I held the following speech at the conference in celebration of ten years of sex purchase law in Norway on June 15th in Oslo at an event organized by Kvinnegruppa Ottar. You can see a video of the speech here.
Hello and good afternoon to you,
it is a pleasure and great honor to be here with you today on this extremely interesting and important conference.
For me, as an activist coming from Germany, a country were prostitution is very normalized and partially part of the national identity, it is always both educational and encouraging to come together with you.
Today I want to tell you something about the current situation of prostitution in my country in general and about the situation for us as activists in particular.
Let me start by telling you that it is a popular misconception that prostitution was legalized in Germany in the year of 2002. The truth is: The buying of sex has been legal in Germany for centuries. There is also a long tradition of the legal keeping of brothels. The first red light districts with their concentration of brothels in one part of a city evolved in the middle of the nineteenth century. While consuming prostitution and profiting out of it remains legal up until today, Germany too has a long tradition of going after the women in the trade. Prostituted women, who did not „work“ how and where the german state wanted them to, were disciplined by being detained in workhouses up until the 1960s. During the Naziterror they were even persecuted as “anti-socials” and were detained or murdered in the concentration camps – belonging to the one group of victims of the Nazis that have not been compensated up to today – and who are being almost forgotten in the vibrant remembrance culture.
Until the 1990s prostituted women were forced to frequent mandatory health checks – explicitely to protect the consumers – and up until today there are zoning laws that only allow prostitution in certain areas: Women who are prostituted outside these zones are criminalized with fines, and, if they are not able to pay them, will end up in jail.
So what was the prostitution law of 2002 all about? On the one hand it was an attempt to allow women in prostitution to be regular employees and thus get access to employment protection rights, such as unemployment benefits or entitlement to a pension. But only 44 women and men applied for this, while all others remained officially self-employed, which of course doesn’t mean in reality that they were or are really working in these terms. One could also cynically say, that this possibilty was in reality an attempt to get the pimps to pay money into the social welfare system, given the fact that most court trials against brothel keepers since 2002 are centered around tax and social benefit fraud. Another aspect of the 2002 law was the de facto legalization of pimping. Before it was legal to rent out the rooms in the brothels or prostitution apartments, but not legal to intervene into the prostitution business itself. This changed fundamentally: From now pimps could officially „manage“ the women, run advertisements in their name, take up to 50% of their money and partly tell them what to do or not do.
The result of all this is a prostitution market that was once described by british prostitution survivor Rebecca Mott as „hell on earth fort he prostituted class“. The prostitution market became characterized as an „everything goes“. Flatrate brothels with their „all you can fuck“ offers became as normal as “gang bang parties” with women six month pregnant or advertisements for services without condom. Germany is destination for sex tourists from all over the world, because prostitution is so easily available – and because it is so cheap. Prices in street prostitution are as low as 5 Euro, a warm meal or a pack of cigarettes and in the brothels the average price is as low as 25 Euro. About 90 percent of the women in prostitution are migrant women, mostly from eastern Europe. We can also a growing demand from male sex buyers for men, the prostituted men also being mainly eastern europeans or refugees.
In the last 25 years at least 84 women were murderd in the german sex trade and another 47 prostituted women survived a murder attempt. The newspapers tell us about rapes, batteries and robberies almost every day.
The situation became so bad, that the german government felt they had to do something, which led to the „Prostitute Protection Law“ of 2017. But instead of even discussing the Nordic Model as an option, they made clear right from the beginning that they will stick to the legalization approach. Their solution lies in more regulation, again resulting in more force put on the women in the trade, like an obligation to register, for mandatory health counselling and paying taxes: The moment a woman registers she is reported to the finance authorities – ensuring that the pimp state gets the taxes it is charging the women with. A woman who doesnt register is fined.
Another part of the law is that also the brothels now need to register and get an official permission from the state. The sex buyers can now claim that nothing is wrong with their actions since the brothels now sort of have a governmental „Fair Trade“ certificate, making everyone believe that everything is all right. „Inhumane practicses“ like Flatrate, Gang Band and services without condom are now forbidden. What we can see after 1 ½ year of implemention is a monopolization of the trade and fewer pimps making more money. The trade is adjusting to the new rules – and the big business goes on.
We as activists against this „raging pimp machine“, as Rachel Moran has named it, have to fight against windmills. We are the freaks that dare to question something so normal as ordering a pizza. We are ridiculed, belittled and actively fought against. We are being pushed out of our organizations, bullied and some of us had to be worried about their jobs. But let me tell you: all that can’t stop us.
When we started out, just a handful of people, in 2013, the fight seemed necessary but almost futile. Nonetheless we tried. We started to expand our networks nationally and internationally. We started to educate ourselves and others. We translated texts from activists all over the world and wrote our own. We spent countless hours in social media discussions and organized local events. We organized conferences. We founded networks, organizations and strategized. And we put our noses into the history books and learned that in the 20th century Germany already had an influential abolitionist movement targeting the male demand that we can take up with.
And dear friends from Ottar,
I cannot emphasize enough how much strength being in contact with you and other Scandinavians has given me personally in the last years to keep up that fight. To come to a country, where our position is rather mainstream and not an outsider position meant and means so much. To feel understood and to see young men and women shake their heads about what we tell about the situation in our country strengthens our feeling that we are on the right side of history.
And with that support from you and the activists from all the other countries we have made much progress in a relatively short time. Progress that we never thought would be possible.
Today we experience that more and more people share our texts. We see media, both print and television, talking more differentiated on the issue and give coverage also to criticial voices. Network ELLA was founded by Huschke Mau in the meantime, a network of current and exited prostituted women. We see that we dont need to organize our own events anymore, but that we are invited to speak at the events of others. We see a revival of radical feminist analysis and activism. We see that even those groups that seemed to be out of reach for us, like the political left or university student groups, are slowly becoming more critical. We see former liberal feminists or women that identified themselves as “sex workers” change sides and join our ranks. And just last week leading members of the womens organisation of the german social democrat party (SPD) have come out in favor of the Nordic Model.
Partly we can even say that being against prostitution has become a fashionable thing. The former unspeakable has become a valid public opinion. We see that people who never cared, like writers, jump on the train and try to use parts of our position, strip off the feminist parts of it, and sometimes successfully push themselves in a dominant position in the debate. On the one hand this is a huge problem for the movement, on the other hand it proves the influence our activism has on the public debate.
Our obligation now is to keep up our efforts, to remain clear on our positions and to water the seeds we have spread all over the country. We are convinced that in a couple of years Germany will join the ranks of those countries that adopted the Nordic Model. We will finish the work of the fierce activists of the 20th century!
But: We will still be dependent on your inspiration, your experience – and there will be times where we will still need to flee to Norway to get you to comfort us against the backlashes. We will still need other countries to shame our government for the countless women that are being destroyed and left behind in the dirt of our neighborhoods.
We can’t do this alone, so I ask you to continue to support us wherever you can. Then I am sure we are bound to succeed.
Thank you very much again for having us and thank you for your attention.