Sex Work and Human Rights

Does the Legalisation of Sex Work increase Trafficking?

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Once again, I would like to move a private discussion into the open. This time, I invited Matt Stearner, a Phd student at the Department of Sociology at Ohio State University. Matt and I talked about a discussion he had had with a friend of his about the legalisation of sex work. I asked him if he would mind if we continued our discussion on Research Project Korea’s Facebook page so that more people could weigh in. Please click here to join the debate!

Note: you can follow the debate on Facebook even if you do not have a Facebook account. If you like to post a comment but don’t want to register with Facebook, you are welcome to leave a comment on this blog. I will then add your comment to the debate.

16 responses

  1. Lisa

    According to an EU-financed survey, where thery compared 150 nations, one must answer: YES, SURE!

    Click to access Cho%20Dreher%20Neumayer%20CRC-PEG_DP_96.pdf

    It’s also pure logic…

    How can anyone deny?

    April 9, 2012 at 7:04 am

    • I added your comment to the discussion thread on Facebook which you can follow without having a Facebook account yourself or needing to log on, if you do have one. You can either post further comments there or here and I will add them to the thread.

      For further reference, read Wendy Lyon’s analysis of the most recent (2010) Report of the Dutch National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings.

      Wendy Lyon – Sex trafficking in the Netherlands: should we believe the hype?

      You may also want to look into her article about the Report of the UNAIDS Advisory Group on HIV and Sex Work.

      Wendy Lyon – UNAIDS Advisory Group condemns Swedish sex purchase ban

      So, to answer your question: I cannot deny it (yet) but I can seriously doubt it, based on my ongoing research, and so can others. But, by all means, please do elaborate on the logic. I am genuinely interested in almost anyone’s thoughts (and sources) on the matter.

      April 9, 2012 at 4:25 pm

  2. Ein interessantes Statement zum Thema seitens Dona Carmen e.V. aus Frankfurt.

    April 10, 2012 at 2:44 am

    • Thank you, Ariane.

      Lisa, regarding the response by Doña Carmen e.V. to the EU study you posted above, I shall quote the author Dan Gardner: “You don’t have to agree. You do have to read.” …just as I will continue to read the EU study.

      April 10, 2012 at 2:56 am

  3. Marc

    Short version of the studies:

    The cited Göttingen/LSE study from Prof.Dr. Axel Dreher and Dr. Seo-Young Cho is citing outdated and also over-estimated trafficking victim figures:

    Menschenhandelsopfer-SCHÄTZUNGEN Deutschland:
    2001 — 9.870…19.740
    2002 – 11.080…22.160 (ProstG eingeführt)
    2003 – 12.350…24.700
    2004 – 32.800

    “In terms of human trafficking victims, the ILO estimated the stock of victims in Germany in 2004 to be approximately 32,800 – about 62 times more than in Sweden”

    “150,000 people working as prostitutes”

    – Gergana Danailova-Trainor and Patrick Belser, 2006,
    Globalization and the Illicit Market for Human Trafficking: an Empirical Analysis of Supply and Demand.
    ILO Working Paper No. 53. Geneva.

    – Andrea Di Nicola, Isabella Orfano, Andrea Cauduro and Nicoletta Conci, (2004) 2005,
    Study on National Legislation on Prostitution and the Trafficking in Women and Children,
    European Parliament, Transcrime, (accessed July 11, 2011).

    [page 19 of the Göttingen/LSE study]


    However the reality of police statistics from federal police office in Germany is very different:
    Dagegen stehen die tatsächichen Menschenhandelverdachtsopfer-FALLZAHLEN Deutschland gemäß Bundeskriminalamt (BKA):
    2002 — 811 victims (ProstG eingeführt)
    2003 – 1235 victims
    2004 — 972 victims
    2005 — 642 victims
    2006 — 775 victims
    2007 — 689 victims
    2008 — 676 victims
    2009 — 710 victims
    2010 — 610 victims

    The figures were overestimated by factor 30 times!


    This is a similar betrayal that was done before World Football Tournament Germany 2006:
    “40.000 forced immigrated prostitutes from East Europe” where firstly predicted in public bei Ulrike Hauffe, spokeswomen of Deutscher Städtetag.

