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
Slogan of Frankfurt protest in June 2015, organised by Doña Carmen
V4S conducted a survey among sex workers in Germany
To coincide with the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, held annually on December 17th, Voice4Sexworkers* conducted a survey among sex workers in Germany, where the ruling coalition is working for two years already on a draft for a “Prostitutes Protection Law” (ProstSchG), said to protect sex workers from violence, coercion and exploitation. Manuela Schwesig, the Minister for Family Affairs, recently submitted a draft bill, which laid out plans how to control and regulate prostitution in Germany, although the actual goal of an EU directive was to create a law to fight human trafficking.
Since the prostitution debate in Germany is dominated by estimates and alleged facts – neither from reputable sources, nor based on verifiable evidence – Voice4Sexworkers wanted to find out what the current situation of sex workers in Germany actually looks like. More often than not, the media simply print two opposing opinions and then leave it at that. The actual mood among sex workers can hardly be derived from that. For many months, “experts” have been arguing over whether the law in its current form is necessary, but hardly anyone wonders about the opinions of those who will be directly affected by the law, or knows what needs they might have. It’s also quite difficult for outsiders to establish contact with sex workers, let alone gain their trust, especially if you don’t want to ask just one or two, but many sex workers about their opinions.
For that reason, Voice4Sexworkers started a survey among sex workers in December, which they could participate in anonymously until December 16th, 2015. Contrary to politicians, researchers or the media, Voice4Sexworkers was able to draw on a well-connected and large network, which demonstrably only sex workers have access to. Among other platforms, respondents were found on an online portal, where only sex workers can advertise their services. Voice4Sexworkers would like to thank all respondents for taking the time to participate in the survey.
Participation in the survey was completely anonymous and random. Therefore, respondents were able to respond freely and openly. As they survey wasn’t public and wasn’t publicly advertised either, the number of respondents was somewhat smaller, but in turn, this ensured that all participants were authentic and that no manipulation or falsification of data by non-sex workers was possible. Since not even Voice4Sexworkers knew the identity of the respondents, the responses offer an unfiltered insight into the world and lived realities of sex workers. Anyone questioning the credibility and correctness of this survey is welcome to contact Voice4Sexworkers and cite comparable surveys and specify their sources.
Contrary to existing and oft-cited studies, in which only members of certain groups were interviewed, e.g. drug users selling sex to finance their drug consumption or trafficked persons, this survey covers people across all work modes of sexual service provision. Their opinions and experiences are reflected in this survey, regardless if they are working on the street, at brothels, or as escorts. Intentionally, no group was excluded or treated or treated preferentially, because that would only have added to existing selective impressions from certain groups and not helped to show how the respective factors and circumstances affect sexual service providers in general.
Especially the responses to the question about what type of sex work they engaged in illustrate how respondents came from all areas and reflect the overall situation in Germany (percentage of the respective types of sexual service; distribution among the number of sex workers). Although the results confirmed their own experiences, even at Voice4Sexworkers, they were somewhat surprised how diversely a high number of sex workers operates and how wide-ranging the services are that they offer.
What didn’t surprise them was to learn that sex workers often don’t limit themselves to engage in a single type of sex work. Many switch back and forth between different types of services and offer services that are either the most profitable at a given time, or those that clients request, or those that are most practical for them due to private or other circumstances.
Other sex workers’ careers develop over time: some start by renting a room at a brothel but offer escort services or house calls later in life; others start out by working at apartment brothels but later switch to offer domina services because they developed a liking and the skills for it.
In that regard, Voice4Sexworkers’ survey offers facts that differ from the usual estimates. There isn’t the ONE typical sex worker, but just like in any other profession, people undergo a constant development and acquire skills while engaging in sex work. Or, as the survey also shows, some realise they aren’t suitable for the job or don’t like it, so that they want to change occupations as soon as possible.
However, the majority of respondents is engaged in sex work for the longer term and gathers experiences across different types of sex work, especially through contacts with their peers.
The other answers by the 69 respondents were not particularly surprising either, at least not for the members of Voice4Sexworkers, but merely confirmed what they and other sex workers have been saying all along.
With regards to the planned Prostitutes Protection Law, the following points are worth noting:
- Sex workers are insufficiently informed about the ProstSchG. Many of them don’t even know enough about the existing prostitution law.
- Only 4.3% favoured mandatory registrations, whereas 78.3% were against it.
- Over half of the respondents (53.6%) expressed that they were afraid of having to out themselves as a result of mandatory registrations…
- …which is probably why 44.9% have decided not to register with authorities and continue to work illegally, despite being threatened with fines.
