Butter bei die Fische II (engl.)

I was asked recently to explain the German situation in English regarding the rights of Sex Workers in Germany and the law. I read a paper on that issue at the first SWOU event in London 2009. Updated below.

In Germany Sex Work has been considered as a legitimate business under specific conditions in 2001, prostitution and the employment of Sex Workers has become legal, but it is still regulated within each of the 16 federal states on the very different local and regional levels. By different types of regulation, i.e. administrative law, municipal laws, criminal law. The Federal „law on prostitution“ from 2001 was a compromise validated in three articles and made by former government coalition of Socialdemocrats and the Greens. The law is valid since 1st January 2002.

Because of the ruling federal system in Germany each of the 16 states (=Länder) responses in a very different way. It means that the Federal law on the legalization of sex work has not been converted nor implement in all these states properly on the regional and local scales, because it is inadequate to regulate prostitution at all.
This has many reasons. One is that many regional governments and politicians tried to ignore the law and fail to implement. The Federal law on prostitution is still a big step in sex worker rights because it decriminalises former unconscionable contract between sex worker and client with some implications.
It was initiated by a former sex worker and manager from Berlin, Felicitas Schirow, who took legal action and went to court to repeal the stipulation of prostitution as unconscionable.

The law is more than a signal of decriminalizing sex work, but restrictions still exist nationwide. In theory and practice the so called ‚unconscionable contract‘ (German: Sittenwidrigkeit) between service provider and client has been disappeared, while many regulations exist to prohibit sex work in different areas. The prostitution-stigma still exists as a high barrier to come out, while recurrent survey results show that the majority of Germans don’t want to prohibit prostitution (around 80%). There should be another survey about hypocrisy and you will find out that the majority who profits from prostitution in different ways condemn it at the same time. This has to do with the moral and gender concepts around sexuality and social roles, population policies. Sex as work and non reproductive sexuality thwart these powerful institutions.

The law paved the way to acknowledge prostitution as a profession and not as a criminal offense, enforce sex workers to pay taxes as in any other professions but still deprive sex workers from their rights in different ways (more in Part III tomorrow). Sex as work is treated in many cases as a crime and the dehumanization of sex workers is still vivid, not only in media coverage but also in our minds. Mental maps and stereotyping configure sex workers not as people like any other and pave the way to discriminate and criminalize our work and its protagonists. This powerful discourse shapes the manner globally how people deal with us, patriarchy, feminists, police and law enforcement but also serial killers who repeatedly answered on that question why they killed sex workers because its was a matter of hygiene to clean up the „dirt“ and in favor to society.
Ideology is always the legitimation doing so and exculpation doing ‚right‘. Serial killers of prostitutes share the common mind maps with their societies, communties and their definitions about ‚good and bad‘.

So my reflections lead the focus on contradictions in theory and practice and describe the very different realities in this country living side by side, a most ambivalent confusing situation.

Solid data on the number of people in the trade and turnout are not available, whereas many of non-sex worker led NGOs, contact partners in this field tirelessly publish „estimations“ without any solid basis since 30 years; this mantra is repeated by the media. Solid data regarding tax revenues of the trade are not published since today. Thats why speculations blooming since ages and usually manipulated for political ends.
The majority of sex workers prefer not to be tax registered together with a socially stigmatized profession for good reasons, but more with other professions like dancer, masseur, modelling etc. Conservatives use the low number of professionals, registered as „prostitutes“ or any other specific and sex work related work (i.e. escort, dominatrix) to publish false assertions, i.e. that the majority of sex workers are illegal or work clandestine. Because there is no sex-worker-led lobbying group in Germany it is hard to tackle lies or wrong estimations and junk science by individuals like me who work on a volunteer basis over years on that issue.

It is also possible to associate with VERDI, largest trade union in the service sector in Germany and Europe; I found out that there was never a high demand and almost nobody took this option into account. Sex work is „work“ but not for all sex workers and clients in their self-conception, but it changes. The term sex work has no cultural origins in Germany and has been transferred from the U.S., created by Carol Leigh decades ago, one of my heroes in the Global Sex Workers Rights Movement. That means, we have a legal framework and opportunities to associate based on an understanding of prostitution as work, but stigma and self-conception is still a high barrier to identify with this stigmatized job and to handle intimacy as a profession. In this understanding the majority of sex workers are foremost citizens and people like any other. This give us the right not to get outed as a sex worker as long the societal discourse dominates along with its consequences and impacts for our private lives.

The main goals of the law were to increase the social status of sex workers and to push crime, pimping and exploitation out of the business.
This compromise of a law was never intended to tackle crime and cannot be (Criminal law is sufficient to tackle all these crimes), but to distinguish sex workers work from a criminal operation and defined limited decisional authority of managers in the industry in case of work contracts between sex worker and employer/manager. These tiny three paragraphs just define the legal relationship between sex worker and client and nothing more.

to be continued in Part III Butter bei die Fische …

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