    After the games the EU could only confirme 5 cases. They were all over 18 but not 21 years oldd and hence by law defined as victims of human trafficking. One of them was male.
    Council of the EU, 5006/1/07

    Click to access st05006-re01.en07.pdf

    Council of the EU, 5008/7

    Click to access st05008.en07.pdf

    The propaganda against human trafficking used again legal sex work and prostitution has overestimated the reality by factor 8.000 times!


    Infact the world football tournament was decided by prostitution, when the word “whore” was brought into play in the final game and competition between world football star Zidane who activated Materazzi:


    This chart shows the reality of crime statistics (figures before trial and not confirmed by legal court) related to the numbers of sex workers in Germany and is about below 1% for many year up to today:

    April 10, 2012 at 4:58 am

  4. Marc

    This chart shows the reality of crime statistics (however before trials and not confirmed by legal court) related to the numbers of sex workers in Germany and is about below 1% for many year up to today:

    April 10, 2012 at 5:02 am

  5. Lisa

    Do you know any survey to which everyone agrees? I don’t.

    For the record: do you suggest there is no problem at all or are you just arguing that it is negligible (although there are always even underage victims)?

    Nevertheless, here is what I find logical about the accusation (legalisation increases trafficking):

    If you see prostitution as socially required, if you even call it “a job like any other” and design the law around this presumption, you are willing to enlarge the market & reduce consumers (mens) inhibitions to buy sex.

    In a country like Germany – where you have social coverage – it’s not very likely to find an adequate amount of women who are desperate enough to give up their sexual self-determination to serve the markets needs. So you suddenly need more foreign (poor) women.

    But if you ban the purchase, you send out a completly different signal which must have an impact not only on society itself, but also on the potential sexworkers abroad and the traffickers.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:58 am

    • “Do you know any survey to which everyone agrees? I don’t.”

      Well, you seemed to be rather “SURE” when you quoted the study of the Uni Göttingen, and as Marc illustrated, it seems to be deeply flawed. I would think that the BKA (federal criminal agency) should be a rather reliable source, should it not?

      “For the record: do you suggest there is no problem at all or are you just arguing that it is negligible (although there are always even underage victims)?”

      For the record: not once have I suggested that there is no problem at all or that violence against sex workers (forced or voluntary; minor or adult; migrant or not) is a negligible problem. It certainly needs to be addressed.

      Let me try to turn your logic around: if you do not treat sex work as a job like any other and even label all sex work as “exploitative” and design the law around this presumption, you are willing to deny sex workers the same rights that other workers enjoy, to increase the stigma attached to sex work, and keep sex work in a legal grey area that leaves sex workers (and those coerced into sex work) vulnerable to violence by traffickers.

      Since you put “a job like any other” in quotation marks, I suspect that you are among those who put their subjective sense of morality above the realities in which sex workers live and work.

      I do not deny that x-amount of who you call “foreign (poor) women” (beware creating stereotypes) might wish to have other choices, but for as long as they don’t have those, who is to deny them their choice?

      If you want to hear some of them talking about it, please take a look at this video – just one of many such documents you can find if you look for them. [] (The sound quality is a little poor, but I encourage you to watch it anyway.)

      Your idea that a ban on the purchase of sexual services so much as irks any hard-boiled trafficker is optimistic, I believe, and where society is concerned, I believe a signal how to treat women (or others), whether they are sex workers or not, might send a much more useful signal as sex work doesn’t cease to exist just because you outlaw any aspect of it.

      To the contrary: it drives sex work further beyond the fringes of society it already is on, reduces the chance to negotiate condom use, the type of service, the price etc. and it also drives clients to buy sex elsewhere.

      April 10, 2012 at 12:24 pm

  6. Lisa

    Dona Carmen claims the study is flawed – and I have no idea what kind of people with what kind of education stand behind this lobby organisation.

    It never gets clear what they want btw. If they were speaking out for sexworkers rights, they should have some suggestions to make, shouldn’t they?

    And the staff from BKA can be cited with statements like: 95 % of sexworkers in germany are under force. I’m quite sure you don’t want to believe that, right? But if that was true…

    You might not be surprised to hear that I personally think Sex is a private issue and the legislator should generally withdraw (which means of course also: stop collecting taxes).