- As a result of the law, half of the respondents worry about the future and are afraid to lose their job.
- Despite partially negative experiences with operators(65.4%), a majority is against statutory permission requirements for prostitution businesses (36.2%) and apartment brothels where two or more colleagues work together (68.1%).
- The prevalent belief that sex workers experience violence and abuse predominantly from clients could not be confirmed. It raises all the more starkly the question whether sex workers really need a law to protect them…
- …as the responses to the final question about their wishes illustrate. The gulf between sex workers’ actual needs and the planned regulations could hardly be any bigger.
But please read the entire result of the survey. The other figures and responses speak for themselves. (To pause the slide show, please hover over the image with your mouse and press the middle button.)
You can download the entire survey [in German] as excel file at Voice4Sexworkers. Alternatively, you can download the above graphics as pdf-file here.
Voices of sex workers
As part of the survey, respondents had the opportunity to leave an additional message. Some made use of that and left the following messages and opinions:
“The work with clients in itself is not the problem. Problematic are the conditions. Stigmatisation, the consequences of being outed/outing oneself, the helplessness when dealing with operators/lessors, and being afraid to call the police when you make negative experiences! They might then keep a record of you real name and, bam!, the stigma is engraved in your data.”
“It would be nice if people (the authorities) would simply ask first if one can work independently and wants to do it. The chaos surrounding registering a business and obtaining a tax code number should stop. There should be standardised regulations in all states.“
“I don’t have any problems with my clients but with the good citizens who outed me, ostracise me from society, and stigmatise me. With my CLIENTS I have no problems!”
“If this law will be adopted in its current form, it will create a parallel world again. Women who need the money will continue to work and then have to buy protection, which society is taking away from them through forced registrations and forced outing, from strong men… without the possibility to report exploitation, violence, coercion etc. to the police, because they would then have to admit that they illegally work in prostitution. Rights protect and empower us. If they are withheld, we are made into victims, especially of the rescue industry, which collects donations at our expense to finance itself and manifest its right to exist. This so-called help aims to deny our agency and right to self-determination, so that we’ll never be able to rid ourselves of the victim status they imposed on us and remain forever under their control.“
“Pity that the survey is only in German. That way, it will hardly be seen as scientifically credible…”
“I really wished there was more information, especially for colleagues who like to enter sex work, particularly foreign ones. Also more information for the public, so that our occupations gets out of the ‘dirty corner’ and more widely accepted.”
„I’m not afraid of a ban because in my opinion, that’s not compatible with Germany’s Basic Law. But even something like working ‘illegally’ will hardly apply to me as an escort, as long as it’s not forbidden to have private one-night stands. Whether or not money changes hands is only of interest for tax authorities – and if what I did was illegal, then the government can hardly levy taxes on it. It will also hardly be possible to prohibit having a private homepage or a blog with a contact form, where I offer dates – after all, I don’t have to publish a price list. But all that is of course a bad and burdensome game of hide-and-seek.
What I’m worried about is no the legal, but the societal persecution and discrimination. I don’t expect that a state of an employer protects me. I would never report sexual violence or rape anyway, even if I suffered them outside of sex work. Even experienced layers advise their daughters against it: the effort, the embarrassment of revealing it all in public, conviction and sentencing not being secure and often too low anyway. It’s not worth it. Besides, victims expose themselves to additional dangers, e.g. forced outing, public humiliation, blackmailing from officials, violence from the police. The only protection for me is an educated, emancipatory society.”
“It would be great if this survey would also exist in other languages! In Germany, many migrants are working in sex work, whose experiences would also be very important.”
“Since I do tantric work, I find it often difficult to see that as sex work. The working conditions for real tantric work are very different to those I learn about from sex workers. I see myself caught between the stools. Very uncomfortable. If only there wasn’t this headwind from politicians and society – because the job in itself is very satisfying, useful and fulfilling.”
“I like working in this job. It’s sophisticated and important.”
“Thank you for your work! Good that you are there. :)”
“I would like more protection for my job..!! And more understanding where to sleep, in the apartment where I work..!! How I can pay additional a hotel room and with a whore pass how can I be accepted at hotel???? Who helps me??”
“In the meantime, I’ve lost the belief that this government somehow wants to help us with the new law. On the contrary, they want to legitimise increased discrimination against us. These politicians want to demonise the voices of those women who live their sexuality independently and freely, and who refuse to let themselves be exploited for a pittance. These politicians want to see them yet again as demonised whores. We are not supposed to threaten the patriarchal, classist society. That’s why they don’t want to sit down together with us and make decisions over our heads.”
