was the Data Exchange Act, the same tactic was already employed when the ProstSchG was adopted.

Almost as an aside, the law undermined Germany’s Basic Law [Grundgesetz, GG]. Article 13 GG, which grants the inviolability of one’s home? No longer applies to sex workers. Occupational freedom? That, too, is being undermined through the registration procedures forced upon sex workers. Naturally, the law does not spell that out. That would have been too simple, and then there might have been louder protests against it. (See also: “Prostitutes Protection Law violates fundamental rights”; click here to read the article with Google Translate.)

Instead, the plan was hatched to call the measure “Law on the Regulation of Prostitution and the Protection of Persons Working in Prostitution”, in short, Prostitutes Protection Act. Such things always earn wide acceptance in the society. There is a widespread misconception, however, that the “protection of persons working in prostitution” is meant to do just that: provide sex workers with protection. On the contrary, if one scrutinises the law, one quickly realises that the law aims to protect people from themselves and from prostitution, just like sunscreen does not protect the sun but those using it from the effects of sunlight exposure.

In the context of the ProstSchG, the above-cited quote by Horst Seehofer fits yet again, as the ProstSchG, in a roundabout way, is also supposed to help curb migration. It was clear from the outset that the law would be particularly problematic for people from countries where prostitution is illegal, such as Bulgaria or Romania. If they register as sex workers in Germany, they risk receiving mail in their countries of origin, despite the promised option to have any related mail delivered to a different mailing address. (See for instance, “Prostitutes Protection Act: Between Aspiration and Reality” by the German AIDS Service Organisation; click here to read the article with Google Translate.)

Tax offices flout this provision knowingly and deliberately, and in doing so, they greatly endanger the lives of sex workers in their countries of origin. Protection? Nil. Did lawmakers heed the advice of experts? They did indeed, though not in the way those experts intended. Instead, their expertise and reasoning were turned on their head, making it easy to create regulations that would hit sex workers as hard as possible. Without further ado, the list of measures fundamentally rejected by the called-upon experts was converted into the government’s wish list.

[Irony on] Sex workers require anonymity to protect themselves? Let’s do the opposite and write mandatory registrations into the law. [Irony off]

ProstSchG is intended to deter, not protect

The entire construct of the ProstSchG is intended to deter people from entering prostitution and render sex work impossible in most places. Mandatory registrations at public authorities are nothing short of forced outings in front of strangers. In some places, for instance in the city of Gießen, the government even tasked private organisations with carrying out this measure. (See also: “Sex worker files suit at administrative court against implementation of Prostitutes Protection Act through the city of Gießen”; click here to read the article with Google Translate.)

Such practices reinforce the stigma sex workers are exposed to on a daily basis. Politicians cannot pretend they were unaware that many sex workers would opt to circumvent the mandatory registration procedure and instead, out of necessity, work underground and, thus, illegally. All experts, including representatives of trade associations and counselling centres as well as sex workers themselves, had explicitly warned them this would happen and called for other, better measures, e.g. expanding the offer of counselling centres, funds for job retraining for people in sex work, the full decriminalisation of sex work, the abolition of all measures fuelling the stigma attached to sex work, and many others.

With those measures, however, the federal government would not have achieved their actual goal to quietly abolish prostitution under the guise of helping people in prostitution.

Two years after the adoption of the new law, news articles about the demise of brothels and vacancies in prostitution businesses appear almost on a daily basis, as officially registered sex workers are few and far between. The majority of good and safe work places are fast disappearing, be it due to requirements set out in the ProstSchG or the law’s effects, e.g. sex workers being unable or unwilling to obtain a “Whore ID” in order to avoid being outed. In addition, the ProstSchG dictates that sex workers are no longer permitted to stay overnight at brothels, walk-in brothels (Laufhäuser) and other prostitution businesses. This requires sex workers to earn more money to cover the added daily expenses for a separate bedroom [offered by some prostitution businesses] or hotel room. As a result, many decide to work illegally, either independently or in unlicensed prostitution businesses.

