Parliamentary Enquiry about Prostitution and Police Powers
The response contradicts claims made by anti-prostitution activists and some police representatives that the Prostitution Act of 2002 (ProstG) was hindering police investigations related to combating human trafficking. According to the Berlin Police, no such hindrance exists since the ProstG came into force.
Continue reading at Research Project Germany
In May 2013, leading German news magazine DER SPIEGEL published a cover story on the alleged failure of the German prostitution law which, according to DER SPIEGEL, rendered the State complicit in human trafficking. Contrary to South Korea, prostitution is legal in Germany, though it is heavily regulated in most municipalities.
Since its publication, the SPIEGEL article has been quoted by campaigners for the criminalisation of prostitution in many parts of the world. Most recently, Mary Honeyball, a member of the European Parliament for the British Labour Party, cited the article as evidence in her “Report on sexual exploitation and prostitution and its impact on gender equality”. The Honeyball Report was subsequently voted upon in the European Parliament, despite strong opposition from 560 NGOs as well as 94 academics and researchers who published a counter-report exposing the inaccurate and misrepresentative data used by Mary Honeyball.
Notwithstanding, a majority of MEPs backed the report, which was adopted as a non-binding resolution, thus formally establishing the EU’s stance on prostitution as being in support of the ‘Swedish Model’ that criminalises the buyers of sexual services.
Back in June 2013, Sonja Dolinsek and Matthias Lehmann had published a critique of the SPIEGEL article, which they found to be deeply flawed and failing to address numerous relevant aspects of human trafficking prevention and prosecution, including victim protection.
Noticing that the SPIEGEL article had found its way into the Korean news media, Research Project Korea launched a small fundraiser to have the critique translated into Korean. Nearly 90% of the funding target were reached quickly and the translation was completed at the end of June. The real challenge, however, was just beginning.
The plan to place the translated article in a Korean newspaper proved to be extremely difficult. Many editorial staff didn’t even bother to reply, but eventually, one of the biggest dailies expressed interest. The editorial department even planned to expand the article to include comments from sex workers and feminist academics. After protracted correspondence – months would literally pass by until the research team received new responses – it then suddenly transpired via a contact that the article wouldn’t be published after all. A journalist from the newspaper later confirmed this, without giving any reasons.
Although a lot of time has passed, we have now decided to self-publish the article, since the constitutional review of the Anti-Sex Trade Law in South Korea has still not concluded; a second reason is the significance the SPIEGEL article appears to retain for prostitution law discourses, especially outside Germany, where, long after the print edition has been recycled, it finds acceptance as unrefuted truth and continues to be utilised by anti-prostitution activists. It is currently disseminated on Korean online forums to insert some much-needed factual evidence into prostitution discourses in South Korea.
To view the Korean version of our article, please click here.
The research team would like to express its deepest gratitude to the generous donors who helped fund the translation as well as to the translators, Miss CHO Woori, Miss SONG Byol and [Anonymous].
560 NGOs and 94 academics reject report by Mary Honeyball
560 NGOs, including 472 based in Europe, have asked the members of the European Parliament to reject a “Report on Prostitution and Sexual Exploitation and its Impact on Gender Equality”, written by Mary Honeyball, MEP for London. They were joined by 94 academics and researchers from Europe, North America, and the Asia-Pacific, who published a letter and a critical review of Mary Honeyball’s report, which will be voted upon during a plenary session on the 26th of February 2014 at the European Parliament. The report recommends member states to adopt the so-called “Swedish Model”, which criminalises buying sexual services, whereas selling them remains legal (but very often criminalised in practice).
+++ Update! In an email to the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), dated February 24th, 2014, Mary Honeyball has slandered the above NGOs as being “comprised of pimps”. Click here to view a screenshot of the email. +++
Academics criticise use of biased, inaccurate and disproven data
Responding to an initiative by the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE), the letter and critical review, signed by 94 academics and researchers, contradicts Mary Honeyball’s claim, made in a recent interview on LBC Radio, that her report had “a good basis of evidence and facts”.
The letter states, “We are concerned that this report is not of an acceptable standard on which to base a vote that would have such a serious, and potentially dangerous, impact on already marginalised populations.” It continues, “The report by Ms Honeyball fails to address the problems and harms that can surround sex work and instead produces biased, inaccurate and disproven data. We believe that policies should be based on sound evidence and thus hope that you will vote against the motion to criminalise sex workers’ clients.”
The critical review attests to Mary Honeyball’s “selection biases and crude misassumptions” and finds that she “substantively misinterpreted” two of her sources, namely a report commissioned by the City of Amsterdam and the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice and another by the German Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth.
The letter concludes, “To base any policy on such a methodologically flawed document, particularly one which would have such a detrimental impact on the human rights and wellbeing of a large number of marginalised individuals, would be setting a dangerous precedent.”
Click here to view or download the letter and counter-report.
NGOs denounce conflation of sex work and human trafficking
The letter endorsed by 560 NGOs, among them many organisations working with victims of human trafficking and migrant sex workers, denounces Mary Honeyball’s report for its conflation of sex work and trafficking. Citing a 2013 report by the Dutch National Rapporteur on Human Trafficking in Human Beings, the authors remind the MEPs that “there is no evidence that legalised prostitution increases trafficking”.
The letter continues, “A large number of HIV and health organisations have warned policy makers of the dangers of criminalising either sex workers or their clients. Worryingly, the question of public health is largely ignored in this report. We quote UNAIDS Advisory Group on HIV and Sex Work in their 2011 report to accompany the UNAIDS Guidance Note on HIV and Sex Work (2009): ‘States should move away from criminalising sex work or activities associated with it . Decriminalisation of sex work should include removing criminal penalties for purchase and sale of sex, management of sex workers and brothels, and other activities related to sex work.’”
Click here to view or download the letter.
Click here to view a separate statement by the La Strada International NGO Platform – ‘united against trafficking in human beings’ – which consists of NGOs from Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Macedonia, Moldova, the Netherlands, Poland, Serbia, and Ukraine.
What can you do?
Click here to sign the petition and tell members of the European Parliament to say NO to the criminalisation of sex workers’ clients.
Write to your MEP. If you live in one off the 28 members country of the European Union, you can directly write to your MEP. ICRSE has put together a guide to action for individuals and organisations. It includes versions in italiano, deutsch, español, român, português, polski, suomalainen, and francais.
Highlights from a symposium about the German Prostitution Act at the Urania Berlin on December 9th, 2013. The event was organised by Felicitas Schirow who had invited experts from the fields of justice, criminology, social work, sociology, and social sciences, as well as an expert from the Berlin State Office of Criminal Investigation (LKA) and two women’s rights spokeswomen from the Left Party and the Greens.
Facts and Figures about the German Prostitution Act
“The Swedish Model has led to bizarre outcomes. Firstly, prostitution in Sweden has not decreased. Secondly, in order to prosecute punters, the police can only conduct investigations under degrading conditions. In my view, if you want to create a law, as the coalition agreement suggests, then you should first do proper research about legal facts, before you conclude some backroom deal without rhyme or reason that only serves to make matters worse.”
– Percy MacLean, Chief judge at the Berlin Administrative Court (ret.), former director of the German Institute for Human Rights, recipient of the 2004 Carl von Ossietzky Medal by the International League for Human Rights (ILHR) which honours citizens or initiatives that promote basic human rights
“We say that the prostitution law needs to be updated. The interior ministers have demanded (a reform) in 2010, but it still hasn’t been implemented. What is now being demanded in the media is in fact the long overdue implementation of this resolution. I believe it’s justified to say that prostitution isn’t a job like any other but to automatically equate prostitution with human trafficking isn’t fair, isn’t appropriate, and doesn’t contribute to the discourse. I’ve met enough women that prostituted themselves voluntarily, that were neither forced nor went into that line of work due to economic necessities, and I believe the state should acknowledge that. We witness it in our daily work, and that is why I always ask for a factual and differentiated view, maybe with a few uncomfortable comments by the police.”