*Voice4Sexworkers (V4S) is a project by sex workers and for sex workers, and for anyone else interested in sex work and sex workers’ rights. V4S provides sex workers, friends, supporters and clients the opportunity to publish their opinions and comments. To learn more about V4S, please click here.
This survey was originally published as “Umfrage: Prostitution – Eine Momentaufnahme” by Voice4Sexworkers. Translation: Matthias Lehmann, Research Project Germany. Every effort has been made to translate this article verbatim. As a result, the wording may appear unusual on some occasions.
“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.
German original by Nadja Hermann. Translation by Matthias Lehmann. Posted with kind permission.
Wo Schutz drauf steht, muss Schutz drin sein*
*[lit. Where it says protection on the outside, protection must be included]
+++ Update: Click here to download the position paper as PDF. This resource is in German. +++
The Green Party believes that the “Prostitutes Protection Law”, submitted by Minister for Family Affairs Manuela Schwesig (Social Democrats), will be subject to approval by the Bundesrat, the upper house of the German parliament. The reason for that is that the Länder (states) are supposed to carry out mandatory health consultations for sex workers and will thus shoulder the financial burden of the law. “Federal laws containing duties for Länder to carry out such services require the approval by the Bundesrat”, writes Ulle Schauws, parliamentary spokeswoman for women’s affairs, in a position paper.
Schauws receives support from ministers Barbara Steffens, Irene Alt, Katharina Fegebank, and Anja Stahmann, who are responsible for prostitution-related matters Bremen, Hamburg, North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate. They criticise that the bill is expensive and bureaucratic, and required “states and municipalities to establish entirely new departments”. The predicted costs set out by the Ministry for Family Affairs were an underestimation. [Ulle Schauws and] the four ministers demand a comprehensive overhaul of the draft bill, also because it discriminated and stigmatised sex workers, e.g. through mandatory registrations.
Quotes from the Greens‘ position paper
“What the BMFSFJ [Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth] presented after the tough negotations in the grand coalition, is a bill that continues the discrimination and stigmatisation of people engaging in prostitution and forces many of them into illegality.”
“According to experts and [representatives of] prostitutes organisations, whom we have heard on this matter, most of this bill is headed into the wrong direction. The recent resolution by Amnesty International underscores yet again that the protection and human rights of prostitutes worldwide must be strengthened. The draft bill, however, considerably worsens the status quo for people engaged in prostitution. Instead of protecting them, it disproportionally puts pressure on prostitutes.”
“Mandatory registrations are intended to particularly benefit victims of human trafficking. What the BMFSFJ ignores here are the experiences made in Austria. The mandatory registration ordinance for prostitutes, as currently used in Vienna, has shown that victims of human trafficking were in fact frequently registered but the authorities couldn’t recognise them. Would victims of human trafficking who are forced into prostitution but remain undetected despite (forced) registrations not believe their exploitation was legal? On the other hand, there are reasonable grounds to assume that a lot of prostitutes would not register and instead work illegally for fear of being forcibly outed, as has happened in Vienna.”
“Within one and the same draft bill, the BMFSFJ conflates two separate regulatory areas, which should be dealt with in two laws: the regulation of occupations in prostitution and the criminal law dealing with human trafficking. The main problem with prosecution of human trafficking cases is victims’ fear to give testimony against their perpetrators. This willingness to give testimony would not at all be strengthened if the concerned persons must face the authorities in the course of registration procedures and are threatened with fines in case of non-compliance. Instead, we Greens demand a simpler procedure [for them] to attain the right of residence, to increase victims’ willingness to give testimony at the courts.”
“All told, the draft is divorced from reality, inconsistent, and misses its actual goal. As a result of this so-called protection law, prostitutes would predominantly experience incapacitation and repression, instead of a strengthening and professionalisation of their occupation. We demand a law that takes the protection of people engaged in prostitution seriously and delivers what it promises. We call on the BMFSFJ to overhaul the draft bill with that in mind.“
*Image: Website of Ulle Schauws (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Germany License). Source: Green Party. Translation: Matthias Lehmann. Click here to download the position paper as PDF. This resource is in German.
“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.
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.
Two sex workers discuss the article “Aus der Deckung” (Out of hiding) by journalist Ann-Katrin Müller in German news magazine DER SPIEGEL.
Please click here to view the German original.