Many sex workers have disappeared from the public sphere for fear of attracting attention and facing an inspection. Consequently, sex workers spent less time on solicitation via internet or phone, which puts them at greater risk as they can no longer screen their clients to the extent necessary.

Sex workers, who were previously able to share apartments where they could both live and work, are now forced to work alone. This results in higher costs (for rent, utilities, advertising, etc., which they were able to share) that most cannot afford on their own. And the protection through their colleagues is, of course, also gone. Where previously sex workers could provide protection to one another, those working in apartments are now forced to work alone. The result: over the last two years, the large majority of those work places has also disappeared.

All this has been confirmed by the recently published “Evaluation of the Prostitutes Protection Act in North Rhine-Westphalia”. (See also: “Ineffective protection of prostitutes: Sex workers pushed underground”; click here to read the article with Google Translate and select “Schon dabei” on the pop-up window.)

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

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

Even the counselling centres are hit hard by the ProstSchG, jeopardising years of their work and efforts to build trusting relationships with sex workers. In 2018, Madonna e.V. [a member of the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) and the only sex worker self-help project in North Rhine-Westphalia] received significantly less funding from the provincial government. Funding for the widely acclaimed Lola app [offering advice for sex workers in Bulgarian, English, German, Romanian and Turkish] was also reduced. Needless to say, the aforementioned evaluation report conveniently omitted this. (Honi soit qui mal y pense.) Urgently needed counselling positions had to be cut, as funds are no longer sufficient. This is especially worrisome considering that independent and anonymous counselling for people engaging in sex work is immensely important.

In this context, it should be noted here that the Kober counselling centre, which authored the report “Changes and Effects of the ProstSchG on the Prostitution Scene in North Rhine-Westphalia”, which is attached to the aforementioned evaluation report, did receive funds and support from the provincial government. Thus, one can hardly speak of “independent research,” and the report does neither satisfy academic standards nor does it provide answers for the many questions it poses. (Listen to the commentary by cultural scientist Mithu Sanyal; German only.)

Whoever still believes that the Prostitutes Protection Act was intended to protect sex workers also believes that woodchucks chuck wood.


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

SWAT Logo © Helen Chan for SWAT

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

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

Every effort has been made to translate this article verbatim. The photo and tweet above as well as some of the links did not appear in the original article. The German original of this article was first published as “Prostituiertenschutzgesetz: Ziele der Union voll erreicht” by Voice4Sexworkers (June 8th, 2019). This translation is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

 


Minister Barbara Steffens: “One cannot prohibit prostitution – Strengthening sex workers’ rights”

Roundtable Prostitution hands over Final Report © MGEPA NRW 2014Claudia Zimmermann-Schwartz (right), Chairwoman of the Roundtable Prostitution in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), hands over the final report to Minister Barbara Steffens (left) © MGEPA NRW 2014 [North Rhine-Westphalia is the most populous state of Germany, as well as the fourth largest by area.]

Clicca qui per leggere la versione italiana di “La Tavola Rotonda sulla Prostituzione ha presentato la Relazione Finale”.

Roundtable Prostitution presents Final Report

+++ Update: Report now available in English (click here) +++

Press Release

The Ministry of Health, Equalities, Care and Ageing (MGEPA) of North Rhine-Westphalia announces:

With the handover of its final report to Minister Barbara Steffens, the “Roundtable Prostitution NRW” has concluded its operation. On nearly 100 pages, the report documents a comprehensive analysis of the subject matter and includes positions to politically contentious issues, as well as recommendations. In doing so, the report sheds light on diverse forms of prostitution and pays particular attention to the dynamic changes of the market.