– Heike Rudat, Director of the unit dealing with organised crime at the Berlin State Office of Criminal Investigation (LKA)
“If there is no majority for a sensible law, then I believe we don’t necessarily need a (new) law. Article 180a of the Criminal Code – that is one of the four laws that were adopted in 2002, at least one, that’s a significant share – prohibits brothel owners to offer prostitution in a fashion that limits the personal and economic liberties of those employed there. If extortionate rents and fees are charged, if no receipts are given for the payment of provided services etc. – those aren’t findings of the department for organised crime but from female police officers that work in the milieu – then those would be concrete facts that would raise the suspicion of exploitative prostitution being offered there, and existing laws already allow for such a brothel to be controlled. I would have no objections if legislation would further clarify these matters but then one must no longer view them from the human trafficking angle but talk about price controls through the Trade Supervisory Office, about the prevention of exploitative prostitution, and about the implementation – at long last – of the Prostitution Act, and one would have to completely change the jargon. The Prostitution Act was torpedoed. Let us finally put the Prostitution Act into effect. And, dear women, if you believe you need to be dominated by an old woman named Alice Schwarzer, oh my…”
– Prof. Dr. emer. Monika Frommel Criminologist, former director of the Institute of Sanction Law and Criminology at the University of Kiel
“Since there are repeated calls again for controls, controls, and more controls, let’s take a look at the subject of health. I can honestly say that Berlin’s outreach clinics seldom report the outbreak of diseases where the general public is concerned, and the women (in prostitution) are also free to visit a doctor. Their bodies are their assets. They have to be fit. They can’t say, all right, nothing to worry about, I might spread some diseases a little. It’s been suggested time and again that prostitutes are guilty of spreading venereal diseases. It’s wrong. That occurs on different levels.”
– Ilona Hengst, Social worker with 25 years of experience working with sex workers, previously held positions at several district offices in Berlin
“There has to be collaboration with sex workers, women’s projects and all stakeholders to pull together in one direction, to get this discourse into the right direction, because currently, it goes into the wrong one.”
– Evrim Sommer, Spokeswoman for women’s rights and member of the Berlin parliament for the Left Party (Linkspartei)
“Others have already mentioned the right of direction (Weisungsrecht) here today. I believe it’s very important to emphasise this subject, since the idea of further restrictions on the right of direction was also discussed among the Greens. Some suggest that brothel owners should no longer be allowed to assign the workplace or schedule, which to my knowledge are the only aspects the (already restricted) right of direction permits them to control. I believe this is the wrong debate. One should better come out and admit that one’s actual goal is to prohibit prostitution than trying to further restrict the right of direction, just to make it impossible to work in prostitution.”
– Gesine Agena, Spokeswoman for women’s rights and member of the federal board of the German Greens
“What actually happens in the setting of prostitution, when a client comes to a prostitute or talks to her? When the client goes to the prostitute, assuming they’re both adults, then it’s usually the prostitute who specifies and determines things relatively clearly, because most men, at least in my experience, are not necessarily in a position to clearly express what they actually like or want, and so she is the one making suggestions. Then they negotiate, about the price, too, and once they come to an agreement, the door closes, or the car door closes, or wherever they go together, and then a sexual service is performed. It’s a sexual and proactive act. The woman neither sells her body, nor does she sell her soul. Some people, and our society is no exception, apparently cannot imagine that women can actively offer and negotiate those services, and that they are basically in charge of these situations. I believe this is something that is very difficult to communicate and where we always get stuck at the client/prostitute level, e.g. where the criminalisation of clients is concerned. And where physical or sexualised violence does occur, we enter an area, also where criminal proceedings are concerned, of bodily harm, grievous bodily harm, rape etc. That is one level.”
– Christiane Howe, Sociologist at the Institute for Social Studies at Humboldt University Berlin
“Over the last few years, sex workers have told me time and time again about the physical and verbal abuse sex workers experience at the hands of police officers, including rape and the demand of “freebies”, i.e. sexual services in exchange for not being arrested, and there is ample documentation of this happening. Licensing or registration models have proven ineffective, or rather, where there’s a positive impact, it benefits only a small number of sex workers, since it was shown that in places where such models were introduced, the vast majority of sex workers worked outside of those legal frameworks. In addition, the measures that are involved often represent human rights violations, such as the forced outing of sex workers through compulsory registration schemes or mandatory health checks, which were both suggested by the editorial staff of the EMMA magazine and Mr Sporer from the criminal investigation department in Augsburg.”
– Matthias Lehmann, PhD Candidate at the Faculty of Law, Queens University Belfast
“I organised this event so that politicians, who will someday, maybe soon, create laws affecting us, cannot say they would have made different decisions if they had known about the contents of this event.”
– Felicitas Schirow, Since 1997 Owner of the brothel “Cafe Pssst!” in Berlin Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf. The decision by the Berlin Administrative Court on December 1st, 2000, to declare the withdrawal of her pub license as unlawful is widely seen as precedent that triggered the adoption of the Prostitution Act of 2002.
Since several guests approached me after the event with the request for a copy of my lecture manuscript, I subsequently made it available. Please click here to retrieve the manuscript in English translation as a PDF file.
Please note: This manuscript must not be cited or otherwise publicised without express permission by the author. Although several authors as well as titles of cited sources are mentioned in the text, it contains no links or a bibliography as customary for academic articles. In addition, not all quotes are highlighted as such.
The text includes passages from press releases by the English Collective of Prostitutes and the Sex Worker Open University. Should you wish to cite this transcript or encounter difficulties to locate the respective sources, please send an email to Matthias Lehmann at yongsagisa[at]gmail[punkt]com.
© 2013-2014 Felicitas Schirow
℗ 2013-2014 blumlein records – Andrew Levine
The following is a statement in support of the petition by the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE) ahead of a vote at the European Parliament at the end of this month. Please sign and share it widely.
Dear Members of the European Parliament,
I am well aware that the matter you have been asked to vote upon is for many a complicated or uncomfortable one. However, regardless of your moral or religious beliefs, I would like to ask you to look at the abundance of evidence that counters the claims made by your colleague Mary Honeyball and vote against the criminalisation of clients of sex workers.
There is sufficient evidence that the Swedish Model to criminalise the purchase of sexual services has not only failed to curb human trafficking, it has also created an environment that increases the stigma attached to sex work and puts sex workers at greater risk of violence, at times with disastrous consequences, including murder. For those unfamiliar with the subject, I have written a little introduction which includes references to relevant studies.  In addition, you may look at studies and reports by the UN , the WHO , the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women , and others , incl. the Swedish Police , which is exactly what Mary Honeyball did obviously not do. Instead, she chose sources to back up her arguments drawn from a thoroughly discredited researcher (Melissa Farley, see Bedford v. Canada, 353-356) , an equally thoroughly debunked article by German news magazine Der Spiegel  and other questionable sources.
Apart from being firmly opposed to Ms Honeyball’s views, I find it disgraceful that a member of your assembly displays such poor work ethics that could be described as ill-informed at best, though deceptive might be the more appropriate term here. It is disappointing that time, efforts and taxes are being spent to form a proposal that fails to address problems that do exist in the sex industry and instead aims to add to them.
Please let reason prevail, listen to sex workers, and vote against the criminalisation of their clients.
PhD Candidate in Law, Queens University Belfast
 Lehmann “Criminalising the payment for sexual services – An introduction for the uninitiated” http://wp.me/p294H2-NM
 UNDP “Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific” http://www.undp.org/content/dam/undp/library/hivaids/English/HIV-2012-SexWorkAndLaw.pdf
 WHO “Violence against sex workers and HIV prevention” http://www.who.int/gender/documents/sexworkers.pdf
 GAATW “Collateral Damage – The Impact of Anti-Trafficking Measures on Human Rights around the World” http://www.gaatw.org/Collateral%20Damage_Final/singlefile_CollateralDamagefinal.pdf
 Dodillet, Östergren “The Swedish Sex Purchase Act: Claimed Success and Documented Effects“ http://gup.ub.gu.se/records/fulltext/140671.pdf
 Swedish National Police board “Trafficking in human beings for sexual and other purposes” https://www.polisen.se/Global/www%20och%20Intrapolis/Informationsmaterial/01%20Polisen%20nationellt/Engelskt%20informationsmaterial/Trafficking_1998_/Trafficking_report_13_20130530.pdf
 See Judge Himel’s comments in Bedford v. Canada [353-356] www.canlii.org/en/on/onsc/doc/2010/2010onsc4264/2010onsc4264.html
 Dolinsek, Lehmann “Does legal prostitution really increase human trafficking in Germany?” http://wp.me/p1NLSO-eb
“The biggest contributor to pushing sex work underground are the authorities.” A banner – previously used at the press conference by the Hanteo National Union of Sex Workers – hangs forlorn between two brothels in Yeongdeungpo, Seoul, as the red light district is closed on Korean Sex Workers’ Day 2012. (Photo by Matthias Lehmann)
Report on Public Opinion of Anti-Trade Sex Law
In 2011, the Hyundai Research Institute published the findings of a survey commissioned by the Hanteo National Union of Sex Workers. It examined “the changes in public opinions on sex trade after the enactment of the Anti-Trade Sex Law” in South Korea based on interviews with 1,000 adults from different age groups and all walks of life in a nationwide telephone survey.