Here we go again
Apparently, journalist Ann-Katrin Müller drew no lessons from the fiasco of the SPIEGEL cover story “Unprotected: How Legalizing Prostitution Has Failed” (SPIEGEL 22/2013) or maybe she’s just aware of the power of the magazine for which she writes. To this day, the 2013 report is cited internationally by politicians and anti-prostitution activists as purported evidence for the claim that the German prostitution law had led to an increase in human trafficking, although the available data from the Federal Crime Office prove otherwise.
The SPIEGEL’s slogan is “Not afraid of the truth” but it still seems to take a while longer until readers will actually be allowed to learn it. After Müller’s article was published, three counterstatements appeared in no time, among them one from the Trade Association for Erotic and Sexual Services (BesD), an organisation of current and former sex workers founded in October 2013.
In the following interview, sex workers Melanie (from Voice4Sexworkers) and Fraences talk about the renewed misrepresentations by the SPIEGEL and the truths, which Ann-Katrin Müller is obviously afraid of.
Research Project Germany: What was your first reaction to the article?
Fraences: When I read the headline and someone’s comment, “Oh, that’s going to be fun”, I immediately thought, that’s not going to be fun at all, since it’s the SPIEGEL.
Melanie: I was speechless. At first, I didn’t take it all that serious because I didn’t know the entire article. But a little later, the first scanned copies arrived and I was just shocked. How can you lie like that and then sell the whole thing as “truth”? And how could anyone even agree to talk to the SPIEGEL again after everything that’s happened there in the past?
Fraences: People may believe that SPIEGEL cover story is old news now but politicians continue to use it to campaign against sex work. Both Uhl* in the Bundestag and parliamentarians in Canada have used that story as evidence while at the same time ignoring counterevidence provided by sex workers and researchers.
*Hans-Peter Uhl is member of the Conservative CDU/CSU faction in the German parliament and supports tightening Germany’s prostitution law.
RPG: Welche Punkte im Artikel von Ann-Katrin Müller seht Ihr als problematisch an?
Fraences: It starts from the very first sentece: “Dubious organisations … together with brothel operators”, followed by the description of Fabienne.* Both are intended to discredit sex workers and our organisations.
*Fabienne Freymadl is a sex worker and one of two political spokeswomen of the BesD.
Müller had claimed that Freymadl was wearing a transparent top and a black bra. In her reaction, Freymadl wrote: “I was wearing jeans and a sweater. I admire your imagination for thinking I had worn a transparent top. But that’s how things are in your profession. If the protagonist is well-behaved and boring, you invent a few juicy details.”
Melanie: The article is full of lies. If you take look at the demands of the BesD, you can see that Müller’s remarks are wrong. And anyway, whores have fought for many years for far more than what Müller’s summary alludes to. Last year, on the occasion of the International Whores’ Day, Voice4Sexworkers published an article by Fraences where she describes in great detail the demands of the whores’ movement of old and how many of them have been met so far.
Müller had claimed, “all three organisations” were of the opinion “that Germany needed as little regulation as possible”, and had added: “It seems that prostitutes’ organisations care about more than just the needs of whores.”
Fraences: Saying that all organisations have the same opinion and call for less regulation is simply fabricated. But Müller’s summaries and omissions are generally problematic. If one were to believe her, the laws concerning human trafficking were only about victims who are abducted and forced to work at brothels. But they are about so much more than that, and Müller therefore reinforces society’s false perceptions. No other trade is singled out and regulated by criminal law to prosecute crimes. By doing so, it suggests to both the public and reporters that prostitution is a trade permeated with organised crime, although official police statistics show that crimes in the sex industry have drastically decreased.
See §232 and §233 of the Criminal Code (StGB). Further articles concerning prostitution: Art. 297 Criminal Code Introduction Act (EStGB), §180a, §181a, §184f and §184g StGB, §119 und §120 of the Administrative Offences Act (OWiG), as well as §55 Abs. 2 Nr. 3. of the Residence Act (AufenthG).
It also annoys me how Schwesig* is portrayed, who, according to Müller, has no plans to outlaw prostitution like in Sweden. But the Swedish Model, which incidentally doesn’t work there either, would be impossible to implement in Germany, which is why Schwesig and others set focus on prostitution obstruction policies and deterrence. Through the reduction of legal work places they make life considerably harder for sex workers. The monopolisation in the prostitution business, which is already in progress, happens at the expense of our rights, just as it does in any other trade.