A nationwide unprecedented panel

“One cannot prohibit prostitution, and prostitution is not a job like any other. But those who wish to perform this job, must be able to do so under constitutional and humane conditions”, declared Minister Steffens on 8th October, 2014, as she received the report. “In a nationwide unprecedented manner, the Roundtable Prostitution has gathered an enormous wealth of knowledge that will provide an invaluable impetus, not only for the current debate about a reform of the Prostitution Act. This is clear: existing problems will not be solved by stigmatisation and prohibitions. What’s necessary is a differentiated analysis”, Steffens added.

“Countless myths, clichés and prejudices about prostitution, which we all have in our heads, stand in the way of an unbiased approach of the subject matter. At the Roundtable, we became only gradually aware of that”, said Claudia Zimmermann-Schwartz, chairwoman of the Roundtable. “Initially, being the Departmental Head for Women’s Affairs, it wasn’t easy to listen to brothel operators or to also invite [sex workers’] clients to the sessions. But our aim was to conduct a knowledge-based, ethical debate, and to speak with people, not about them”, Zimmermann-Schwartz added.

14 sessions and over 70 experts

The Roundtable was created following a resolution of the state government [of North Rhine-Westphalia], adopted on 14th December, 2010. During 14 sessions, over 70 experts were heard. The panel comprised staff from the responsible ministries, counselling centres, local councils, as well as two prostitutes.

From the report:

  • Due to its visibility, street prostitution determines the public’s perception of prostitution, but according to estimates by experts, only about ten percent of all prostitutes work in this segment. Laufhäuser [walk through brothels], Eros Centres, S/M studios, bars, clubs, Anbahnungslokale [bars facilitating encounters], porn cinemas, saunas or massage parlours are also locations for prostitution just as other businesses premises – but private apartments account for over 50 percent.
  • All experts who were heard unanimously stated that the total number of prostitutes in North Rhine-Westphalia cannot be authoritatively ascertained – estimates range between 25,000 and 45,000.
  • Although the general view assumes prostitutes to be female and clients to be male, male-to-male prostitution (an estimated 10 percent) or the prostitution of transsexual people (an estimated 6 percent) are in demand to a not inconsiderable extent.
  • The Roundtable found no evidence for the thesis that human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation increased after [the adoption of] the Federal Prostitution Act of 2002.
  • What is necessary is the regulation of brothels and brothel-like businesses in order to secure the reliability of operators as well as a minimum standard of working conditions and hygiene. Required are regulations that take into account the rapid changes of the services on offer. Regulations must target these different business concepts and particularly put a stop to exploitative forms of prostitution, as well as those which endanger [people’s] sexual self-determination.
  • The most important factor for the dynamic changes of the market is the internet. Not only has advertising for sexual services predominantly shifted to the net, negotiating and brokering also take place virtually. The services on offer continuously expand, they become more sophisticated and more transparent. Next to internet platforms catering to regions and specific types, the number of interactive forums is increasing, in which direct communication takes place. Advertisers create content themselves in the form of chats, sex cams, photos and texts, with demands by users steadily increasing; in many cases, some involvement takes place (e.g. in the form of so-called “auctions”, evaluation tools, etc).
  • Municipal concepts to create spaces, in which street prostitution can be practised while safeguarding concerns of of others, are necessary, in which the interests of all involved parties (residents, prostitutes, clients, regulatory and health authorities, police, counselling centres) are represented. [*]
  • One of the chief obstacles to practise prostitution in a professional and safe manner lies in the still existing strong stigmatisation. [*] Prostitutes still find themselves forced to lead double lives; there is a lack of trust in the police and the authorities. It is not unusual that preexisting social relations are discontinued, creating the frequently cited “pull of the milieu” [barrier to exit]. Required is a differentiated public debate about prostitution that accepts the decisions of people to engage in prostitution.
  • The Roundtable strongly rejects restrictive measures, such as compulsory health checks or a law prescribing mandatory condom use, since these are legally problematic, unsuitable, stigmatising and even counterproductive. Instead, the Roundtable deems it necessary to offer preventative measures that fit the needs of specific target groups, which also integrate the environment, including the clients. Outreach work and open consultation hours of health authorities, as they are already successfully offered in some places, would also be useful.

