Sex Work and Human Rights

A sham of the “forced coalition”

Coalition Agreement CDU CSU SPD

Human Trafficking and Prostitution in the coalition agreement

As the fight against „forced prostitution”, or rather human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation* has received much attention by the media and the general public in Germany for quite some time, the subject has now also become an element of the coalition negotiations between the Conservatives (CDU/CSU) and Social Democrats (SPD).

Earlier this year, a law to fight human trafficking and control brothels, introduced by the ruling coalition of Conservatives and Liberals, had failed to pass the Bundesrat, the upper house of the German parliament, as “it didn’t satisfy the declared goal to reduce or rather fight human trafficking as well as to enable the necessary control of brothels (official statement of the Bundesrat), nor did it meet the fundamental concerns of experts.

The coalition agreement between the CDU/CSU (the Conservatives) and SPD (the Social Democrats) suggests that the Conservatives remain unwilling to revise the law as advised by the Bundesrat, whereas the Social Democrats, who passed the German Prostitution Act of 2002 together with the Greens, appear to have given up their resistance and now support the plans of the Conservatives, when only in September, they voted against them at the Bundesrat.

The coalition agreement includes the follow passage about the subject “Human Trafficking, Brothels”.

We want to better protect women from human trafficking and forced prostitution and punish the perpetrators more consistently. In the future, criminal convictions shall no longer collapse due to a lack of victims’ testimonies. In consideration of their contributions to investigations and criminal proceedings and of their personal situations, we will improve victims’ rights of residence and provide them with intensive support, care and counselling.

Furthermore, we will comprehensively revise the Prostitution Act with regards to the regulation of prostitution and improve the legal authority of the police to control brothels. We will take action not only against human traffickers, but also against those who knowingly and willingly take advantage of the plight of victims of human trafficking and forced prostitution and abuse them with sexual acts. In the fight against human trafficking, a stronger focus will be placed on labour exploitation. (Translation by Matthias Lehmann, Please see original text here.)

While at first glance, this may sound as if Angela Merkel was keeping her promise to dedicate some extra attention to the subject, the passage actually holds a number of flaws, which will be illustrated below.

1. Gender bias

“We want to better protect women from human trafficking and forced prostitution”

Male and transgender sex workers are not mentioned, although particularly the latter are disproportionately affected by violent assaults.

More often than not, trans*women have to rely on sex work since the job market doesn’t offer them sufficient alternatives to make a living. Faced with violence, street-based migrant sex workers are faced with particular difficulties, because they cannot turn to the police. All in all, they are even less visible and noticeable than other trans* women. [Source: Gays & Lesbians from Turkey, GLADT e.V.]

2a. No unlimited right of residence for victims of human trafficking

In consideration of their contributions to investigations and criminal proceedings and of their personal situations, we will improve victims’ rights of residence and provide them with intensive support, care and counselling.”

One of the few aspects prostitution proponents and opponents agree upon is that victims of sexual exploitation should be granted an unlimited right of residence regardless of their court testimonies against human traffickers. Quote from the referral to the arbitration panel by the Bundesrat:

Another important component to effectively fight human trafficking is to strengthen victims of human trafficking. The law excluded this part. The framework of his right of residence needs to accommodate the particular needs of the situations in which the persons concerned are in. Limitations to the right of residence, for example, must not prevent the participation in witness protection programmes.

Although the coalition agreement doesn’t exclude the right of residence entirely, the wording remains vague to such an extent, that a real reform is hardly to be expected. The question of the compensation of victims also remains open, since the funding and feasibility of the intensive support, care and counselling are not addressed.

2b. Irrelevance of the testimonies of victims of human trafficking

“In the future, criminal convictions shall no longer collapse due to a lack of victims’ testimonies.”

One of the most dangerous ideas is the proposition to ignore the testimonies of alleged or actual victims of human trafficking during criminal proceedings. While the frustration of law enforcement officers over the difficulty to obtain evidence is comprehensible, the solution can’t be to disregard the testimony or the refusal to give testimony of victims of human trafficking.

This would mean that the testimony of law enforcement officers and third parties would outweigh the testimony of the victims themselves. In light of the xenophobic hypothesis by anti-prostitution activists that poverty in the countries of origin alone is sufficient proof of coercion where migrant sex workers are concerned, it is to be feared that detectives like Helmut Sporer from the criminal investigation department in Augsburg, and others like him, would simply dismiss the testimonies of sex workers.

Sporer, who among other things demands a registration law for prostitutes and the reintroduction of mandatory health checks, shares the view of feminist and anti-prostitution activist Alice Schwarzer, that around 90 per cent of all women in prostitution work “under coercion or due to hardships, or pretend to do it voluntarily”. Judging from this statement, Sporer denies the ability of 90 per cent of all sex workers in Germany to make decisions according to their free will. Combined with the plans to ignore the testimonies of alleged victims of human trafficking in the future, this mentality poses great risks for the situation of self-determined sex workers.

3. Misrepresentation of the control of brothels

“Furthermore, we will comprehensively revise the Prostitution Act with regards to the regulation of prostitution and improve the legal authority of the police to control brothels.”

Despite claims to the contrary from the Conservatives and some Social Democrats, there are already control mechanisms in place and they are extensively used, too.

In the state of Berlin, tax fraud and criminal investigation officers can control any brothel without cause at any given time, as the squad leaders of the ‘AG Rotlicht’ (Task Force “Red Light”) of the criminal investigation department in Berlin confirm.

