Sex Work Regulations in Germany

Posts tagged “Swedish Model

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.


Swedish (Model) Logic

Swedish (Model) Logic - Translated from the German original by erzaehlmirnix

German original by Nadja Hermann. Translation by Matthias Lehmann. Posted with kind permission.
See also
Prostitutes Protection Law Logic and Sex Work Logic.

Prostitution: Beyond an infantilising feminism

A relief work in Amsterdam's Oudekerksplein Photo by  J.M. LuijtBronze relief installed by an anonymous artist in Amsterdam’s Oudekerksplein (Old Church’s Square) in the heart of the city’s red-light district of De Wallen. Photo by J.M. Luijt (cc)

Germany’s federal government is currently revising the country’s prostitution regulation. Criminal Law Professor Dr. Monika Frommel notes improvements of the one-sided debate of late, but demands regulations, which respect the reality of sex work.

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.

Will federal policy makers during the current legislative period succeed to regulate prostitution adequately? If their efforts would lead to yet another blockade, it would hardly come as a surprise; feminist objections and male privileges – according to the abolitionist women’s movement, active since around 1900 – as well as diverse conservative currents agreeing on the condemnation of the world’s oldest profession as “fornication” have been clashing on the subject of prostitution for over a hundred years.

While conservative double standards ostracise sex workers, feminist perspectives favour criminalising their clients. Although these positions contradict one another, they still unfold – to some extent jointly – destructive effects and, each in their own way, they cement Denkverbote [oppression of opinions that differ from their respective dogmas]. In the statement that prostitution supposedly violates “women’s dignity”, both camps have found a new, seemingly anti-discriminatory language.

In light of this deadlock, it is no wonder then that the Prostitution Act of 2002 (ProstG) was only ever a half-hearted attempt. The ambivalences of the last twelve years have also had tangible negative effects, because on the one hand, the majority of the Länder [German states] circumvented implementing aspects of the new federal law falling within their jurisdictions, and on the other hand, a regulation under the trade law didn’t occur in any of the Länder. Up until this legislative period, there hadn’t even been a debate about different non-criminal regulatory models.

Infantilising Feminism

In the past, this blockade was obscured through ever-new ethics debates and human trafficking campaigns, which, since 1992, originate from a specific understanding of feminism at the EU level. Those are the dark sides of the Nordic women’s movement that the rest of European women have long overlooked. For one, because they do not speak the Nordic languages, and also because they thought, theirs were all noble goals. In northern Europe, however, these two currents combined have resulted in an infantilising feminism.

“The rest of the European women have long overlooked the dark sides of the Nordic women’s movement.”

Its hallmark are campaigns on the international, European and national level. Since so-called “forced prostitution” can only be ascertained in extremely rare cases through criminal law, European institutions regularly demand from respective national legislators to introduce stricter provisions in their criminal law. But since bolstering the fight against “exploitation” and “human trafficking” has failed to yield results, even further legislative amendments are being demanded, and subsequently further national efforts to implement the already expanded EU directive against human trafficking. National legislators, on their part, do not even discuss anymore whether the European objectives can be achieved with such measures, and nobody’s asking if the directive hasn’t already been implemented, but instead they lean towards ‘waving laws through parliament’ that are dubious because they are vague. The rationale is fatalistic: it should be done since Europe demanded measures of this sort.

All this is being accompanied by media campaigns. The last climax occurred in 2013. Back then, the public debate was dominated by shrill and extremely repressive overtones. There was much talk about „forced prostitution“, and calls grew to „punish the punters“ [clients], since after all it were „men“ who were taking advantage of the “plight” of those working in the trade. Therefore, one would have to design measures that render the demand as risky as possible (embarrassing investigations, denunciation). It was also claimed, without supporting evidence, that only a small minority of sex workers was working of free will, while in contrast, the trafficking of adults and children (“children” being defined as any person under 18) was the norm. The empirically unproven assumptions and the downright absurd legal constructs surrounding the concept of “children” already demonstrate what sort of fundamental reservations were stylised here. For the most part, these are conservative prejudices re-formulated in a crooked feminist tone to render them attractive to people with only superficial knowledge of the subject matters.

Amendment of the Prostitution Act

In this legislative period, politicians have begun to shift and support groups to act pragmatically. The excessive polemics of people from one side of the divide has thus resulted in the growing willingness of politicians to see things realistically and argue factually. There is a chance, therefore, that after twelve years of contested and eventually fruitless debates, this legislative period will see an adjustment of the Prostitution Act in line with the changing economic conditions.

