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German law endangers sex workers

The ‘prostitutes protection law’, passed 7 June by the German parliament, is a huge step backwards for sex workers rights.

Photo by Hydra. All Rights Reserved.

The 7th of July is a sad day in the history of sex workers rights in Germany. The government passed the ProstSchG (prostitutes protection law) in the German Bundestag.

We are sex workers from a variety of workplaces and backgrounds. Amongst us are street- and brothel-based sex workers, tantric practitioners, independent escorts, BDSM workers and many more, affiliated or not to one or more sex workers rights groups.

As sex workers and experts on our work, conditions and lives, we have been adamant from the start: the new law is most dangerous for those of us who are supposed to be ‘protected’ by it.

Together we tried to fight the upcoming German law and its implications. Here is why: despite severe warnings by human rights groups like Amnesty International, Deutsche Aidshilfe, Hydra, the national sex workers' professional organisation and many more experts, the new law will enforce mandatory registration of sex workers nationwide.

The law pretends to fight human trafficking. But instead of helping victims of this crime it raises the stigmatisation of sex workers to a new level. Forced registration through obligatory counselling includes the evaluation of one's mental status by a state authority and implies sex workers (nearly exclusively referred to as women) are perceived as irresponsible, mentally incapable beings. We oppose this discriminatory opinion, and claim back our agency in making well-informed decisions regarding our life choices and sexuality. We are adults and we engage in consensual sex work.

"Are you mentally able to understand what sex work does to you?"

Our very own whore ID will be a state-issued document including our picture; our profession (that is “prostitute”, as the word 'sex worker' is a bit too modern for the German state), our real name and address, and it will identify us as state-approved sex workers. In order to get it we will be forced to visit a state body and undergo counselling. The governmental authority that will have to deal with us has yet to be revealed, but most likely the police or the Ordnungsamt (public order office) will be in charge of judging if we are mentally stable enough to take on the profession. You read that right: a functionary will decide in a compulsory talk if you have the marbles in your brain to be a sex worker.

Neat.

Let's also not forget: you will only be able to get your whore ID if you have an official work permit. This inherently excludes migrants, asylum seekers and many of the other most vulnerable groups in society that consciously engage in sex work to simply survive. You have no work permit, you get no whore ID. You get caught doing sex work in order to sustain yourself and your family, and you will be deported, most likely to a country in which sex work is still criminalised and prosecuted. 

Once a sex worker, always a sex worker. Our stigma ignored

Great, figure we make it to a whore ID. We now are officially registered as prostitutes in a state database. We all know that state-secured databases containing sensitive information are never leaked, or hacked, or misused. Well, actually, they are.

We all feel very safe and secure now that there is a huge chance that we will, for now and always, be outed as sex workers. Let's just hope we never plan to work in another professional field, to adopt children, become politicians, travel freely or book accommodation on a holiday. 

Forcing once independent sex workers into dependence

Pretending to ‘save’ precarious sex workers, the new law will actively abolish self-organised small workplaces by forcing brothel owners to obtain permission for their establishments. As useful as it will be to make sure that big brothels comply with basic industry standards like the hygiene or safety for their workers, this part of the law will also make it impossible for self-organised sex workers to work together in teams of two or three in small venues. Workers who decide to share a small workspace will be judged the same as huge brothels. Under the new law, indoor sex workers will have merely three choices.

One, work from our own homes, whether rented or owned, and invite clients into our private bedrooms, making us potentially more vulnerable to abusive customers, violence and police raids.

Two, apply for a room in a regulated and certified brothel. It is easy to predict that only a few brothels will be able to get the necessary certification by state authorities. This will lead to an artificial shortage of legal workplaces. Let’s just think for a minute about supply, demand, labour exploitation and who will be the most vulnerable link in this capitalistic chain. It will probably not be the big brothel owners, but rather us workers. We will be caught between the exploitative practices of big brothels and illegality, where we risk abuse and blackmail by third parties.

Those of us who are most vulnerable, poor and precarious, those who don't have legal work permits and those who won't pass the mental test for lack of literacy and language skills will be largely left with no choice, but to end up in illegality.

In fact, the third, surely least desired option will be to work illegally. Sharing a flat with a colleague to ensure independence and safety will be outlawed – unless you get a license to own a brothel. Too bad that this decision will be very expensive and therefore incredibly difficult to achieve. German building regulation laws are not easy to handle, think of the paperwork alone. Only the most able, well off and legally savvy sex workers will be able to get permission. 

Those of us who are most vulnerable, poor and precarious, those who don't have legal work permits and those who won't pass the mental test for lack of literacy and language skills will be largely left with no choice, but to end up in illegality.

The new law will also likely push many of us to work in unsafe conditions and even to offer unprotected services. Clients who are looking for unprotected or inhumanly cheap services will probably look for illegalised precarious sex workers instead of going to huge, controlled, legal brothels.

As sex workers and experts on our work, conditions and lives, we have been adamant from the start: the new law is most dangerous for those of us who are supposed to be ‘protected’ by this very law and its makers. Had they listened to us, this law would never have passed. But surely you do not ask those you want to protect what kind of protection they need. Surely, lawmakers and party politicians know better. Well actually, they don't.


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