    At the same time I find it appropiate to keep sex-buyers in fear of imprisonment (FINALLY, after all those centuries!). You will never be able to pay them back all that they deserve – but they should get a taste.

    Men are only able to buy sex because they have more money than women (that of course needs to be changed as well).

    “I do not deny that x-amount of who you call “foreign (poor) women” (beware creating stereotypes) might wish to have other choices, but for as long as they don’t have those, who is to deny them their choice?”

    You must be joking. Talking of choices while saying they have none?
    To me the problem is quite similar to abortion.

    I’m curious:
    How would you address trafficking or forced sexwork?

    April 10, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    • Marc

      What Lisa asked about:

      Doña Carmen e.V. – Verein für die sozialen und politischen Rechte von Prostitutierten // chartered union for the social and political rights for prostitutes.

      This group is located just in the cente of the red light district in Frankfurt am Main near the main central railway station, where about 1.000 sex worker work places are within tolerated 12 brothels since WW II (Laufhäuser, Zimmervermietungen

      Located in a house not so much illuminated, owned by the city and was used with other social projects, the group does counselling and advocacy for sex workers since 1999. It is one of the successive bodies of sex worker self support HWG – Huren Wehren sich Gemeinsam // whores fight back together. A name pro active chosen against stigma, because medical police called prostitutes “HWG” (häufig wechselnder Geschlechtsverkehr // person with frequently changing sexual intercourse) in times when sex workers falsely were regarded as vectors of diseases.

      Doña Carmen e.V. is not funded by the state or controlled by the churches as most of the other social support institutions for sex workers are but by donations which they ask for by every ocasion.

      Doña Carmen e.V. issue the prostitution magazine “la muchacha” (the women) annually since 2000

      Finally Doña Carmen e.V. provides research and great analyses to the social and political situation which often is against prostitution and prostitutes.

      The quote that “95% aller Prostituierten in Deutschland Zwangsprostituierte sind // 95% of all prostitutes are forced into work in Germany” which is circulated in fundamentalist anti sex work groups (feminist or religious) may be attributed to former high ranking single police man Detlef Ubben, Chef der Abteilung Menschenhandel beim Hamburger LKA, who has presented and written a book against decriminalisation of prostitution.

      Similarily in the south of Germany in Bavaria the official policy is more against prostitution and every sex worker has to go to the police first before starting to work in that city. There personal data are collected, the strict regulations are explained and eventually a photo is taken and special body markers like emboss or tattoos are documented. Some policemen would like to -and suggest that- collecting tax from prostitutes too. Many sex workers find the special police treatment very inhumane and degrading. More humiliating than any contact we had or can imagine to have within a bad customer session!

      More on Doña Carmen e.V. website:

      More information and resources on migration and trafficking are to be found here:

      April 14, 2012 at 7:19 pm

  7. Lisa

    In addition: ask any sexworker you know if they would stick to their “profession” after winning the lottery-jackpot – or if they would then prefer to have sex only with people they feel attracted to.

    April 10, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    • Ask any WORKER you know if they would stick to their profession after winning the lottery. I’ll bet upwards of 90% would say no – regardless of the industry.

      Seriously, that’s about the silliest argument I’ve ever seen.

      April 13, 2012 at 4:17 am

      • @Wendy

        Really? I am sure we can find something sillier. Don’t give up just yet.


        As I said before, you don’t have to agree, but you do have to read. You can easily find out more about Doña Carmen on their website. Frankly, that’s more than I can say about you.

        What Doña Carmen clearly wanted to achieve was to refute the claims made in the study that you quoted because the study is flawed. What more motivation do you need that a group of people wanting to refute incorrect claims about them made by others?

        Please kindly “put up or shut up” – meaning: provide your sources alongside your claims (e.g. the BKA claim).

        I actually am surprised that you think that sex is a private issue. Good for you. Why do you then advocate for people who buy sex to be kept in fear of imprisonment? You can’t have it both ways, I’m afraid.

        The gender pay gap certainly should be closed. I agree with you there. You might be surprised about the impact it may have on who suddenly might use their money to purchase sex. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that once women and men earned the same, the sex industry would have equal numbers of male and female clients. Probably not. But those who have large amounts of disposable incomes also have the power to purchase whatever they desire. So why wouldn’t female buyers of sex increase? Already those that can afford to buy sex.