Yeon Ju OH is a co-editor of Cyberfeminism 2.0 and has been researching women in technology, the relationship between gender and new media technologies, and feminist knowledge production. Her interests include the transnationalisation of feminist knowledge.
I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Ms Oh who volunteered to translate the report to make it accessible to a wider audience and help to further a better knowledge exchange between the global south and north.
South Korean Model: The Anti-Trade Sex Law
In September 2000, the notorious Gunsan Brothel Fire killed five women who had been held captive. Their tragic deaths exposed the conditions in Korea’s sex industry and triggered a campaign by women’s rights activists to reform the country’s prostitution laws. Their proposals became the blueprint for the Special Laws on Sex Trade (성매매 특별법, Seongmaemae tteukbyeol beob), enacted in 2004, which include a Protection and Prevention Act and a Punishment Act, which penalises both buyers and sellers of sexual acts with up to one year in prison or fines up to 3 million won (approx. £1,715/€2,075/$2,825), except for those who were coerced into selling sex. Those who force others to sell sex are subject to up to 10 years in prison or fines of up to 100 million won (approx. £57,000/€70,000/$94,000).
The Anti-Sex Trade Law of 2004 replaced the Law Against Morally Depraved Behaviours (Prostitution) of 1961 (윤락행위등방지법, Yullak haengui deung bangji beob). Interestingly, the new law replaced the term “prostitution” (윤락) with “sex trade/sex trafficking” (성매매) as the former was found to imply the “moral corruption of the engaged women” while the latter was deemed to be neutral in value. What this illustrates, however, is the law’s disregard of sex work as an act of self-determination and the definition of transactional sex, i.e. the receipt of monetary or other material benefits in exchange for sexual acts, as inherently exploitative.
By passing the Anti-Sex Trade Law, the government vowed to eliminate prostitution and protect victims of exploitation and violence in the sex industry, drawing inspiration from the so-called Swedish Model that criminalises the buyers of sexual acts. Although representatives of the Swedish government continue to claim that the law successfully reduced prostitution and human trafficking, a 2011 report by the Swedish police found that between 2008 and 2010, all those criminal offences the Sex Purchase Act from 1999 was supposed to tackle had actually increased, including a number of human trafficking offences, the purchase of sexual services and even the purchase of sex acts with children. In November 2013, Equality Minister Maria Arnholm voiced her concern that “prostitution in Sweden today is more affected by trafficking, compared to seven years ago” and announced to further examine the effects of Sweden’s prostitution law.
The Ministry of Gender Equality celebrated the Anti-Sex Trade Law legislation as a milestone achievement that would “vigorously strengthen the protection of the human rights of women in prostitution”. However, others criticised the legislation’s discriminatory attitude towards sex workers, who remain criminalised unless they claim to be victims. This “distinction between victims and those who [voluntarily] sell sex is actually one between protection and punishment” and categorises women into “good women who are worthy of help” and “bad ones who need to be punished”, thus continuing the stigmatisation of women who sell sex.
Challenges of the Anti-Sex Trade Law
In June 2006, the Korean Constitutional Court ruled 8:1 to uphold the law in the “So-called Brothel Building Provider Case”. A complainant who owned buildings in a red light district had argued that since his properties could not be leased out for any purpose other than brothels, regulating and punishing the leasing out as thus excessively infringed upon his right to property. The judges dismissed his complaint arguing that “the public good that may be achieved by preventing the deep-seated abuse and infringement of human rights of sexual traffic in the brothel area, and ultimately closing down the brothel area itself” was of greater importance “than the short term private losses suffered by the complainant”.
In January 2013, Criminal Law Judge OH Won Chan from the District Court in Northern Seoul accepted the request of a 41-year-old sex worker, surnamed Kim, for the legal examination of the Anti-Sex Trade Law and referred the case to the Constitutional Court for judgement. Kim had been fined 500,000 won (approx. £285/€345/$470) for selling sex in violation of the laws. The request is based on the premise that in the absence of coercion or exploitation, sex work should fall within an individual’s right to self-determination and that adults have the right to engage in consensual sexual acts without the state’s interference.
Korean legal experts appear to agree with that notion. According to HAN Sang Hee, professor at Konkuk University Law School in Seoul, “the policy approach to sex work in South Korea has centred on regulation [punishment], viewing it simply as an ‘evil’. The significance of this constitutionality review request is that it positions sex work as a matter of women’s rights and provides a starting point for a debate on expanding women’s rights to self-determination.” And according to HOH Il Tae, professor at Dong-A University Law School in Seoul, “criminal punishment should be a last resort. The state needs to refrain from interfering in personal matters that do not involve sexual acts with minors. The responsibility of the state is to monitor, protect, and/or provide appropriate education for the women who engage in sex work to earn money and the men who purchase their services.”
Public Opinion: An ineffective law in dire need of reform
The survey by the Hyundai Research Institute revealed that 23.2% of respondents believed sex trade* had increased since the enactment of Anti-Sex Trade Law, while 8.9% thought it had declined. The highest percentage (49.9%) thought the law had made “no difference”. While 29.3% of the respondents thought, the abolition of red-light districts had a positive impact on efforts to eradicate sex trade, in most respondent groups, the percentage of those who felt it had neither a positive nor a negative impact was higher. In addition, 58.8% believed that covert sex trade had increased since the enactment of the Anti-Sex Trade Law, while 7.4% said it had decreased (No difference: 24.9%). 46.1% of respondents answered that the number of sex workers travelling to work abroad had increased since the enactment of law, while 3.3% said the number had decreased. (No difference: 21.3%, Do not know/Unanswered: 29.3%)
These answers clearly indicate that the majority of respondents did not view the implementation of the Anti-Sex Trade Law as effective in reducing sex trade. It comes as no surprise then that 39.6% of the respondents did not agree that the law had been implemented in accordance with its original purpose and that 73.3% said the law should be reformed, mirroring what sex workers in South Korea have been campaigning for ever since the law was introduced. The constitutionality review of the Anti-Sex Trade Law was scheduled to conclude six months after the submission of the request. A year on, however, no decision has been announced and the persecution of sex workers continues.
*These passages are quoted and paraphrased from the English translation of the report. As mentioned above, the term “성매매 (seongmaemae)” can be translated as either “sex trade” or “sex trafficking”. The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family uses the translation “sexual traffic”.
1. Jordan, Ann “The Swedish Law to Criminalize Clients: A failed experiment in social engineering”
2. Dodillet; Östergren “The Swedish Sex Purchase Act: Claimed Success and Documented Effects”
3. Swedish National Police Board – “Trafficking in humanbeings for sexual andother purposes”
4. Lyon, Wendy “Sex trafficking in Sweden, according to the Swedish police”
5. Lehmann, Matthias “Criminalising the payment for sexual services”
6. The Hankyoreh – “Judge seeks constitutional review of law that criminalizes prostitution”
“Facts and Figures about Prostitution that might surprise you”
To view this post in German, please click here.
On December 9th, 2013, an event was held at the Urania Berlin with the title “I thought it was all different! – Facts and Figures instead of Black-And-White-Thinking”. Its goal was to allow politicians, the general public and those affected by potential changes to the German Prostitution Act a comprehensive insight into the subject matter. The event was organised by Felicitas Schirow, since 1997 owner of the brothel “Café Pssst!” in Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, Berlin. The decision by the Berlin Administrative Court on December 1st, 2000, to declare the withdrawal of her pub license as unlawful is widely seen as precedent that triggered the adoption of the German Prostitution Act that came into effect on January 1st, 2002.