At a recent panel discussion organised by Alice Schwarzer in Berlin, social worker Sabine Constabel reported that in Stuttgart, all sex workers are monitored and recorded. In its 2012 report Human Trafficking for the Purpose of Sexual Exploitation, the State Office of Criminal Investigations in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) mentioned that despite the high density of controls in NRW, the number of victims of human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation had declined. As the report points out, there is no identifiable effect of the Prostitution Act on the situation of victims of human trafficking.

Therefore, the claim that the police is lacking the legal authority to control brothels is incorrect where Berlin, Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia is concerned. In fact, the legal authority of the police, which is regulated differently on a state level, remained unaffected by the Prostitution Act. When anti-prostitution activists make claims to the contrary, they are either poorly informed or deny this fact intentionally, whereas politicians utilise the subject to cut a good figure in front of their citizens.

4. Obstruction of the fight against „forced prostitution“

“We will take action not only against human traffickers, but also against those who knowingly and willingly take advantage of the plight of victims of human trafficking and forced prostitution and abuse them with sexual acts.”

The above mentioned frustration of law enforcement officers over the difficulty to obtain evidence is as comprehensible as the general intention to punish those who knowingly take advantage of the plight of victims of human trafficking. In practice, prove of this knowledge is difficult to not at all possible to obtain, and this passage in the coalition agreement leaves this question unanswered.

It is to be feared that clients of sex workers will shy away from cooperating with the police, should there be uncertainty over whether or not they could face punishment if they were to report suspicions. As in my previous article, I would like to cite Pye Jacobsson, a sex worker and spokesperson for Rose Alliance, an organisation by and for sex and erotic workers in Sweden.

“In the sex industry there are people that are being abused, that are suffering, that are trafficking victims etc. But the normal way for the police to find out is not from sex workers, it’s from clients. Because there are clients who are actually not assholes, they will say ‘this doesn’t look good’, they will call the police. And of course now they don’t call the police anymore, because if they call the police they will be accused of a crime.” (To view the interview, please click here.)

5. Lack of definitions

“In the fight against human trafficking, a stronger focus will be placed on labour exploitation.”

Since the passage is titled “Human Trafficking, Brothels”, the coalition agreement here does not appear to refer to labour exploitation in general, but to human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation exclusively. One can assume that the above sentence hints at so-called flatrate brothels, about which Undine de Revière, sex worker and spokesperson for the Trade Association Erotic and Sexual Services (BesD) in Germany, states the following.

Generally, we favour maintaining the diversity of work places and work modes of sex workers. I know women who like to work exactly like that – because they don’t want to be bothered with client acquisition, because they value the fixed daily income, and because their earnings are often not worse but sometimes even better there. And, to say it directly: at first glance, the flatrate stuff sounds, let’s say, overstraining. But it’s predominantly an advertising ploy. Those customers pay once and then want to do it ten times, but can only do it twice. But of course there are women who are unable to cope with it, and who do not want such working conditions and find them terrible.

The exact plans of the looming coalition of Conservatives and Social Democrats where a regulation or ban of flatrate brothels are concerned remain nebulous, as so many aspects in this passage of the coalition agreement.

Conclusion: A sham of the “forced coalition”

Just as the law to fight human trafficking and control brothels by the coalition of Conservatives and Liberals, which failed to pass the Bundesrat, the plans of the prospective “forced coalition” of Conservatives and Social Democrats fail to lay the foundations to effectively fight human trafficking and provide protection as well as an unlimited right of residence for victims of human trafficking. Furthermore, there is again a lack of definitions, definitions, definitions.

The question of the funding for the planned measures remains open, just as the question how to prove it when someone knowingly and willingly takes advantage of the plight of victims of human trafficking and “forced prostitution. This proposition to no longer take the testimonies of alleged victims of human trafficking into account is particularly alarming, as it opens the door for paternalistic law enforcement officers to disempower and infantalize self-determined sex workers and migrants. In light of Helmut Sporer’s advocacy to reintroduce mandatory health checks for sex workers, it seems possible that forcing sex workers into mandatory “rehabilitation programmes” may be next.

This sham by the CDU/CSU and SPD indicates a fundamental misjudgement of the subject matters, caused by the continued disregard of the opinions of experts, sex workers and other affected parties. Judging from this coalition agreement, one thing is certain: these plans will neither help to effectively fight human trafficking, nor will they provide an effective protection for victims of human trafficking. Instead, an erosion of sex workers’ and migrants’ rights is to be feared.

In closing, I would like to pass the word to the aforementioned Undine de Rivière.

As if the hastily composed law right before the parliament’s summer break wasn’t enough, we are yet again faced with a smorgasbord of discriminating and counterproductive symbolic politics that aims to satisfy the public pressure created fuelled by sensational media and hate campaigns as quickly as possible. For the second time within the space of a few months the chance is squandered to work in an objective and considerate way and together with those affected on practical solutions for the actual problems in the industry.


*Forced Prostitution

Since the term “forced prostitution“ is contested, it is here put into quotation marks.

“Forced prostitution doesn’t exist. Prostitution is a voluntary sexual service provision that is based on the premise of mutual consent between adult contractual partners. Without this consent, it is not prostitution but forced sexuality, i.e. sexualised violence.” Press Release by the Federal Task Force Law and Prostitution, March 14th, 2005

About this translation

While I always try to provide as many English language sources as possible, most of the links in the above article lead to German language sources. Please use a translation website or post any questions you might have in the contact form below.

One response

  1. Pingback: Bundesrat demands objective debate and differentiated measures amid plans to reform Prostitution Act | Research Project Germany

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