There is a long article published in Spiegel Online’s International (English Language) section on the status of prostitution in Germany today. It’s worth reading in full, especially for the details it goes into regarding how prostitution laws were liberalised in 2001/2002, effectively decriminalising the industry, and how the laws are being debated in Germany today. Below are some extracts, specifically to high-light conditions in the German sex industry.
Through a friend’s new boyfriend, [Alina] heard about the possibilities available in Germany. She learned that a prostitute could easily earn €900 ($1,170) a month there.
Alina began thinking about the idea. Anything seemed better than Sânandrei [Romania]. “I thought I’d have my own room, a bathroom and not too many customers,” she says. In the summer of 2009, she and her friend got into the boyfriend’s car and drove through Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic until they reached the German capital — not the trendy Mitte neighborhood in the heart of the city, but near Schönefeld airport, where the name of the establishment alone said something about the owner: Airport Muschis (“Airport Pussies”). The brothel specialized in flat-rate sex. For €100 ($129), a customer could have sex for as long and as often as he wanted.
It all went very quickly, says Alina. There were other Romanians there who knew the man who had brought them there. She was told to hand over her clothes and was given revealing lingerie to wear instead. Only a few hours after her arrival, she was expected to greet her first customers. She says that when she wasn’t nice enough to the clients, the Romanians reduced her wages.
The Berlin customers paid their fee at the entrance. Many took drugs to improve sexual performance and could last all night. A line often formed outside Alina’s room. She says that she eventually stopped counting how many men got into her bed. “I blocked it out,” she says. “There were so many, every day.”
Alina says that she and the other women were required to pay the pimps €800 a week. She shared a bed in a sleeping room with three other women. There was no other furniture. All she saw of Germany was the Esso gas station around the corner, where she was allowed to go to buy cigarettes and snacks, but only in the company of a guard. The rest of the time, says Alina, she was kept locked up in the club.
Prosecutors learned that the women in the club had to offer vaginal, oral and anal sex, and serve several men at the same time in so-called gangbang sessions. The men didn’t always use condoms. “I was not allowed to say no to anything,” says Alina. During menstruation, she would insert sponges into her vagina so that the customers wouldn’t notice.
She says that she was hardly ever beaten, nor were the other women. “They said that they knew enough people in Romania who knew where our families lived. That was enough,” says Alina. When she occasionally called her mother on her mobile phone, she would lie and tell her how nice it was in Germany. A pimp once paid Alina €600, and she managed to send the money to her family.
Alina’s story is not unusual in Germany. Aid organizations and experts estimate that there are up to 200,000 working prostitutes in the country. According to various studies, including one by the European Network for HIV/STI Prevention and Health Promotion among Migrant Sex Workers (TAMPEP), 65 to 80 percent of the girls and women come from abroad. Most are from Romania and Bulgaria.
The police can do little for women like Alina. The pimps were prepared for raids, says Alina, and they used to boast that they knew police officers. “They knew when a raid was about to happen,” says Alina, which is why she never dared to confide in a police officer.
The pimps told the girls exactly what to tell the police. They should say that they were surfing the web back home in Bulgaria or Romania and discovered that it was possible to make good money by working in a German brothel. Then, they had simply bought themselves a bus ticket and turned up at the club one day, entirely on their own.
It seems likely that every law enforcement officer who works in a red-light environment hears this same web of lies over and over again. The purpose of the fiction is to cover up all indications of human trafficking, in which women are brought to Germany and exploited there. It becomes a statement that transforms women like Alina into autonomous prostitutes, businesswomen who have chosen their profession freely and to whom Germany now wishes to offer good working conditions in the sex sector of the service industry.
That’s the ‘respectable whore’ image politicians seem in thrall of: free to do as they like, covered under the social insurance system, doing work they enjoy and holding an account at the local savings bank. Social scientists have a name for them: “migrant sex workers,” ambitious service providers who are taking advantage of opportunities they now enjoy in an increasingly unified Europe.
In 2001, German parliament, the Bundestag, with the votes of the Social Democratic Party/Green Party governing coalition in power at the time, passed a prostitution law intended to improve working conditions for prostitutes. Under the new law, women could sue for their wages and contribute to health, unemployment and pension insurance programs. The goal of the legislation was to make prostitution a profession like that of a bank teller or dental assistant, accepted instead of ostracized.
Today many police officers, women’s organizations and politicians familiar with prostitution are convinced that the well-meaning law is in fact little more than a subsidy program for pimps and makes the market more attractive to human traffickers.