*Manuela Schwesig ist deputy party leader of the Social Democrats (SPD) and Federal Minister of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth.
RPG: What’s your opinion about the SPIEGEL’s claim that the UEGD* assisted the founding of the BesD and the claim by the UEGD that they provided moral support for sex workers?
Melanie: That’s the biggest nonsense I’ve ever heard. I still have that email from Rettig* in which he expressed his reservations with regards to supporting us, and he didn’t reply to any of my following emails. My initial question to him was about whether or not he was interested to get together to draw up quality and labour standards. He didn’t really appear to take us seriously. I’ve never met him and his statements aren’t particularly helpful either. After all, he’s also calling for statutory permission requirements for prostitution businesses, which is in stark contrast to our position.
*The UEGD is the German Employers’ Association of Erotic Companies, of which Holger Rettig is the chairman.
Fraences: Rettig’s proposal for a special act granting brothels permissions to operate is a copy of a proposal by a lawyer, developed on behalf of a brothel operator. It’s basically a copy of the Restaurant Code adapted for brothels. Rettig’s proposal is an exact copy. So much for his great inputs.
Rettig contributed nothing whatsoever to the founding of the BesD. He was simply present during the “1st Prostitution Days” in Frankfurt, when Johanna* and I called for a first coordination meeting form an association in order to organise opposition against a brothel permission law. Afterwards, I never heard from Rettig again, and the UEGD became rather quiet, too.
*Johanna Weber is a sex worker and one of two political spokeswomen of the BesD.
Melanie: Exactly, but to clarify that once and for all: Rettig had no part whatsoever in the founding of the BesD, and that wouldn’t have been possible anyway, since he has never worked as a sex worker. And last fall, he didn’t come to the Sexarbeitskongress (sex work convention) either, although he was invited and supposed to give a presentation.
RPG: Speaking of the Sexarbeitskongress. Could you respond to the claim that Eva Högl* was called a “Nazi” there? And what exactly happened during Manuela Schwesig’s visit in Nuremberg?
*Eva Högl is a member of the German parliament for the Social Democrats (SPD) and deputy leader its parliamentary group.
Fraences: I’m afraid I was outside when the commotion began, but I know that a representative of Doña Carmen simply reminded Högl that the last time, Germany had a law to register sex workers was under the Nazis, which is true. Sex worker weren’t even registered with the Bockschein under the Venereal Diseases Act of 1953.*
*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.
Melanie: At that moment, I was also a little shocked, but when that short dispute broke out between that man and Eva Högl, in which she furiously demanded for him to take back his accusation, there was actually great silence. Those who read Müller’s article, however, must think that a mob of sex workers from the BesD attacked Ms Högl, and that’s rubbish, because that man is neither a sex worker, nor is he a member of the BesD. Speaking of Eva Högl, I will never forget her remark back then that she wouldn’t need any history lessons and who would even care about those old stories.
RPG: I also read that Eva Högl said that day that “None of those is here today”, referring to those sex workers for whom the Prostitutes Protection Law was intended. What’s your reaction to that?
Fraences: Anger over such an ignorant and arrogant attitude. I really asked myself, is she that stupid or does she only pretend to be? And when the discussion circled around mandatory registration, she tried to explain to us as a lawyer that this was a normality for all citizens, and then she mentioned the obligatory social insurance and Pantel* threw in the obligation to register with residents’ registration offices and business registrations. I couldn’t believe they didn’t know the difference. And that sort of people is ruling our country! Unbelievable, really, but I’m actually not buying that they don’t really know the difference. On the contrary, I believe they concocted this as a “good argument” for those who aren’t familiar with the subject matter. Mandatory registration for sex workers means registering with the police! Whoever claims this to be a common civic duty is lying.
*Sylvia Pantel is a member of the German parliament for the Conservatives (CDU/CSU). She’s in favour of raising the minimum age for prostitution from 18 to 21 and introducing a statutory permission requirement for prostitution businesses as well as mandatory health checks for sex workers.
Melanie: Yeah, absolute fury. When Högl uttered that sentence, there was a massive outcry in the auditorium. They always turn things around as it pleases them. Sometimes we are prostitutes to appear as “victims” in statistics, other times we aren’t prostitutes, so that one can exclude us from the debate. Nobody in the auditorium called Högl a “Nazi”, and the spontaneous applause merely followed the statement of the representative of Doña Carmen that there had already been a law once, which forced sex workers to register, back in 1939. One should be allowed to state the truth, shouldn’t one? All in all I have to say that Högl’s statements and attitude at the Sexarbeitskongress were truly revealing.
