Sex Work Regulations in Germany

Posts tagged “stigma

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.

 


Sexual violence and prostitution: The problem is your image of us

It's not my occupation that's the problem but your bourgeois morality. Matt Lemon Photography. All Rights Reserved.

“It’s not my occupation that’s the problem but your bourgeois morality.“
© Matt Lemon Photography. All Rights Reserved.

By Marleen Laverte1

Sexual harassment happens in prostitution as it does in any other job. Solutions are needed that do not criminalise all clients.

“If somebody grabs at you, take his hand away immediately and make it clear that he mustn’t touch you without paying!” That was one of the first tips I got from a fellow sex worker. Back then, in 2011, when I began doing business at Café Pssst!, a bar with back rooms. I sounded out potential clients while flirting with them – the kind who put their hand on a woman’s ass or breast but eventually would not go to one of the back rooms with them. They had to go to the bank first to withdraw cash, they would say, and then simply did not return, as expected.

Generally speaking, our clients know very well how to behave and treat us respectfully – after all, they are sons, partners or fathers, not monsters devoid of empathy. As in the gastronomy, however, the risk of encountering the occasional client who will grab at you without your consent is relatively high. Or steal your time, i.e. money.

In most brothels, prostitutes warn each other of such transgressive clients. We swap information about what to watch out for or what kind of clients to better reject, if you had enough of their attitude. At some of the online portals, we warn each other of clients who acted violently or inappropriately.

Sex worker networks in English-speaking countries run their own databases, so-called Ugly Mugs schemes, to save fellow sex workers from having the same bad experience with a client that they made, from transgressions to violence. For the German-speaking area, we got a “Client-Knigge” [etiquette manual] where clients can read in cold print what is and is not acceptable.

Despite all competition, whores generally support one another when it comes to sharing how to best deal with those rare “black sheep”. Peer projects of the sex workers’ rights movement – like Hydra, Trans*Sexworks or profiS by move e.V. – empower sex workers to stand up against violence and process their experiences better.

Contradictory role expectations

Although it is obvious, let me make one thing clear: each transgressive or violent client is one too many! Encounters with those clients are the ones that occupy our minds for a longer period of time. To digest them, we reflect on those experiences time and time again.

The dominant stereotypes about prostitutes, which also influence our own thinking, make it difficult where to draw the line when it comes to transgressions or violent behaviour: some say that as “fallen women” we have no one but ourselves to blame and consider those experiences as occupational hazard.

Then there are also those who believe that prostitutes cannot be raped since we are apparently ready to go to bed with anyone at any time. Others again believe the exact opposite: that any and all sex with clients is rape.

Even if you do not need to process any rudeness, these contradictory role expectations can subtly unsettle you about which point of view to adopt. And yet, we are neither “fallen” nor incapable of expressing or withholding consent, nor are all our clients perpetrators.

The range of violence perpetrated by clients is wide and diverse. At worst, it includes murder, and serial killers – not just in the US – more often than not choose prostitutes as their victims since they can reasonably expect that police investigations into murders of sex workers will be conducted less rigorously. Besides, due to the stigma attached to sex work and fear of the police, sex workers hardly report incidents. Not in Germany, and certainly not in countries that criminalise clients. 

The police are not innocent

And yet, recent reports by fellow sex workers from France [and Ireland] have shown that ever since the criminalisation of clients was adopted, it is especially the respectful clients who stay away, whereas the brutal ones readily accept the small risk of getting caught. In turn, the decrease of clients means that whether they like it or not, sex workers have to accept significantly more violent clients if they want to avoid falling into poverty as adequate job alternatives are few and far between.

It should not come as a surprise that the combination of different forms of discrimination – having a trans* identity, poor knowledge of the German language, being Black or of colour, being of Romni or another ethnic background – increases the level of violence people experience in sex work, too.

Besides violence by clients, one must not ignore the enormous amount of violence perpetrated by police officers around the world. More often than not, perpetrators hide among the very people of whom politicians and anti-prostitution activists expect to protect us. In Germany, cases of extorted sex (“give me a blow job then I’ll let you go”) are perhaps not as high as elsewhere but the German police is not innocent either. Fellow sex workers have reported of psychological violence, e.g. through forced outing during driver’s license checks, sexualised remarks during raids, pretending to be clients, or being asked transgressive and patronising questions when trying to file a complaint.

Social exclusion, especially the attempts to rid cities of street-based sex work, has led to the adoption of laws whose sole purpose is to displace or jail prostitutes. When initiating contact with potential clients gets outlawed, as has happened in Hamburg’s St. Georg Quarter; when sex workers return to off-limit zones [Sperrbezirke] in order to make enough money to pay fines levied against them and are repeatedly caught until the initial administrative offence is converted into a criminal offence; when a dozen sex workers sits in jail as a result of all that – then I consider that a deprivation of prostitutes’ liberty by legislative and executive authorities

Sweepingly pigeonholed as victims

Our boundaries deserve the same respect as everyone else’s. Arriving at this self-evident realisation can be hard sometimes in a society that segregates and sweepingly pigeonholes us as victims.

Sex workers are robbed of the opportunity to lead a differentiated public debate about violence in prostitution. How do you deal with the fact that you chose this occupation after careful consideration, knowing full well about the potential dangers? Who do you take as a role model? How do you deal with violence, without playing it down and without generalising it?

Solutions are needed that do not criminalise all clients. There is a lack of understanding that first and foremost, it is social prejudices about prostitution that render it difficult for us to protect ourselves. That is because they lower the threshold to use violence against us – among clients, among the police, among everyone. I wished that sex workers would be listened to, and that we would be consulted about which measures we consider useful to prevent violence, and which we do not recommend.

Even if may be uncomfortable for many people: publicly visible campaigns representing our clients and us as respectable people would be more effective than forced registrations.2 Because we are not the problem but the prejudices you have against us.



The author is a sex worker and wrote here under her pseudonym.

The “Prostitutes Protection Act”, which came into effect on July 1, 2017, introduced the mandatory registration of sex workers as well as mandatory health counselling sessions and the possibility of issuing administrative orders against them. For further information, please refer to the Briefing Paper by the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE), titled “Professed Protection, Pointless Provisions – Overview of the German Prostitutes Protection Act (Prostituiertenschutzgesetz – ProstSchG)”. Interested readers may also refer to ICRSE’s Community Report “Exploitation: Unfair labour arrangements and precarious working conditions in the sex industry”.


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.

The translator would like to thank Marleen Laverte for her comments on the first draft of this translation. Every effort has been made to translate this article verbatim. The photo and video above as well as the second footnote did not appear in the original article. 

The German original of this article was first published as “Sexuelle Gewalt und Prostitution: Das Problem ist euer Bild von uns” at die tageszeitung (November 20th, 2017). Please note that the copyright for this article lies with die tageszeitung and is not licensed under a Creative Commons License.