Sex workers against Human Trafficking
Please note: this article is from June 2013 and deals with a law that was eventually dismissed by the Bundesrat, the upper house of the German parliament.
Last night, the German parliament passed the “Law to Fight Human Trafficking and Control Brothels”, although experts had unanimously dismissed it. The new era began even before the vote when police launched what might have been the biggest ever crackdown on the red light district near Frankfurt’s main station.
Experts of all shades dismiss government’s bill to control prostitution
On Monday, experts unanimously rejected the government’s bill to fight trafficking and control brothels (17/13706). In a public hearing of the legal committee, the invited experts argued against the bill. While most stated that the bill was a first step in the right direction, it required many amendments and many aspects were judged as too vague. With its bill, the ruling coalition aims to better fight human trafficking by introducing new criminal law provisions, and to inspect brothels in accordance with trade regulations. Complicity in human trafficking for the purpose of organ trading will become punishable under law, whereas so far, it was only seen as abetment. The new regulations also include cases of human trafficking for the purpose of begging or to force others to commit crimes. By strengthening this and other criminal law provisions, the government intends to implement EU-standards to prevent and fight human trafficking.
Dr. Lea Ackermann, chairwoman of the aid organisation Solwodi (and staunch opponent of prostitution, A/N), criticised the bill proposal as insufficient and demanded an unconditional right of residence for victims of forced prostitution from (non-EU) third countries that is not dependent on the readiness of women to give testimony. “That’s the least that we can offer these women.”, said Ackermann. Especially in cases of human trafficking and forced prostitution, prosecution were often only possible with victims’ testimony.
Sabine Constabel from Stuttgart’s health office (another staunch opponent of prostitution, A/N) said, the bill would not alleviate the misery in prostitution. She suggested to take lessons from the Swedish Model (that criminalises the buyers of sexual services) and demanded to raise the minimum age for sex workers to 21, to employ more social workers, and to introduce a rent ceiling for brothel rooms rented by sex workers.
Attorney Margarete von Galen said, the bill didn’t address the worst grievances and would only serve as work-creation programme for the courts. She criticised that the bill addressed “Prostitutionsstätten“ (lit. places where prostitution takes place) but didn’t define them at all, an aspect that all experts criticised.
Michael Heide from Karo e.V., a streetwork project at the border between Germany and the Czech Republic, said, the only change in the bill was changing concerned the age in article 232 of the criminal code (human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation). According to him, the change from a statutory to a criminal offence was important and would improve police investigations. More generally he called for a better implementation of existing laws. Abstract laws wouldn’t change much.
Stephanie Klee, a sex worker and activist who runs the Highlights Agency, rejected the bill entirely and labelled it “hasty and legally crude”. She demanded a comprehensive concept that would guarantee that would put sex work on an equal footing with other trades and create legal certainty. After all, the constitution guaranteed the right to choose one’s profession.
Carsten Moritz from the federal criminal police also criticised the bill. While it was good to implement the EU guidelines, the main problem would remain: the element of the offence of human trafficking would continue to be predominantly dependent on the testimony of victims and that was hard to come by. In that sense, the bill would not reflect the EU directive.
Irmingard Schewe-Gerigk from Terre des Femmes supported Ms Ackermann’s demand for an unconditional right of residence independent from any testimonies of prostitutes at the courts against their pimps. She also demanded an entirely new legal package. Against this background, she supported the amendment of the law proposed by the Greens.
Marc Schulte from the district office of Berlin-Charlottenburg spoke out in favour of introducing legal and structural minimum standards for brothels. That, he argued, would help open “closed doors” (in reference to a statement of Ms Ackermann about sexual exploitation behind closed doors) and enable the control of brothels via trade laws. In his view, the bill was a patchwork proposal that reflected that its authors had still not achieved a change of consciousness in the spirit of the prostitution law of 2002.
According to Helmut Sporer from the criminal investigation department in Augsburg, the prostitution law of 2002 had forced sex worker into “a type of slavery”. He claimed that before 2002, women (in prostitution) had been in control but now brothel owners had, as employers, the right of direction (Weisungsrecht), which gave them carte blanche to have them do whatever they asked. Therefore, the abolition of the right of direction would be the best, Sporer said. The bill was merely a first symbolic step, but its contents were full of weaknesses. Strictly speaking, prostitution was not a trade, he added, but a highly personal service. Therefore, using trade laws would be the wrong way to go.
(Source: German Parliament, Translation: Matthias Lehmann. Please note that the translation of statements by outspoken prostitution abolitionists as Ms Ackermann, Ms Constabel or Mr Sporer does not at all represent an endorsement of their general views. I merely translated the views expressed to illustrate that despite their great differences, all experts present unanimously dismissed the bill.)
Sex workers protest against new law
Last Monday, I participated at a protest against the government’s bill. The protest was organised by Sexwork Germany, a union of sex workers all across Germany, which is currently in the course of formation.
Afterwards, I joined the participants at the abovementioned hearing of the legal committee. What struck me was that, although the experts were diametrically opposed about the subject of prostitution, they unanimously agreed that the bill of the Christian-conservative-liberal government was unnecessarily hasty.
Since the media almost always produce distorted reports about sex work and since sex workers are rarely given the chance to elaborately explain their positions, I will here cite the press release of Sex Work Germany, that rejects the bill entirely and demands a separation of laws related to human trafficking and those related to sex work.
- Human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation or for the purpose of labour exploitation is an unacceptable criminal offence. Offenders should be prosecuted and existing laws are sufficient.
- Regulations pertaining to the protection of victims, however, are insufficient, and we support their expansion (as is already practice in other EU countries).
- Sex work is work. Sex workers do still not enjoy the same rights as other workers. It’s high time to expand the prostitution law of 2002, which also include clear and unitary regulations for the different types of places in Germany where sexual services are provided.
- We are against special laws and demand to finally put sex work on an equal footing with other gainful occupations and to decriminalise our industry.
(Excerpt from Reasons for the protest on June 24th, 2012)
Please click here to view a photo album from the protest in front of the German parliament. (No Facebook account required.)
Quo vadis, Germany?
In her article Back and Forth, Maggie McNeill looks at the past, present and future of the struggle for sex workers’ rights and concludes:
“In the long run, human rights must win: the trajectory of history has been for decreasing state control over individuals’ sex lives, and the number of health officials, human rights campaigners and other respected voices calling for decriminalization increases every month. But sometimes, when one is forced to look at developing history from the inside as we mere humans are, it can be awfully hard to tell.”
One can only hope that she is right and that eventually, reason will prevail. If the future is bright, the present is not in Germany, where a government, impotent to fight actual exploitation of human beings, discards experts’ opinions in favour of sensationalist media reports and equips the police with ever more powers to harass sex workers and invade their work places without probable cause.