Among the panellists were Percy MacLean, retired Chief Judge at the Berlin Administrative Court and recipient of the 2004 Carl von Ossietzky Medal by the International League for Human Rights (ILHR); Heike Rudat, Director of the unit dealing with organised crime at the Berlin State Office of Criminal Investigation (LKA); criminologist Prof. emer. Dr. Monika Frommel, former director of the Institute of Sanction Law and Criminology at the University of Kiel; Ilona Hengst, a social worker with 25 years of experience working with sex workers, who previously held positions at several district offices in Berlin; Gesine Agena, newly appointed spokeswoman for women’s rights and member of the federal board of the German Greens; Evrim Sommer, spokeswoman for women’s rights and member of the Berlin parliament for the Left Party (Linkspartei); and sociologist Christiane Howe from the Institute for Social Studies at Humboldt University Berlin.
I had the honour to join this impressive panel to speak about the effects of prostitution and anti-trafficking laws on sex workers’ human rights, with a focus on Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.
Among other topics, my presentation dealt with the recent raids in Soho, Central London, the findings of the UN report “Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific” and the demonstrated negative effects of the much-discussed sex purchase ban in Sweden.
Since several guests approached me after the event with the request for a copy of my lecture manuscript, I subsequently made it available. Please click here to retrieve the manuscript in English translation as a PDF file.
Please note: This manuscript must not be cited or otherwise publicised without express permission by the author. Although several authors as well as titles of cited sources are mentioned in the text, it contains no links or a bibliography as customary for academic articles. In addition, not all quotes are highlighted as such.
The text includes passages from press releases by the English Collective of Prostitutes and the Sex Worker Open University. Should you wish to cite this transcript or encounter difficulties to locate the respective sources, please send an email to Matthias Lehmann at yongsagisa[at]gmail[punkt]com.
Invitation to a double bill about the German Prostitution Act
I would like to cordially invite you to the event “I thought it was all different!” at the Urania Berlin on December 9th, 2013. Please note, however, that the event is held in German. (Should you not live in Berlin: the entire event will be recorded. The recordings will be made available at a later point in time.)
Due to the current political situation in Germany, this event will allow the general public as well as those affected by potential changes to the German Prostitution Act of 2002 to gain a comprehensive insight into the subject matter. Please click here to read a flyer with further information (in German only), incl. details about experts from the fields of justice, police, social work and social sciences, which I have the honour to join.
I invite you to join one or both parts of the event at the Urania on Monday to learn more about the complex subjects that also form part of the coalition agreement between the prospective government of Conversatives and Social Democrats, which I wrote about in my article A sham of the “forced coalition” – Human Trafficking and Prostitution in the coalition agreement.
I would also like to direct your attention once more to the Appeal to strengthen the rights of sex workers and to improve their living and working conditions by the Trade Association Erotic and Sexual Services (Berufsverband erotische und sexuelle Dienstleistungen) in Germany. It has already been signed by nearly 1,500 individuals and organisations, incl. numerous counselling centres for sex workers or victims of human trafficking as well as the German AIDS Service Organisation (Deutsche AIDS-Hilfe). Members of the German parliament and other politicians, a great number of social scientists and other experts, as well as sex workers and private individuals have also signed the appeal.
I would be very glad if you would read and sign the appeal, which naturally, I support, too, and I look forward to meet you at the Urania on Monday.
Links to social media sites concerning the event:
Flyer of the protest: “My job is mine. Prostitution is not synonymous with Human Trafficking. Sex work is work. Bans discriminate against. Talk with us, not about us.” [Click here to read the demands by German sex workers.]
About the videos
The videos below were recorded at the presentation of anti-prostitution activist Alice Schwarzer’s book “Prostitution – A German Scandal” on November 14th, 2013, at Urania Berlin. The protest against this event was a collaboration of the Trade Association Erotic and Sexual Services (BseD), a recently founded sex worker organisation in Germany, Hydra e.V., a meeting place and counselling centre for prostitutes, and Research Project Korea.
The first video shows sex workers being hindered from rolling out a banner next to the stage which has written “My job is mine!” on it, a reference to Schwarzer’s former pro-abortion campaign “My belly is mine”. They were subsequently hauled off by plainclothes police.
The second video includes comments by a Bulgarian sex worker and by Tanja Gangarova of the German AIDS Service Organisation (Deutsche AIDS-Hilfe), as well as the reactions by Alice Schwarzer and social worker Sabine Constabel, who supports Schwarzer’s campaign. Please see an introduction and a verbatim translation below.
The third video was already posted on this blog before but is included here to have all videos in one place. The video shows a sex worker criticising Alice Schwarzer’s view of women as commodities. A verbatim translation is below.
Click here to see the German versions.
Protest against Alice Schwarzer in Berlin
Panel discussion about prostitution with Alice Schwarzer
Introduction and verbatim translation
Following an account by Sabine Constabel about young women from Eastern Europe who, as she claimed, are predominantly uneducated as well as diseased due to insufficient health care in their home countries, a Bulgarian sex worker commented:
„For 3 years, I worked at a brothel in Berlin, before that, 4 years at Artemis, 6 years at another business. I have never met a Bulgarian woman as you described them, who were sick. … 2 women sought protection, they [contacted the police]. Where do you meet these women?”
Before Constabel has a chance to reply, Alice Schwarzer intervenes: „That’s simply grotesque and highly implausible. We just know that 90 to 95% of the women are in dire straits and have to… [Hecklink: “Where is the data?”] …have to and can prostitute themselves in Germany under degrading conditions. Apparently, there are a few per cent of very cheerful prostitutes, so, there you go, granted. We will not follow you around and bar you from doing that. But this is about a different problem. Please, who wants to say something else? Oh, I see, my apologies. Sabine Constabel wanted to…”
Sabine Constabel: “I believe it was a clear question and I can respond to it. The question was where I meet them and how I come up with them. That’s pretty simple. We have interpreters, Bulgarian women, and they go into the brothels, they make contacts in the model apartments, they are on the street, and they become known to the women pretty quickly, and the problem are always those women who don’t speak German or don’t speak enough German, and they eventually come via the interpreters. They call them, they got the phone number, and that’s how they get our counsel.
Alice Schwarzer: “Okay, that gentleman signalled for a while now [that he wanted to say something]. If you let him… He’s battling to get to the mic. There he is.”
Tanja Gangarova (Consultant for Migration, German AIDS Service Organisation): „Well, good evening…“
Alice Schwarzer: „I would say, another two, three questions, then…“
Tanja Gangarova: „I would like to give two, three comments. My name is Tanja Gangarova, I am a social scientist, and I am head of the fields migration, sex work and international affairs at the federal association of the German AIDS Service Organisation. We are an association that now includes 130 organisations, and in their name I am standing here today, because we fundamentally disapprove the appeal against prostitution, and I am telling you, that here and today, the very dangerous conflation of sex work and human trafficking happens again. [Applause] In our view, a constructive communication can happen only, when there’s a clear separation between these two subjects. As for human trafficking in Germany, not just where sex work is concerned, but also in every other societal context, there are criminal law provisions, and it’s good they are there. Not just female but also male sex workers, because you forget those, too, [Applause] make self-determined decisions, even when they are in precarious situations – I’m from Bulgaria myself – because they are acting subjects.”
Alice Schwarzer tries to interrupt her, but Tanja Gangarova adds: “Final comment. I have worked internationally in various countries and I can tell you from a perspective of prevention that banning and criminalising [sex work] have never resulted in the disappearance of sex work.” [Applause]
Alice Schwarzer: „We already got your point. Ms Constabel would like to…“
Tanja Gangarova: „I also would very much like to say something about the Swedish Model, because it’s a lot of nonsense. The Swedish Model has made prostitution disappear fromt the street. [The rest of her statement is inaudible. Gangarova points out that the situation for sex workers has not improved.] [Thunderous applause]
Alice Schwarzer: „Well, I can tell you, that EMMA is planning a congress together with the Swedish embassy in the spring, and we will have people come there and will consult them, and they can report about it.”