To understand the change over recent months, one should first look at the half-heartedly conceived bill from the previous legislative period, which aimed to regulate prostitution through administrative laws. It failed to achieve a majority vote in the Bundesrat [the Upper House of the German Parliament], and for good reason. Back then, Bremen had voted against the bill [together with other states governed by coalition governments of Social Democrats and Greens]. In 2014, the Saarland brought forward a motion for the Bundesrat to adopt a “key issue paper for the regulation of prostitution and brothel-like businesses”. [1]

But the Saarland’s motion was anything but progressive or realistic. It aimed to curb fictitious self-employment and stipulated the so-called “Freierbestrafung” [criminalisation of sex workers’ clients]. The motion was therefore predominantly designed to use administrative and punitive measures. No attention was paid to the working conditions of people in prostitution, especially not to improving these conditions sustainably or to raising the prices for sexual services, which are too low, for the benefit of sex workers, not just the operators. It is promising, therefore, that this decidedly too narrow approach was rejected by a resolution of the Bundesrat on April 11th, 2014.

„It was attempted to paternalistically and maternalistically defend sex workers’ right to self-determination against their will, as it were.”

Now the federal government has to move forward and face the complexity of the imminent reforms. The focal point is a law to “protect prostitutes”. It aims to regulate what had already been discussed as regulation under the trade law, but was never fleshed out or subjected to discussions by the different interest groups, as would have been appropriate. That is because police and the women’s movement were unduly focused on the subject of “human trafficking and forced prostitution”.

This fixation was paradoxical, but over recent months, it has been abandoned. It was paradoxical because both help groups attempted, paternalistically and maternalistically, to defend sex workers’ right to self-determination against their will, as it were, by using criminal and police laws. They did also have sex workers’ rights in mind, but in a completely different sense. What they aim to expand is mainly the right of residence for non-EU citizens who might have become victims of human trafficking and may therefore be potential witnesses [in criminal proceedings]. So they think primarily along the lines of criminal law.

Together with the Länder and municipalities, plans should be developed for a comprehensive range of safe street-based prostitution. The trend in 2013 went the wrong direction. The Dortmund Model – legal street-based prostitution with Verrichtungsboxen [love boxes] – was terminated by the city of Dortmund, unlawfully and unconstitutionally. A sex worker who lodged a complaint won her case at the administrative court of Gelsenkirchen. [2] Should this decision stand, then municipalities will no longer be able to arbitrarily expand [prostitution] off-limit zones, unless in cases, where public order, especially the protection of minors, concretely warrants it, i.e. when actual facts are presented, and not just for exploiting general fears over a sudden influx of migrants who force their woman into prostitution.

Data protection and Self-employment

In the debate over the future law, one aspect will play a central role, which one could almost overlook when first reading the key issues paper by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. On the one hand it is the question of fair pricing, and on the other hand control under the trade law and the mandatory registration of individual sex workers. As stated in the preliminary key issues paper from August 2014, all sex workers will be subject to mandatory registration, i.e. a duty of disclosure, at the respective municipality. According to this approach, they would receive verification documents, which they would then have to produce upon request.

Obligations of this sort are highly problematic when they extend to all types of activities. If sex workers work at a brothel or comparable business and one wants to prevent circumvention of tax liabilities, shouldn’t it be sufficient for the operator to produce their data so that the sex workers remain anonymous? After all, operators are subject to strict control and are required to keep copies of the sex workers’ permits. So when the operators and their administration are strictly controlled, the data security of the sex workers should not have to be jeopardized.

Converted parking ticket machine in Bonn for tickets to use in tax statement of sex workers Photo by Sir JamesConverted parking ticket machine in Bonn for tickets to use in tax statement of sex workers.
Photo by Sir James (

Where there is no operator, as in street-based prostitution, it stands to reason to enforce general identity card requirements and flat-rate taxation (via tax machines). There are further concerns: if people work only occasionally at a business, their mandatory registration is problematic since guaranteeing data security in a digitalised world effectively is already uncertain, even in places where it shouldn’t be. [3] Besides, before any standardisation of mandatory registration, it should be clarified whether individual sex workers in fact carry on a trade or rather practice a freelance occupation sui generis [unique in its characteristics]. This is also relevant to the question if they, too – and not just the operator – must pay value-added tax.

“The last twelve years have shown that sex workers want to work independently and do not wish to be forcibly outed.”

There is an even more problematic aspect. Under the programmatic slogan “Prostitution – The Augsburg Model” [4], Helmut Sporer, a speaker for the Bavarian police, together with the public prosecutor’s office in Augsburg, initiated preliminary proceedings against the Colosseum, a brothel-like sauna club, for dirigiste pimping (instruction for those working there to remain naked while in the sauna area) and the failure to pay social security contributions and payroll taxes (§ 266a StGB, German Criminal Code). [A1] In a complaints procedure in 2010, the Higher Regional Court in Munich refused to open proceedings – with reference to the Prostitution Act. [5]

Ever since, the rule applies that “integration into a brothel business” serves as an indicator of non-independent employment (§ 7 Abs. 1 SGB IV, German Social Code) and fictitious self-employment. The defence disproved this assumption with an expert opinion. [6] Since then, attempts have been made to determine by law that integration into a brothel business constitutes an indicator of non-independent employment.