RPG: And what happened at the protest in Nuremberg?
Melanie: The protest in Nuremberg was a very spontaneous one, organised in less than 24 hours. I consciously didn’t launch the appeal via the BesD but only talked to colleagues I knew personally. So, the whole even was organised by Voice4Sexworkers and not by anybody else. On the contrary, colleagues from the BesD actually sent me texts and emails that morning, telling me I should better cancel or tone down the protest.
In Nuremberg, we used big signs to point to the very law from 1939, and there are photos from that day. The word “Nazi” was neither on our signs, nor did we utter it verbally, and we absolutely did not compare Ms Schwesig to the Nazis. I think, if we had done so, the media would definitely have reported about it, because many of them were present.* Generally, I find these accusations of alleged Nazi comparisons disgusting. They are simply attempts to undermine our arguments and to divert from the actual issues.
*The SPIEGEL also reported about the protest and cited the slogans on the signs.
RPG: Müller writes that only a negligible number of sex workers is organised in trade associations and that one can hardly speak of a „lobby for all whores“. How do you respond to that claim?
Fraences: On the one hand, that’s true, unfortunately, but the BesD is still developing. In addition, the majority of sex workers simply wants to earn a living and be left alone. And from the very beginning, there was very little education about the law from the ministry. A booklet that Stefanie Klee* published is the only info material that the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs co-financed.
*Stephanie Klee is a sex worker and an activist fighting for sex workers’ rights since the 1970s. She’s a co-founder of the Federal Association for Sexual Services (BSD), not be confused with the BesD, where only current or former sex workers are organised.
The reason why migrant sex workers have only appeared sparingly with us up until now is what Klaus* also often points out, which is that there is very little education and integration of migrants. If they don’t fit into the “victim” pattern, they are excluded. The centre of most migrant sex workers’ lives is in their home countries, and they are often only here for several months or a few years in order to build a life back home with their savings.
*Klaus Fricke ist co-operator of Haus9 in Bremen, where sex workers can rent rooms to meet clients in, and a co-initiator of Project Ne-RO-In, which provides information for migrant sex workers.
Melanie: What also makes the work and recruitment so difficult for the BesD is quite simply the lack of funds for that, as well as for awareness-raising and outreach work. Most out there aren’t even aware of the current debate about a new law, let alone having heard of the trade association. They are still living in their little, “idyllic” world, unaware of the apocalypse that will soon befall the German Pay6 sector.
RPG: Speaking of Stefanie Klee. What commonalities and differences are there between the BesD and the BSD?
Fraences: Ever since its founding, the BSD is predominantly an association of operators. They are in favour of a special law granting brothels permissions to operate because they believe it will result in greater legal certainty.* I think that’s tricky because on the one hand, they are against the mandatory registration of sex workers, but on the other hand, statutory permission requirements would result in the obligation to register sex workers. Commonalities are for example our shared opposition of mandatory health checks, a law requiring condom usage, the prohibition of flatrate gangbang parties, special taxation, and special laws governing prostitution in the Criminal Code, in the Aliens Act, and in the respective police laws.
The bigger operators tend to favour a law requiring condom usage, even though some of them admit that they wouldn’t be able to control that anyway. Lobscheid from Pascha Cologne* doesn’t just call for a law requiring condom usage but also for mandatory health checks. He isn’t alone. Many operators are in favour of mandatory health checks, just as the clients.
*Armin Lobscheid ist the CEO of Europe’s biggest brothel, the Pascha in Cologne.
RPG: How do you generally rate media reports about sex work?
Melanie: I don’t usually like the term “Lügenpresse” (lying press) but where the SPIEGEL is concerned, the shoe fits sadly time and time again. Before I speak with the press, I rather use my own platforms, where our words aren’t twisted and the most important aspects aren’t omitted.
Fraences: When dealing with the press, one always needs to remember that they aren’t supporters of the fight for our rights and equal treatment with other occupations, but they simply want lurid stories, because articles about the everyday life of sex workers won’t increase their circulation. Most of the time, the media don’t really care about spreading information but only about shaping public opinion. The goal is to campaign for stricter controls and against prostitution.
RPG: Do you consider yourself as part of the “revolutionary basis”?*
*A phrase that appeared in the article
Melanie: Nah, that sounds condescending. We know very well what we are doing and we don’t need to justify ourselves to anyone.
RPG: Thank you very, very much that you took the time for this interview. I hope, you’ll meet some sincere journalists once in a while. They still exist.