[1] The Roundtable Prostition. Final Report – Mandate, Challenges and Outcomes [English] (new)

[2] The Roundtable Prostition. Final Report – Mandate, Challenges and Outcomes [German]

The final report can also be ordered or downloaded at www.mgepa.nrw.de/publikationen. Please enter the order number 148. Orders by telephone are possible in North Rhine-Westphalia under the number 0211 – 837 1001. Please cite the publication number.


This press release was published on October 8th, 2014, by the Ministry of Health, Equalities, Care and Ageing (MGEPA) of North Rhine-Westphalia. Please note that the copyright for the press release and the photo lies with MGEPA and is not licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Translation by Matthias Lehmann. Research Project Germany. Every effort has been made to translate the somewhat complex language in such a way that the translation remained virtually verbatim. As a result, the wording may appear unusual on some occasions. Since this is a government document, the term “prostitute” was left unchanged, whereas usually, this author would use the term “sex worker”. Notes in square brackets were added for clarification. Asterisks indicate that passages were slightly shortened for clarity. Click here to view the German original. Any questions or comments are welcome.


Cities lose legal battles against prostitution businesses

1537 Braunschweiger Monogrammist Bordellszene Brothel scene (1537 Brunswick Monogrammist, Source: Gemäldegalerie Berlin)

While sex workers protests against the planned adoption of a new prostitution law claiming to protect them, two legal cases highlight continued attempts of municipal governments to ignore existing prostitution legislation, more than ten years after its introduction.

An administrative court in Minden in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia has issued a verdict against the use of prostitution-free zones, mirroring a decision in 2013 by an administrative court in the state of Hesse, while an administrative court in Dachau in the state of Bavaria ruled against objections by the city’s public construction authority, which had attempted to bar two operators from running a fetish studio and a wellness centre, the latter of which will include five rooms where sex workers can offer sexual services.

As regional daily Neue Westfälische reports, various municipalities in Ostwestfalen-Lippe, a region in North Rhine-Westphalia, will no longer be able to use off-limit zones to drive away prostitution, as the decision by the Minden Administrative Court calls their validity into question. The district council of Detmold is now faced with having to adjust its decades-old ordinances to the new legal norms and changed moral values.

In its decision, the court closely examined a case in the city of Oerlinghausen, where an operator had opened a tantric massage parlour in November 2013. As the city believed this to be a venue where sexual services were offered, she was barred from operating her business. The city referred hereby to an ordinance to protect youth and public morals.

According to the Minden Administrative Court, such a general prohibition of prostitution is no longer permissible as it violates basic law by unduly limiting the freedom to choose one’s occupation. The court found that the Prostitution Act of 2002 must take precedence here, which defined prostitution as an act of service provision and removed the previously existing notion that prostitution constituted a violation of public mores.

Even the Federal Constitutional Court holds that off-limit zones were only justified in case that the “milieu” would cause disturbances of schools, kindergartens or churches, none of which applied in this particular case, according to the Minden Administrative Court. The city of Oerlinghausen was ordered to pay all procedural costs.

A decision in the actual case was no longer necessary, however, since the operator of the massage parlour no longer wishes to run the business in Oerlinghausen. A decision on whether or not sexual services were actually offered there was not made. The operator and her attorney Burkhard Zurheide had always maintained that hadn’t been the case. Zurheide sees the verdict as success: “The district council should now eliminate its old off-limit zone ordinances or at the very least adjust them to the new legal norms”.

The ruling by the Dachau Administrative Court is still subject to appeal, but in both aforementioned cases, the court found that the operators had fulfilled construction and planning regulations. The two cases can be seen as typical examples how municipal governments attempt to circumvent the prostitution law by imposing arbitrary requirements to prevent prostitution-related businesses from operating within their jursidictions.