Responding to the tumult in the auditorium, Alice Schwarzer remarks: “Ideology beats reality, right? You just don’t want to hear it.” [Laughter from Schwarzer’s opponents, applause from her supporters] “I don’t experience this for the first time.”
Sex worker criticises Schwarzer’s view of women as commodities
“I just want to say that what bothers me is the view of women as commoditiy. I am a service provider. Of course there a social hardships. What bothers me is to take it all out of context, that we don’t say: A, there has to be a secure income, we need to get women out of poverty; that is the context. And then (sexual) services should be recognised, the status of women’s oldest profession enhanced and general conditions created, where women aren’t viewed as children, neither on an individual nor on a societal level, but as independent, clear-thinking subjects.”
The above translations are as close to the original as possible. Due to low sound quality, some passages were somewhat hard to understand. Where inserts were made, speakers were quoted from memory.
Third video © 2013 Research Project Korea
“I just want to say that what bothers me is the view of women as commodity. I am a service provider. Of course there a social hardships. What bothers me is to take it all out of context, that we don’t say: A, there has to be a secure income, we need to get women out of poverty; that is the context. And then (sexual) services should be recognised, the status of women’s oldest profession enhanced and general conditions created, where women aren’t viewed as children, neither on an individual nor on a societal level, but as independent, clear-thinking subjects.”
(The above translation is as close to the original as possible. Due to low sound quality, some passages were a little hard to understand.)
Recorded at the presentation of anti-prostitution activist Alice Schwarzer’s book “Prostitution – A German Scandal” on November 14th, 2013, at Urania Berlin. Video by Research Project Korea.
*To strengthen the rights of sex workers and to improve their living and working conditions
The following is the English version of an Appeal FOR Prostitution by the Trade Association Erotic and Sexual Services (Berufsverband erotische und sexuelle Dienstleistungen) in Germany. It is a response to an appeal by leading German anti-prostitution activist Alice Schwarzer and her magazine Emma.
Please read, spread and sign the appeal to support German sex workers!
Prostitution is not slavery. Prostitution is an occupation, where sexual services are offered in exchange for payment. Such transactions are based on the voluntariness of the parties involved. Without consent to sexual activities, there is no prostitution, since sex against a person’s will is rape. The latter is a criminal offence, even if money changes hands.
Prostitution is not a synonym for human trafficking. Not only German but also migrant sex workers are predominantly working as sex workers self-determinedly and by choice. To flatly label sex workers, regardless of their ethnicity, as victims is an act of discrimination.
Although often described as the world’s oldest profession, prostitution is hardly anywhere recognised as work. To the contrary: in most parts of the world, sex workers are persecuted, ostracised, and excluded from society. That is why sex workers around the world demand the decriminalisation of sex work and its recognition as an occupation.
The German parliament adopted this idea when it passed the Prostitution Act of 2002 (ProstG). Their legal recognition improved the situation of sex workers in Germany. They are now able to sue employers for lost wages and have access to the social security and health care system. In addition, the provision of good working conditions and rooms are no longer punishable as “procurement of prostitution”. However, the law did not change the right of the police to enter premises used for prostitution at any time, and the number of raids has increased ever since.
The Prostitution Act of 2002 has some weaknesses and requires a reform. The main problem, however, isn’t the law itself but the lack of implementation in specific federal states.
Contrary to common claims, the Prostitution Act has not led to an increase in human trafficking in Germany. As progress reports by the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) have shown, the number of identified victims of human trafficking has even decreased since the adoption of the law. In New Zealand, where prostitution is recognised as work since 2003, no increase in human trafficking has been registered either.
Among the factors that abet human trafficking are global inequality, restrictive migration laws as well as the lack of rights by parties affected. A successful fight against human trafficking requires comprehensive structural reforms on a global level and a human rights based approach.
The criminalisation of customers who make use of erotic services is unsuitable to solve these problems. While the so-called “Swedish Model” has displaced visible street prostitution, there is no evidence that it has reduced prostitution itself or human trafficking. Meanwhile, the working conditions for sex workers have worsened and Denmark and Scotland have already rejected the adoption of the “Swedish Model”.
Therefore we demand:
● The involvement of sex workers in political processes that deal with the subject of prostitution
● No further expansion of policing powers and no supervision by the State or curtailing of civil liberties
● No criminalisation of our customers under the Swedish Model or any other law
● Information instead of prohibition, government-funded further education for sex workers
● Campaigns against stigmatisation and for respect for sex workers
● Right of residence, compensation and comprehensive support for people affected by human trafficking
Click here to see the list of signatories and sign the appeal.
Fill in your name, and add your occupation/organisation (Beruf/Organisation) and location (Ort) if you wish. If you wish to receive the BesD newsletter (German), please add your email address, too.
Berufsverband erotische und sexuelle Dienstleistungen
(Trade Association Erotic and Sexual Services)
Tuesday, October 29th, 2013
Translation: Matthias Lehmann. Research Project Korea.
Criminalisation of the Purchase of Sex (Scotland) Bill (2) fails!
“We, the sex workers at SCOT-PEP want to say a HUGE thank you to everyone for their support over the last few months, we are ecstatic!!! Let’s hope the debate and discussion can continue and together we can work towards a legal framework and social environment that protects, supports and respects the human rights and dignity of sex workers.”
Commenting on the failure of other political parties to support her proposed bill, Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, said
“I am disappointed that the Bill has fallen due to not achieving cross-party support when there was such overwhelming support expressed in response to my consultation from a wide range of individuals and organisations. I will continue to press for the introduction of legislation that aims to tackle the demand side of the industry and support for those who have been failed by society.”
Rhoda Grant’s comments appeared on her website but were later taken offline. Click here to view a snapshot of the page as it appeared on 28 Jun 2013 13:36:53 GMT.
Controversies surrounding the Consultation Process
Speaking of failing: when in late May, Ms Grant finally released her summary of the responses to her proposal, she failed to include several responses from opponents to her bill, including my own. While this was later rectified after other participants and I complained to Ms Grant – she blamed technical difficulties for the blunder – it appeared that curiously, no responses from proponents had been omitted. Please click here to read the press release by Scottish sex worker organisation SCOT-PEP in response to Ms Grant’s summary of responses.
In a separate controversy involving the responses to the bill, Amnesty International was forced to clarify its position on the criminalisation of sex work due to a rogue submission by its Paisley Branch, which had supported Ms Grant’s bill and given the impression on its now deleted Facebook page that Amnesty International supported Ms Grant’s proposal.
In another press release following Rhoda Grant’s defeat, SCOT-PEP commented:
“MSP Rhoda Grant has never been accountable to any of the many responses to her consultation that suggested that she misrepresented her evidence. One academic, whose work was ‘quoted’ by Ms Grant, was moved to clarify her opposition to the Bill and her objection to Ms Grant’s distortion of her work. Amnesty International UK were forced to re-state their opposition to criminalisation after Ms Grant misrepresented their position in her summary of responses. SCOT-PEP will continue to campaign for an intelligent debate around sex work in Scotland, which must include meaningful dialogue with sex workers themselves, looking at how Scotland can protect their health and human rights. SCOT-PEP believe this can only be achieved through full decriminalisation of sex work, sex workers, clients, management and others related to sex workers, within a human rights-based framework.”
Luca Stevenson, coordinator of the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE) and co-founder of the Sex Worker Open University (SWOU) in the UK, commented: “Sex workers in Scotland and Europe rejoice at the news that the bill proposal did not receive cross-party support. Members of Sex Worker Open University, in collaboration with SCOT-PEP and the support of many activists, worked tirelessly to create a sex workers’ rights festival in Glasgow in April to give voices to sex workers that would have been directly affected by such law: loss of income, raids by the police, increased difficulty in screening clients, and increased stigma would have been just a few of the consequences of the criminalisation of our clients. We are very proud of what we have achieved and we hope this victory will inspire our comrades to keep fighting such law in other countries.”
Upon hearing that the proposed bill had failed to receive cross-party support, Pye Jakobsson, coordinator and international spokesperson of Swedish sex worker organisation Rose Alliance, commented: “For us in Sweden, any country NOT taking the bloody Swedish model is so important! The politicians all talk about the success, how many countries taking it etc etc, so this is very empowering for us!”