The key issues paper also refers to this debate. Under the heading “Legal relationship between prostitutes and operators”, the actual circumstances are pitted against the wish of sex workers to [be able to] leave at any time. Instead of focusing on the danger of economic exploitation as criterion for operators’ control, fiscal aspects dominate yet again.

Anyone who wants to “protect prostitutes”, to quote the name of the new law, must limit her- or himself to forcing operators to be more transparent, and to allowing those working in their businesses more access to files and counsel. One should not put sex workers into a position in which they rather choose a tolerance model again. After all, the last twelve years have shown that sex workers want to work independently and do not wish to be forcibly outed. It is simply a specific occupation. Occupations differ, one from the other. Blanket criminal proceedings due to the failure to pay social security contributions and payroll taxes offer no protection but create only new repressive powers and substantial regional differences. Both are counterproductive.

About Dr. Monika Frommel

Prof. emer. Dr. Monika Frommel -  Photo usage worldwide

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


[1] Bundesrats-Drucksache 71/14, 26.02.2014. [English: Key Issues Paper for a Law to Protect Those Working in Prostitution (Prostitutes Protection Law, ProstSchG)]
[2] Az 16 K 2082/11, 21.03.2013 (noch nicht rechtskräftig).
[3] Sex workers fight against mandatory registrations for good reasons. Although tax authorities normatively guarantee data privacy, it cannot actually be guaranteed, and the Labour Inspectorate doesn’t guarantee it anyway. Therefore, one should forego general mandatory registrations, if there is anyway an operator who can be controlled. It might differ for street-based prostitution, where sex workers cannot rely on the right to data privacy anyway, since they are publicly visible.
[4] Helmut Sporer: „Prostitution – Der Augsburger Weg“ in: Kriminalistik 2010, S. 235-240.
[5] Az 3 Ws 101-105/10, 20.04.2010.
[6] Von Prof. Dr. Dagmar Felix, Hamburg.

[A1] The 2007 Report by the Federal Government on the Impact of the Act Regulating the Legal Situation of Prostitutes (Prostitution Act) stated that “operators expressed some uncertainty as to whether and under which conditions the stipulating of place of work, hours of work and prices for certain services went beyond what was legally possible and made them liable to punishment for exploitation of prostitutes (Section 180a(1) Criminal Code) or pimping (Section 181a(1) No. 2 Criminal Code, “dirigiste pimping”). Regional differences in criminal prosecutorial practice added to this uncertainty. For example, the Public Prosecutor‘s Office in Munich in 2003 stated that “the one-sided stipulation of working hours by brothel operators is to be classed as so-called dirigiste pimping within the meaning of the aforementioned provisions and thus to be prosecuted” (cf. S oFFI K I , Section II. A decision by the Federal Court of Justice of 1 August 2003 (Federal Court of Justice, ref. 2 StR 186/03; Decision of the Federal Court of Justice 48,314 and NJW 2004, p. 81 ff.) created legal clarity by stating that the operator of a brothel may not stipulate the type and extent of prostitution to be engaged in. However, as long as a prostitute was voluntarily working in a brothel or brothel-like establishment, the mere fact that he/she was integrated into an organisational structure on account of the stipulating of fixed working hours, places of work and prices did not make it punishable (cf. also B.VIII.1 below, and Renzikowski §§ 83, 89).”

Translation by Matthias Lehmann. Research Project Germany. I would like to thank Dr. Frommel for her permission to translate her article, and Frans van Rossum for his excellent comments on the first drafts of this translation. Every effort has been made to translate this article verbatim. As a result, the wording may appear unusual on some occasions. The photos above did not appear in the original article. Footnote A1 was added for further clarification.

The German original of this article was first published as “Prostitution: Jenseits des Bevormundungsfeminismus” at NovoArgumente (November 24th, 2014). Please note that the copyright for this article lies with Dr. Monika Frommel and is not licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Further Reading

A law to protect society from an imaginary evil – Includes a full translation of the Key Issues Paper for a Law to Protect Those Working in Prostitution (Prostitutes Protection Law, ProstSchG)

“Moralising Law”: Reform Proposals for the German Prostitution Act – Interview with Fabienne Freymadl, Political Spokeswoman for the Professional Organisation for Erotic and Sexual Services (Berufsverband erotische und sexuelle Dienstleistungen, BesD)

More Rights For Victims of Human Trafficking – Interview with Heike Rabe, Policy Advisor at the German Institute for Human Rights (Deutsches Institut für Menschenrechte)

Lies & Truths about the German Prostitution Act – An Introduction for the Uninitiated

“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