When the prostitution law was enacted, the German civil code was also amended. The phrase “promotion of prostitution,” a criminal offence, was replaced with “exploitation of prostitutes.” Procurement is a punishable offence when it is “exploitative” or “dirigiste.” Police and public prosecutors are frustrated, because these elements of an offence are very difficult to prove. A pimp can be considered exploitative, for example, if he collects more than half of a prostitute’s earnings, which is rarely possible to prove. In 2000, 151 people were convicted of procurement, while in 2011 it was only 32.
The aim of the law’s initiators was in fact to strengthen the rights of the women, and not those of the pimps. They had hoped that brothel operators would finally take advantage of the opportunity to “provide good working conditions without being subject to prosecution,” as an appraisal of the law for the Federal Ministry for Families reads.
Before the new law, prostitution itself was not punished, but it was considered immoral. The authorities tolerated brothels, euphemistically referring to them as “commercial room rental.” Today, just over 11 years after prostitution was upgraded under the 2001 law, there are between 3,000 and 3,500 red-light establishments, according to estimates by the industry association Erotik Gewerbe Deutschland (UEGD). The Ver.di public services union estimates that prostitution accounts for about €14.5 billion in annual revenues.
There are an estimated 500 brothels in Berlin, 70 in the smaller northwestern city of Osnabrück and 270 in the small southwestern state of Saarland, on the French border. Many Frenchmen frequent brothels in Saarland. Berlin’s Sauna Club Artemis, located near the airport, attracts many customers from Great Britain and Italy.
Travel agencies offer tours to German brothels lasting up to eight days. The outings are “legal” and “safe,” writes one provider on its homepage. Prospective customers are promised up to 100 “totally nude women” wearing nothing but heels. Customers are also picked up at the airport and taken to the clubs in a BMW 5 Series.
In addition to so-called nudist or sauna clubs, where the male customers wear a towel while the women are naked, large brothels have also become established. They advertise their services at all-inclusive rates. When the Pussy Club opened near Stuttgart in 2009, the management advertised the club as follows: “Sex with all women as long as you want, as often as you want and the way you want. Sex. Anal sex. Oral sex without a condom. Three-ways. Group sex. Gang bangs.” The price: €70 during the day and €100 in the evening.
According to the police, about 1,700 customers took advantage of the offer on the opening weekend. Buses arrived from far away and local newspapers reported that up to 700 men stood in line outside the brothel. Afterwards, customers wrote in Internet chat rooms about the supposedly unsatisfactory service, complaining that the women were no longer as fit for use after a few hours.
The business has become tougher, says Nuremberg social worker Andrea Weppert, who has worked with prostitutes for more than 20 years, during which the total number of prostitutes has tripled. According to Weppert, more than half of the women have no permanent residence, but instead travel from place to place, so that they can earn more money by being new to a particular city.
Today “a high percentage of prostitutes don’t go home after work, but rather remain at their place of work around the clock,” a former prostitute using the pseudonym Doris Winter wrote in a contribution to the academic series “The Prostitution Law.” “The women usually live in the rooms where they work,” she added.
In Nuremberg, such rooms cost between €50 and €80 a day, says social worker Weppert, and the price can go up to €160 in brothels with a lot of customers. Working conditions for prostitutes have “worsened in recent years,” says Weppert. In Germany on the whole, she adds, “significantly more services are provided under riskier conditions and for less money than 10 years ago.”
Despite the worsening conditions, women are flocking to Germany, the largest prostitution market in the European Union — a fact that even brothel owners confirm. Holger Rettig of the UEGD says that the influx of women from Romania and Bulgaria has increased dramatically since the two countries joined the EU. “This has led to a drop in prices,” says Rettig, who notes that the prostitution business is characterized by “a radical market economy rather than a social market economy.”
Munich Police Chief Wilhelm Schmidbauer deplores the “explosive increase in human trafficking from Romania and Bulgaria,” but adds that he lacks access to the necessary tools to investigate. He is often prohibited from using telephone surveillance. The result, says Schmidbauer, “is that we have practically no cases involving human trafficking. We can’t prove anything.”
Has Germany’s prostitution law improved the situation of women like Sina? Five years after it was introduced, the Family Ministry evaluated what the new legislation had achieved. The report states that the objectives were “only partially achieved,” and that deregulation had “not brought about any measurable actual improvement in the social coverage of prostitutes.” Neither working conditions nor the ability to exit the profession had improved. Finally, there was “no solid proof to date” that the law had reduced crime.
Hardly a single court had heard a case involving a prostitute suing for her wages. Only 1 percent of the women surveyed said that they had signed an employment contract as a prostitute. The fact that the Ver.di union had developed a “sample employment contract in the field of sexual services” didn’t change matters. In a poll conducted by Ver.di, a brothel operator said that she valued the prostitution law because it reduced the likelihood of raids. In fact, she said, the law was more advantageous for brothel operators than prostitutes.