        A point from which to start challenging your thinking could be Wendy’s article “It’s different for girls?”.

        “You must be joking. Talking of choices while saying they have none.”

        I often joke, even about serious topics, but not on this occasion. While I thank you for pointing out that my sentence wasn’t perfect, would you mind reading it again less nitpickingly and opinionated?

        But let me rephrase it so that it’s clear.

        I do not deny that x-amount of who you call “foreign (poor) women” might wish to have more choices, but for as long as they have limited choices, who is to deny them the right to choose?

        “To me the problem is quite similar to abortion.”

        I agree again if by “problem” you mean the fact that it’s mostly men who create bad laws while it seems that it’s mostly women who create negative propaganda. I am pretty sure that’s not what you meant, but, oh well.

        “I’m curious: How would you address trafficking or forced sexwork?”

        Contrary to the majority who seems to believe that focusing on the demand side will reduce trafficking, I support programmes directed at the supply side. Although I’m German, I am more familiar with trafficking prevention in South East Asia than in Europe. If you have a genuine interest to hear my answer, you can start by reading the abstract of my thesis.

        “In addition: ask any sexworker you know if they would stick to their “profession” after winning the lottery-jackpot – or if they would then prefer to have sex only with people they feel attracted to.”

        Let me ask you in return: would you stick to your “profession” after winning the lottery-jackpot – or would you then prefer to spend your time listening to sex workers instead of making generalising assumptions?

        April 13, 2012 at 2:47 pm

  8. I think it is worth to put my argument about media coverage on sexwork and human trafficking on this blog regarding this blog post and the upcoming new one.

    As a sexworker I do not recommend to promote anti-trafficking campaigns by dubious sources. There are a number of anti-trafficking-campaigns produced by sexworkers I do support, because sexworkers explicitly condemn trafficking.
    Anti-trafficking and interest-driven campaigns initially serve many influential lobbying groups, i.e. christian fundamentalists, right-wing feminists, safety and regulatory authorities who want to implement prostitution bans all over Europe to stop trafficking. This coalition of abolitionists pretend to prove evidence with junk science that no more than 3% work sex workers work independently and self-determined and all other sexworkers are mostly victims of coercion, exploitation and/or trafficking. These campaigns, including the European Women Lobbying Campaign, operate with false statistics to criminalize prostitution in total, declare self-determined sexwork as a myth, incapacitate sex workers and condemn self-determined sexwork as a result of a so called false consciousness.

    This always happens in the continuous mixing up of prostitution and trafficking spread by the media. Therefore human trafficking becomes a central part of the prostitution discourse. The undifferentiated view which uses one-sided reporting in the media needs to be targeted; in Germany where sexwork become legal in 2002 the media coverage promote strategically and helps to influence policy makers in the wake of the imminent amendment of this law. The proposed bill will bring more regulation of prostitution and sex workers with its facilities and policy needs to legitimize these measures publicly. It consequently repudiates failures in social and migration politics, the effects of globalization and its impact on social unequalitities that force people to migrate.

    Moreover sex workers and their allies understand prostitution as a self-determined and independent highly personal work. The Anti-Trafficking League uses any means available to condemn sexwork in total and denies self-determined decisions taken by sexworkers. In principle there is no forced prostitution, the word is misleading, but there is sexual exploitation in the context of human trafficking followed by inhuman labor conditions as in other industries that must prosecuted and punished. I m totally aware of the fact that slavery affects every continent and most countries, whereas men, women and children are trafficked and forced to work for little or no pay. They are physically constrained and are either owned or controlled by an employer
    also in private households i.e.

    Prostitution is the opposite: I understand the legitimate self-determined sexwork with all civil rights and obligations.

    Sexwork activists and their allies should strive constantly a matter of making differentiated educational work which I hope can also affect the future of the prostitution discourse and media coverage.

    April 14, 2012 at 5:14 am

  9. Pingback: Is sex work objectifying? « Research Project Korea

  10. Pingback: Prostitution Law: No Increase in Forced Prostitution | Research Project Korea

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