Matthias Lehmann commented: “On the day after Germany’s ruling coalition pushed a crude law to fight human trafficking and control brothels through parliament, in spite of recommendations to the contrary by experts of all shades, it is encouraging that in Scotland, reason prevailed. I would like to congratulate all sex workers in Scotland on this great success! It’s excellent news for Korean sex workers who today, on June 29th, celebrate Korean Sex Workers Day.”
@whorephobia commented: “This bill showed how little antis care about the women they claim to want to save. Every single piece of evidence shows that the criminalisation of clients puts us in danger. However, for them, with a moral objection to sex work, this is a price worth paying. They prefer dead women to consenting women. Today is a glorious day!”
Melanie May, a German sex worker and member of Sexwork Germany, a union of sex workers, which is currently in the course of formation, commented: “I am happy for my colleagues in Scotland how things turned out. Unfortunately, sex workers have to fight for their rights all over Europe these days; even here in Germany we are facing more and more serious problems. Therefore, the Scottish success gives me hope, while I have to admit that it makes me feel a little jealous, too. I wish you lots of strength and success for the future!”
Kat*, a sex worker in Scotland, said, “So much evidence shows that criminalising sex work makes us more vulnerable. Where clients are criminalised, sex workers face more police and client violence, and we have nowhere to turn to if we want to report this. The Swedish government itself acknowledges that its law to criminalise clients increases stigma. Stigma is what makes us vulnerable; it means the police won’t believe or listen to us, and people who pose as clients know this, and this makes us easy targets. I’m so relieved that this bill has fallen. It would have worsened the structural violence and stigma that we face.”
An anonymous Scotland-based sex worker* said, “It’s been a difficult time ever since Ms Grant took over Trish Godman’s work, but thinking back I realise that I am very grateful to her. The danger of possible criminalisation helped many sex workers get together; in a society where we’re alienated by stigma I now have friends and this means a lot to me. Regardless of her motives, Ms Grant helped us break the isolation, find allies and become stronger together. We’ve learnt to defend our position, now we know we can achieve more. It was a difficult time but it was totally worth it.”
Alice*, a Scotland-based sex worker, said, “The next step is decriminalisation. Decriminalisation in New South Wales and New Zealand has been shown again and again to tackle abuse and exploitation, fight trafficking, effectively promote condom-use and thus profoundly help the fight against HIV, and empower sex workers to access justice and labour rights. What’s not to love? New Zealand has always been at the forefront of women’s rights – it was the first country in the world to give women the vote – and its still a globally-acknowledged leader in tackling violence against women, as this brave and successful policy demonstrates.”
Bella Robinson, founder of sex worker organisation Coyote Rhode Island, commented: “No government has ever been successful at policing prostitution, so is it even rational to think they can regulate it? There is no doubt in my mind that all these regulations will be used to harass and discriminate against these adult businesses and sex worker themselves. Other than not allowing anyone to live on the premises and requiring each worker to fill out an application, show ID to prove they are an adult and sign a contract that says they understand that they are entering sex work by choice, what is there to REGULATE? I didn’t hear much about how this would effect independent sex workers. I didn’t hear anything about what long term services do they even have in place for any victims they find. They didn’t even discuss why so many people are entering the sex trade. No mention that it’s directly linked to POVERTY, and whether a person is being threatened by a pimp or a landlord that is threatening to throw them out if they can’t make the rent that it’s basically the same thing. Why are they IGNORING the fact that long term housing and medical insurance are necessary for harm reduction as well as jobs that pay wages people can actually live on? I heard no mention of law enforcement having to take “sensitivity trainings” nor who will monitor the bad cops that exploit and rape sex workers. I did not hear about how any sex worker can report violence. They chose to ignore all the evidence that shows that criminalization creates the perfect playground for bad cops and predators to rob, rape, beat, exploit, threaten and murder sex workers. I did not hear anything about the human rights of sex workers nor the civil rights of all consenting adults. We did not hear about all the anti-trafficking groups that are nothing more than anti prostitution groups in disguise and that their main focus is to exterminate all prostitutes from the face of the earth as if we were cockroaches. No mention of how these groups are PROMOTING VIOLENCE against sex workers with this “they get what they deserve” mentality. In closing, there was no mention that criminalization and shaming people does nothing to stop anyone from buying or selling sex. There will be a next generation of sex workers, and since victims in the sex trade are in the minority, let’s get back to the SOLUTION of protecting the majority of sex workers by allowing them to report violence, and by granting them the same labor rights, civil rights and human rights as any other civilian. To hear from the mouths of 11 US sex workers themselves please watch American Courtesans.”
Frans van Rossum, a former sex worker and life-long sex worker ally from the Netherlands who provides legal assistance to migrant sex workers, commented: “What a relief. Sex workers need this everywhere, because society needs sex workers, urgently, maybe more urgent than ever before. This is great news in the European corner of the globe, after this week’s shameful, embarrassing defeat in the German Bundestag, and the goings in the Netherlands where the legal freedom of sex work is eroded in a careful, well planned strategy of stigmatization, step by step. Parliament is (still) not buying it and resisting it, but city councils are slowly roped in. The victory in the Scottish Parliament is much needed. what a relief! Love to all sex workers, in Scotland and any place of the globe! You’re great human beings, and fun to boot!”
*Quoted from SCOT-PEP’s press release
What are your thoughts on the success of Scottish sex workers?
Leave a comment below and I’ll add it above.
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.
Photo: NeonRights by Matt Lemon Photography*
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. NO PERMISSION TO USE WITHOUT PRIOR PERMISSION!
March 3rd ☂ International Sex Workers’ Rights Day
March 3rd marks the annual International Sex Workers’ Rights Day. The day was founded in 2001 by the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC), a sex worker collective in India. Over 25,000 sex workers gathered for that inaugural festival, and since then, participation the day is observed globally by sex workers and those showing solidarity to them.
“We felt strongly that that we should have a day what need to be observed by the sex workers community globally. Keeping in view the large mobilization of all types of global sexworkers [female, male, transgender], we proposed to observe 3rd March as the Sex Workers’ Rights Day.
Knowing the usual response of international bodies and views of academicians and intellectuals of the 1st world [many of them consider that sex workers of third world are different from 1st world and can’t take their decision] a call coming from a third world country would be more appropriate at this juncture, we believe. It will be a great pleasure to us if all of you observe the day in your own countries, too. We need your inspiration and support to turn our dreams into reality.” – Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (2002)
There are several other days that aim to raise awareness for sex workers’ rights and highlight the stigma, discrimination and violence they are often faced with. Two of them are the Korean Sex Workers’ Day and the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.
June 29th ☂ Korean Sex Workers’ Day
On this day, the National Solidarity of Sex Workers Day was organised, after the Special Anti-Sex Trade Law [which includes a Prevention Act and a Punishment Act] was passed in 2004. Since then, the date is commemorated as Korean Sex Workers Day to honour all sex workers who have contributed to the struggle against discrimination over the years.
“I am not a hooker. I’m a sex worker!” (left)
“Don’t stigmatise us! Don’t oppress us!” (right)
December 17th ☂ International Day To End Violence against Sex Workers
“The International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers was originally developed by Dr. Annie Sprinkle and SWOP founder Robyn Few to shine a spotlight on the epidemic of violence against sex workers happening globally. SWOP-USA began commemorating the Day as a memorial and vigil for the victims of the Green River Killer in Seattle, Washington, who murdered at least 71 women, most of whom were sex workers from 1982 to 1998.
During the week of December 17th sex worker rights organizations around the world stage actions and vigils to raise awareness about violence that is commonly committed against sex workers. These events also often address issues relating to stigma and discrimination that allows violence against sex workers to occur with impunity. We seek to raise awareness about the barriers faced when attempting to report violence, and promote empowerment and change what has become an unacceptable status quo.” – Sex Workers Outreach Project USA
Quoted/Paraphrased with kind permission by Mistress of Mattresses’ blog post Proof of Feminst Women’s Violence Against Prostitutes.