To operate a mobile snack bar in Germany, one has to be in compliance with the DIN 10500/1 standard for “Vending Vehicles for Perishable Food,” which states, for example, that soap dispensers and disposable towels are required. A brothel operator is not subject to any such restrictions. All he or she has to do is report to authorities when the brothel is opened.
Prostitutes still avoid registering with authorities. In Hamburg, with its famous Reeperbahn red-light district, only 153 women are in compliance with regulations and have registered with the city’s tax office. The government wants prostitutes to pay taxes. Does it have to establish rules for the profession in return?
The odd role the government assumes in the sex trade is in evidence among street hookers in Bonn. Every evening, prostitutes have to buy a tax ticket from a machine, valid until 6 a.m. the next day. The ticket costs €6.
In the northern part of Cologne, where drug-addicted prostitutes work along Geestemünder Strasse not far from the Ford plant, no taxes are levied. As part of a social project, so-called “working stalls” — essentially walled off parking spots for car sex — are built into a space under a shed roof. Although there are no signs plainly indicating that the facility is for prostitution, a speed limit of 10 kilometers per hour is posted for the fenced area, and drivers are required to move in a counter-clockwise direction.
German law enforcement officers working in red-light districts complain that they are hardly able to gain access to brothels anymore. Germany has become a “center for the sexual exploitation of young women from Eastern Europe, as well as a sphere of activity for organized crime groups from around the world,” says Manfred Paulus, a retired chief detective from the southern city of Ulm. He used to work as a vice detective and now warns women in Bulgaria and Belarus against being lured to Germany.
Statistically speaking, Germany has almost no problem with prostitution and human trafficking. According to the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), there were 636 reported cases of “human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation” in 2011, or almost a third less than 10 years earlier. Thirteen of the victims were under 14, and another 77 were under 18.
There are many women from EU countries “whose situation suggests they are the victims of human trafficking, but it is difficult to provide proof that would hold up in court,” reads the BKA report. Everything depends on the women’s testimony, the authors write, but there is “little willingness to cooperate with the police and assistance agencies, especially in the case of presumed victims from Romania and Bulgaria.” And when women do dare to say something, their statements are “often withdrawn.”
A study by the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law concluded that official figures on human trafficking say “little about the actual scope of the offence.”
But what if the German prostitution law actually helps human traffickers? Has the law in fact fostered prostitution and, along with it, human trafficking?
Axel Dreher, a professor of international and development politics at the University of Heidelberg, has attempted to answer these questions, using data from 150 countries. The numbers were imprecise, as are all statistics relating to trafficking and prostitution, but he was able to identify a trend: Where prostitution is legal, there is more human trafficking than elsewhere.
Most women who come to Germany to become prostitutes are not kidnapped on the street — and most do not seriously believe that they’ll be working in a German bakery. More commonly, they are women like Sina, who fall in love with a man and follow him to Germany, or like Alina, who know that they are going to become prostitutes. But they often don’t know how bad it can get — and they are unaware that they will hardly be able to keep any of the money they earn.
[P]oliticians in Berlin feel no significant pressure to do anything. This is partly because, in the debate over prostitution, an ideologically correct position carries more weight than the deplorable realities. For example, when the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences held a conference on prostitution in Germany a year ago, an attendee said that prostitution, “as a recognized sex trade, is undergoing a process of emancipation and professionalization.”
Such statements are shocking to Rahel Gugel, a law professor. “That’s absurd. It has nothing to do with reality,” she says. A professor of law in social work at the Baden-Württemberg Cooperative State University, Gugel wrote her dissertation on prostitution law and has worked for an aid organization.
Proponents of legalization argue that everyone has the right to engage in whatever profession he or she chooses. Some feminists even praise prostitutes for their emancipation, because, they say, women should be able to do what they want with their bodies. In practice, however, it becomes clear how blurred the boundaries are between voluntary and forced prostitution. Did women like Alina and Cora become prostitutes voluntarily, and did they make autonomous decisions? “It is politically correct in Germany to respect the decisions of individual women,” says lawyer Gugel. “But if you want to protect women, this isn’t the way to do it.”
According to Gugel, many women are in emotional or economic predicaments. There is evidence that a higher-than-average number of prostitutes were abused or neglected as children. Surveys have shown that many can be considered traumatized. Prostitutes suffer from depression, anxiety disorders and addiction at a much higher rate than the general population. Most prostitutes have been raped, many of them repeatedly. In surveys, most women say that they would get out of prostitution immediately if they could.
Of course, there are also those women who decide that they would rather sell their bodies than stock supermarket shelves. But there is every indication that they are a minority, albeit one that is vocally represented by a few female brothel owners and prostitution lobbyists like Felicitas Schirow.
