Prostitution law misses the mark on reality © Caro Bastian (epd)
The Prostitution Act passed in 2002 promised more social security for prostitutes. So far, however, it has remained largely ineffective, as the federal government admits. Legislation completely misses reality?
Interviewer: In 2002, the federal government introduced the Prostitution Act, which was supposed to provide sex workers with more social protection. You could get regular social insurance after that. But so far only 76 women in the whole of Germany have done so. This has now come to light through an inquiry by the FDP parliamentary group in the Bundestag. Apparently not a resounding success, with an estimated 200 working in this country.000 women as prostitutes.
Even the Prostitute Protection Act that came into force in 2017 – it supplements the Prostitution Act – is showing only moderate success, according to the government response. Since then, prostitutes have had to register with their municipalities and get regular health counseling. Is the prostitution law a typical example of "Well thought, badly done" or is this a problem of statistics?
Rene Pieper (head of prostitute assistance at the Social Service of Catholic Women in Cologne): The statistics are not the problem – on the contrary. It shows the reality of women. The problem is the laws that have been put in place. These, however, are very much out of touch with the reality of women's lives. Prostitution has a lot to do with fear and stigmatization. Stigmatization is shown by the practice of sex work, which is not recognized as a profession. Women and also men who prostitute themselves are still at the bottom of the "food chain". They experience a lot of discrimination and are afraid. Most women simply want to work anonymously, and they don't want it to be known that they are engaged in sex work. That's why the law is well intended, but poorly made.
Interviewer: The Catechism of the Catholic Church prohibits prostitution. Whoever makes use of them, sins gravely. Now, however, it has always existed and probably always will exist. The idea that prostitutes can also take out social insurance is actually a good thing. That is, they are then entitled to health insurance benefits or later a pension. You have already indicated why so few register there?
Pieper: As just mentioned, fear and stigmatization simply play a very big role. In some countries of origin, where the women come from, sex work is still punishable by death. The fear that it will come out that they are doing sex work here in Germany is much greater than the will to claim social benefits.
Interviewer: The prostitutes take their fears from their home countries with them and do not trust the German jurisdiction?
Beeper: Exactly. Many also switch back and forth between Germany and their country of origin. They may only be here for a few months to earn a little money for themselves and their family and then go back again.
Interviewer: How could we face this problem? What has to happen so that prostitutes also have social protection?
Beeper: It is still about reducing stigma and at the same time building trust on our part. We want to help the women, to accompany them on the way to social protection. But we can hardly take away the fears of the women. It is simply a matter of building trust and looking step by step at how we can help the women who come to us. At the same time, we have to see how we can somehow get the women into the system, despite the fear that hovers over them.
Interviewer: Now you probably look more at individual cases. But a government must of course create the right conditions for many women. In 2017, the federal government also expanded the law to include the so-called Prostitute Protection Act. Since then, prostitutes are supposed to register with their local authorities and receive regular health advice. This is to protect against forced prostitution. Only a fraction has responded to this as well. Do the laws of the federal government completely miss the reality of women?
Pieper: Clearly. The ies of fear and stigmatization have again not been addressed in the new draft law. On the contrary: women must now register on a compulsory basis. And not with an anonymous name, but with real data – including which country of origin they come from. This data all goes into one system. It is known that the data is also passed on to the tax office. Here again, there is a great fear that third parties, such as husbands, employers or various offices, will find out that the woman is engaged in sex work or that the profession of sex work will be communicated to the country of origin.
Interviewer: Many experts complain that the situation has gotten worse rather than better for women in recent years: more forced prostitution, price drops, cue flat rates in brothels. Should we perhaps do things differently and ban prostitution altogether or punish the clients, as the Scandinavians do??
Pieper: There are different opinions on this. In our opinion, banning prostitution altogether will only lead to illegality. That is, the women will pursue somewhere in the darkest corners of the sex work. It is difficult for the women to go to counseling centers because they are doing something illegal.
Punishing johns might sound like a kind of solution at first glance. But at the same time, we then think about the women. What happens to those who are under prere, for example, because of drug use?? Or if you think about the protected street prostitution, where the women can pursue prostitution in a protected environment. If the prostitution is forbidden, the women are not allowed to come anymore. If the johns are punished, the johns will stop coming. This means that such a site would be closed and the women would no longer have a protected environment.
Interviewer: Even you don't know exactly what a solution might look like?
Beeper: If you want to do something good for women, changing the laws to make it much easier for women to get out would definitely be a solution. A good example of this: If the woman lives and works in a brothel, but wants to get out of prostitution, she no longer has a place to live. Finding housing is very, very difficult, especially since she may not have any other job to pay for that housing yet. That's where laws would have to start so that women could be helped much sooner.
The interview was conducted by Heike Sicconi.