*The Red Umbrella
The Red Umbrella was first used as a symbol for sex worker solidarity at the 49th Venice Biennale of Art in Italy in 2001. Italian sex workers marched through the streets of Venice with red umbrellas as part of the “Prostitute Pavilion” and CODE:RED art installation by Slovenian artist Tadej Pogacar. The red umbrella march drew attention to the bad work conditions and human rights abuses sex workers faced. Four years later the red umbrella was adopted by the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE) where it became the emblem for resistance to discrimination. Since then the red umbrella has become the international icon for sex worker’s rights around the world. It symbolises protection from the abuse and intolerance faced by sex workers everywhere but it is also a symbol of their strength.
“The assumption that liberal prostitution laws lead to an increase in human trafficking is refuted. On the contrary: ever since the liberalisation, there has been more police activity but notwithstanding, there are significantly less suspects, convicts and victims. That’s rather an indicator that the disentanglement of prostitution from criminal environments is increasingly successful.” – Volker Beck, MP
In early February, the German Greens submitted an enquiry to the federal government, concerning the impact of the German prostitution law on the trend of human trafficking. On February 22nd, the government issued a reply. The following are translated quotes. Below, you can download the enquiry and the answer of the federal government as pdf files. All documents are available in German only.
“In the year 2000, the National Situation Report about Trafficking in Human Beings registered altogether 926 victims. In the year 2011, there were 640. This equates to a decrease of just under 31 per cent. If one compares the figures of registered victims in 2003 [a year after the prostitution law was passed] and 2011, one sees a certifiable decline of just above 48 per cent.” It should be noted that this is despite “greater activities by the police”, a fact Volker Beck referred to in the above quote. [Page 7-8]
From a quantitative viewpoint, the risk potential of human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation in Germany is “limited”. [Page 8]
“The annually compiled National Situation Report by the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) shows no significant increase of victims that would indicate an expansion of the phenomenon as a result of the prostitution law taking effect.” [Page 10]
The reply by the German government thus refutes the claim by Neumayer, Cho and Dreher that legalised prostitution increases human trafficking.
Please click here for the enquiry by Volker Beck (Cologne), Monika Lazar, Ekin Deligöz, Britta Haßelmann, Ingrid Hönlinger, Memet Kilic, Dr. Konstantin von Notz, Tabea Rößner, Arfst Wagner (Schleswig) and the faction Bündnis 90/Die Grünen.
Please click here for the reply by the federal government. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the staff at Volker Beck’s office for immediately supplying me with this document.
You can view the full text of the German prostitution law (ProstG) on the website of the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth.
Please click on the image below to access an article about the enquiry by the Central German Newspaper (English Translation via Google Translate).
Less cases of forced prostitution registered since the liberalisation of the prostitution law in 2002
How prostitution abolitionists defame sex workers’ rights activists
The following comment was left on my blog last night.
Are you actually interested in the suffering of women who were forced into prostitution and who are hard up? If yes, you could read the following: Your Justifications are Killing Us
Rather than replying in the comment section only, I chose to respond more publicly in this post, to highlight the defamation that proponents of sex workers’ rights frequently have to endure.
I do indeed take an interest in forced prostitution, though without your apparent limitation to women. I already knew the text you sent me. Even though I do not wish to deny the personal experiences of the author, I do take issue with the message she aims to convey with her text as well as with the blatant lies she spreads. In the following, I will respond to selected paragraphs of her post and thus, to your comment.
“Too much of the Left is made of male-thought, and in this thinking it not surprising that the Left has always justify the sex trade, and ignore the reality of life for the prostituted.” – Rebecca Mott
To give but one example to challenge her view, I shall name the German prostitution law (ProstG), which was an initiative by the female members of the German Green Party who by no means ignored the reality of sex workers. The ProstG abolished the statutory offence of the „promotion of prostitution” and made it possible to create better working conditions for sex workers without rendering oneself liable to prosecution.
Since the author mentions her view about which groups dominate the prostitution discourse, how about we take a look at the spectrum of prostitution abolitionists? In my view, those are predominantly radical feminists or members of faith-based organisations.
They are the ones who ignore the realities of sex workers, since their opinions often rest on their own concepts of morality and disproven research. I have no problem with anyone who doesn’t consider sex work as a desirable occupation or wishes to write about it and try to have others think about it, too. That falls under freedom of expression. That, however, is not what prostitution abolitionists are content with.
“If you scream and shout that you’re not a victim you are suffering from a false consciousness. And if you try to convince them that you’re not even suffering from a false consciousness, they will say: ‘Well you’re not representative'”.
– Pye Jacobsson, Swedish sex worker and activist URL
The term „prostituted“ supports the notion that sex workers lack agency and aren’t able to make informed decisions. “to be prostituted” is a passive term that supports the notion that one cannot actively choose to work as sex worker. Is a construction worker “constructed” then?
“I am tired of everyone letting the left off the hook – I tired of waiting for the Left to get on board with abolition – I tired of men who Leftist making their porn stash and their consumption of the prostituted is somehow better than right-wing men who do exactly the same.” – Rebecca Mott
I, on the other hand, am tired that forced prostitution and pornography are conflated time and again, and that those who oppose the criminalisation of sex work are branded as proponents of sexual exploitation.
“In this post, I will speak of the many leftist cliches that have said to me, or I have read, or had fed to me by the media.” – Rebecca Mott
I don’t know which media the author refers to here, but I cannot support her view that the media are currently engaged in a campaign for the rights of sex workers. Rather, prostitution abolitionists frequently dominate the discourse and silence any dissenters. (See my previous post about a German talk show in featuring prominent prostitution abolitionist Alice Schwarzer) URL
The following statement is a typical example for that.
“Much of the poison-speech by the Left is the language of pimps and punters – men who are not pimps and punters parrots their words without questioning. I was consumed by many Leftist punters who justify all their tortures – I had profiteers selling me who imagine they were on the Left, hell they were sexual outlaws, they were empowering women, they were model-day freedom fighters.” – Rebecca Mott
If you don’t agree with them, prostitution abolitionists will denounce you as pimp, punter, torturer or – here – will-less parrot.
“I write to the Left, for my heart is exploring with pain and grief – silence round the Left betraying the prostituted class is killing the prostituted every day.” – Rebecca Mott
Again, the author conveys that the left ignored the reality. I would like to know whom she is talking about, but that she fails to elaborate on. I suppose that according to current criteria, you can call me leftist, and where I am concerned, I did seek the dialogue with prostitution abolitionists several times, only to be faced with attempts to defame me, distort my views into the opposite, or shout me down.
“The major one is that if you unionise the sex trade, then it will be fine and dandy. I agree with unions for workers – but there we the major flaw – being embedded in the sex trade is not work, the prostituted class are not workers. They are in the conditions of slavery, of having their human rights stripped from them – they are not workers. To frame it as work, where all that need to be done putting in basic health and safety regulations, all that need to be done is to get a shop steward who go to the sex trade profiteer and speak of working rights for the prostituted. Think a little, and you will see this is nonsense.” – Rebecca Mott
Sex worker unions are indeed no cure-all. However, the notion that sustainable improvements could be achieved without them is a misconception. The interests of sex workers are best represented by sex workers themselves. Those include fighting forced prostitution and violence, by the way. But for as long as prostitution abolitionists fight against sex work itself, a collaboration with sex workers is hardly in the cards. Sex work is work. Forced prostitution is forced sexual labour.
“When there are unions for the prostituted – they always are dominated by the profiteers, punters and those who support painting the myth that the sex trade is safe.” – Rebecca Mott
That is a blatant lie. Information about sex worker organisations can be easily obtained. I recommend the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) as a starting point.
“Unions that exist do not include the prostitute who is trapped in a brothel, do not include women in the porn that is daily torture, do not include the under-aged prostitute trapped in a room with lines of men consuming her.” – Rebecca Mott
While it is true that those forced into prostitution usually have no access to sex worker organisations, it is also true that forced prostitutes represent the minority of sex workers. So what is the answer? To defame sex workers, who like any other working person work on their own accord, and defame their organisations, including the services and assistance they offer? Among others, those include assistance to exit sex work, counselling (e.g. when suffering from sex worker burnout), or the opportunity to report suspected cases of forced prostitution. Does doing away with those sound like a good plan?
“No, unions are not for the ordinary and average woman or girl – for those unions have no intention to stop the routine rapes, the routine beating ups, the routine throwing away of the prostituted. No, the purpose of these unions is to whitewash away all the normal male hate and violence that underpins all aspects of the sex trade.” – Rebecca Mott
See above. One can easily learn about the objectives of sex worker organisations. The supposed “intentions” that the author describes are brazen defamations.