The Airport Muschis brothel in Schönefeld no longer exists. It’s been replaced by Club Erotica, which does not offer flat-rates. But johns still have plenty of choice in the area. A few kilometers away in Schöneberg, the King George has switched to flat-rate pricing. Its management uses the slogan “Geiz macht Geil,” which loosely translates as “being cheap makes you horny.” For €99, clients can enjoy sex and drinks until the establishment closes. Anal sex, unprotected oral sex and kissing-with-tongue are extra. The King George offers a “gang-bang party” on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
It’s completely legal.
Based on two years of research using hidden cameras, the film [Sex – Made in Germany] by Sonia Kennebeck and Tina Soliman exposes the “flat-rate” brothels where men pay €49 (£42) for as much sex as they want, as well as a rise in sex tourism, with men from Asia, the Middle East and North America coming to Germany for sex.
Germany’s law governing the sex trade is considered one of the most liberal in the world. It was passed by the former coalition government, made up of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Greens, in a bid to strengthen the rights of sex workers and give them access to health insurance and benefits.
Since then, red light districts have become even more prominent in many major German cities including Berlin, Frankfurt and Hamburg, where the Reeperbahn is, notoriously, the focus for the sex trade. During the 2006 World Cup in Germany, brothels appeared close to football stadiums across the country to cater for fans before and after games.
Meanwhile, Monika Lazar, spokeswoman on women’s issues for the Alliance 90/Greens party, has defended the law, saying that making prostitution illegal again is not the way to improve working conditions. “Prostitution is still socially stigmatised, and that has not changed in the few years in which the law has been in effect,” she says. “But the law is helping to strengthen the position of prostitutes and ensuring women, and men, are much better protected.”
The law has been ‘liberalised’ for over 10 years, calling that “a few years” is completely dishonest (just think how much attitudes to smoking in public have changed in England since the ban came into effect in 2007).
And again, it’s this nebulous concept ‘stigma’ which is apparently harming women in prostitution, rather than, say, having to service 30 men a night, not being able to refuse ‘clients’, not getting paid, being a drug addict etc. etc., but no, apparently it’s this ‘stigma’ that’s the problem, not prostitution itself.
dalje.com reports on an advert taken out in two German papers defending a flat-rate brothels. The article claims the ads were paid for by 77 prostitutes, but then goes on to quote a female flat-rate brothel owner, and the leader of a sex industry advocate group, rather than any woman working in such a brothel, so I can’t help but be cynical about whether this ad actually represents women working in such places. It demonstrates also, that the main loyalty of sex industry advocates is always to the sex industry itself.
The brothel owner’s claims that flat-rate isn’t exploitative because “If they looked more closely at the offer they’d see a man can get all the sexual services he wants but not from one woman” and that “most customers leave after at most two sessions” are entirely dishonest, especially given reports that men “[take] drugs to improve sexual performance and [can] last all night”, and there are large numbers of men using the service; if even the johns can see that the women in flat-rate brothels are “no longer as fit for use after a few hours”, then it really must be bad.
“Get off our backs — no ban on brothels with or without ‘flat rates’,” read the headline in the quarter-page adverts.
Prostitutes in Germany are fighting back against attempts by conservative politicians and some irate residents to stop popular “flat-rate” brothels.
Officials in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg launched moves to stop one brothel with a “flat-rate” fee system because they viewed it as inhumane for women to provide unlimited sexual services all day for a one-off 70 euros ($100) fee.
But a group of 77 prostitutes bought advertising space in two national dailies to argue that this was simply a ruse to get brothels banned altogether.
“Get off our backs — no ban on brothels with or without ‘flat rates’,” read the headline in the quarter-page adverts. Under the guise of ‘humane working conditions’, they are in reality plotting to ban brothels and threaten our livelihood.”
For a 70 euros charge customers are entitled to all the sex, food and drink they want between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. The evening flat rate rises to 100 euros.
Pussy club operator Patricia Floreiu has said most customers leave after at most two sessions.
There are at least four such “flat rate” brothels across Germany, a country where prostitution is legal.
Heribert Rech, Baden-Wuerttemberg’s Christian Democrat interior minister, has led a campaign against the “Pussy Club” establishment in the town of Fellbach, saying the “favourable price suggests women there are being exploited”.
But Juanita Henning, the leader of Dona Carmen in Frankfurt, told Reuters that critics want to reverse a 2002 law that gives prostitutes extensive legal rights and protection.
“This is nothing more than a moral campaign,” Henning said. “If they looked more closely at the offer they’d see a man can get all the sexual services he wants but not from one woman. It’s pure ignorance and prejudice against the industry.”