“Do not back any sex trade union – they do not give a damn about the prostituted, they care about pimps and punters.” – Rebecca Mott
This statement demonstrates that the author is not in the least interested in the rights of sex workers.
“It is a union run and controlled by managers, but more by managers who view the prostituted as goods and never as humans. Your belief in unions is killing the prostituted every day.” – Rebecca Mott
The author fails again to disclose what union(s) she is talking about. Her statement is a general condemnation of all sex worker organisations that aims to defame their members and work. Therefore, I will not respond to all further paragraphs, but only to a few additional points.
Sex workers protest against police crackdowns in Seoul [Photo: AP/Lee Jin-man]
“I would see punters who had brutalise me and other prostitutes on marches, in meetings or part of liberal religions – fighting with all the might for rights and dignity of all humans.” – Rebecca Mott
I heard people raise suspicions that sex workers in South Korea were forced to participate in demonstrations. I discussed this with Korean sex workers who I suppose the author would claim belong to this “leftist riff-raff”. None of them was able to confirm this suspicion.
“That when I learnt the lesson I have never lost – these men did not fight for the dignity and rights of the prostituted foe we were not and cannot be classed as humans – we were just goods for them to use to consume and throw away.” – Rebecca Mott
I believe that the information that I published on this blog and via Facebook speak for themselves and refute the author’s portrayal of “these men” as a homogeneous group.
“We were not given access to human rights” – Rebecca Mott
Here I agree. The rights of sex workers are indeed frequently violated and only unagitated discussions about possible countermeasures will lead to a sustainable reduction of such violations. Not only should sex worker participate in these discussions – they should be the protagonists in them.
“Please question your Leftist views if they discard the prostituted class.” – Rebecca Mott
Please question your views if they undermine the rights of sex workers. Failing to safeguard sex workers’ rights, will prevent fighting forced prostitution and violence in sex work effectively.
Sex Workers’ Freedom Rally in Kolkata, India [Photo by Matt Lemon Photography]
Looking back on a year of independent research* and looking forward to a meeting with Korean sex workers and a graphic artist to start creating a graphic novel about sex workers in South Korea.
Matthias Lehmann, independent researcher from Germany, at his favourite bakery in Gyeongnidan
*Research Project Korea is unaffiliated to any university or organisation and exclusively funded by myself and limited private donations. Please contact me should you have any questions, be it about the nature of my project or its funding, about the media I publish, or about my personal background. Find more details in the About section.
On the eve of the Sex Workers’ Freedom Festival, I would like to share several messages. One is from KANG Hyun Joon, Director-General of the Han Teo National Union of Sex Workers in South Korea; the second is from a Korean sex worker who sadly cannot participate in the festival; and based on both of their statements I would also like to share a message of my own.
I am often asked what I wish to accomplish with my research project. Some people simply happen to know very little about the subject of sex workers’ rights, others might question my motives or morality, and yet again others might wonder why I am doing this research in South Korea. In the following, I will explain one of the factors that motivate me, and it’s the same that also renders my research considerably difficult at times.
Think globally (sometimes), act locally
I usually try to avoid making generalising statements about Koreans. Firstly, it is never wise to make general assumptions about a large group of people, and secondly, Korean society is in a state of constant and rapid changes, which I have been able to witness over the last ten years, four of which I have been living in South Korea.
If you visit Korea, it will be virtually impossible for you not to come across the words ‘international’ and ‘global’ on a regular basis. You will find them on banners and brochures of universities, research organisations, government agencies or private corporations who all use those words to give their dealings the semblance of being interconnected with like-minded partners in other parts of the world.
My experience tells me, however, that this global link is more often than not in name only, regardless of how genuine the intention to establish it may be. Korean activists, while very apt when organising protests within Korea, are no exception to this rule. 
Raising awareness about sex workers in Korea
Raising awareness about the situation of sex workers in South Korea is therefore one of the factors that continue to motivate me. I will not pretend that the lack of an international network doesn’t pose a significant challenge sometimes. But it makes me want to engage with Korean sex workers even more to encourage them – where necessary – to increase their network with sex work activists in other countries and to make their voices heard beyond the Asian realm. 
The evening before I boarded my flight to Kolkata, I met with KANG Hyun Joon, Director-General of the Han Teo National Union of Sex Workers, at a café in Seoul’s red-light district in Yeongdeungpo. Kang founded Han Teo in September 2002 and the organisation soon represented 20,000 brothel-based sex workers. Following the Special Law on Sex Trade of 2004 and increased government crackdowns on brothels, membership has since dropped to approx. 8,000, as an estimated 100,000 Korean sex workers opted to move abroad, the majority of them to Japan and the United States.
Message from Korean Sex Workers’ Union Han Teo to the SWFF
Towards the end of our talk, I asked KANG Hyun Joon if he would like me to pass on a message to the participants of the Sex Workers’ Freedom Festival, seeing that on this occasion, Han Teo wouldn’t send a delegate to the conference. He replied the following.
“Since we don’t have frequent contact with people in the sex industry at the international level, I can’t say much about it, to be honest with you. However, if I were to talk about the situation in Korea, I’d like to say that I hope the day comes soon where sex workers in Korea work without shame and speak up with confidence in their own country.”
“그 쪽분들은 제가 접촉이 없기 때문에 뭐라고 말씀드리기 힘들지만 한국 사정으로 봤을 때 이 업에 종사한다고 해서 부끄러워하지 말고 떳떳하게 자기 국가에서 목소리 내면서 노동자로 인정받을 수 있는 날이 빨리 왔으면 좋겠습니다.”
Stop and listen!
While the immense stigma attached to sex work represent a problem for sex workers worldwide, the traditionally strict gender roles still alive in modern Korean society greatly exacerbate it. In a recent meeting with a sex worker in Seoul, we talked about the common rhetorical ploy by prostitution abolitionists to ask whether or not one would wish for one’s own children to become prostitutes. Her comment was that she would indeed try everything to prevent her child from working as a prostitute, but the reason she gave for that was not the nature of the work, but the stigmatisation that goes along with it, and that is causing her great distress and has her keep a distance from her parents to avoid having to lie to them about her work. 
Stigmatisation and discrimination have been the most commonly given answers I received when talking to Korean sex workers about difficulties they experience in their daily lives.
And so my message on the evening before the Sex Workers’ Freedom Festival is directed to those readers unsure about the subject of sex workers’ rights.
To change laws and improve the rights of sex workers will take a lot of time and effort. But to open your mind, you only have to stop and listen, even if some of it might make you feel uncomfortable. I like to encourage you to stop believing the one-dimensional rhetoric of prostitution abolitionists and to listen instead to the experiences shared by those who know best, and those are sex workers themselves.
One of them is Maggie McNeill, a retired call girl, who writes about how she sees the world on her blog ‘The Honest Courtesan’.
“Those who wish to control others, to attack consensual actions with criminal laws, and to eliminate options which make them uncomfortable, believe that morality is set in stone; they think that right and wrong are as separate and distinct as black and white, and that they and only they have the direct proclamation from Godhead about which is which. Rational people, however, understand that morality is a process of weighing out various factors, comparing the relative right and wrong of each, in order to come to the most just, least harmful decision possible.” 
 The protests against the naval base on Jeju Island are a significant exception to the rule. The Korean government responded to the appearance of 2012 Nobel Peace Prize nominee Angie Zelter (UK) and Benjamin Monnet (France) on the scene by arresting the two non-violent peace activists. While they eventually deported without any formal judicial procedure, three US citizens, members of US Veterans for Peace, were outright forbidden to land in Korea, discouraging further interference from the outside. Case in point.
 To avoid any misunderstanding, I would like to clarify that I do not wish to imply that Korean sex workers aren’t capable of making themselves heard, as this video greatly illustrates. In the recent past, Korean sex workers have more frequently participated in meetings and conferences outside Korea. As KANG Hyun Joon’s quote illustrates, however, contacts to sex work activists are still very limited, especially when it comes to links outside East Asia.
 The interviewee consented to having her views published. The photo was taken from a twitter account of a Korean sex worker.
 A Different View by The Honest Courtesan