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The Myth of “Legal Makes It safe”

Here is my presentation from the “Feminist Perspectives On The Sex Trade” Panel at FiLiA 2019 in Bradford, UK

Before I speak on my topic, why legalisation making it safe for women in prostitution is a myth and why I choose this bloody hands picture for what the pimp state Germany means to women in prostitution, I want to share something with you, that happened yesterday at the March Against The Sex Trade we had. After our minute of silence a man came up to me and Inge, who is another activist from Germany, and asked her, who had been reading out the name of Rebecca Hall, if she knew Rebecca. She said no and he replied that he did. He had been at the Vigil by coincidence, walking by and being interested in what was going on, when he heard Inge say her name. Rebecca was one of ten Bradford women we read out yesterday. He told us he and Rebecca went to school together twenty years ago and he still thinks of her very often. He told us she was a very lovable person. You can hear my voice shaking, because this was such a beautiful moment. This is exactly why we are running the Sex Industry Kills project. The women we lost in the sex trade were loved by family and friends, who miss them deeply. They should never be forgotten!

Almost every day we can read statements that prostitution needs to be legalized, because that would make it more safe to the women (and others) involved.

Just this week was the first meeting of an intergroup plenary committee in the German Bundestag, initiated by parliamentarians that are advocating for the implementation of the Nordic Model in Germany. This first meeting was met by a protest of german “sex workers” that advocate for prostitution as sex work and work as any other as an “harm reduction” approach. Also the Social Democrats in the state Baden-Württemberg have put out a resolution on their party convention in favor of the Nordic Model last weekend.

So in the face of these developments that can be called revolutionary for Germany, the German Pirate Party put out a statement saying “Through legal sex work it is much easier to offer constitutional and protective support”. The green-left newspaper TAZ published a debate article claiming the Nordic Model would lead to “less protection, less rights and more stigma”.

Prostitution has been legal in Germany since at least the 19th century. So reading these statements shouldn’t we expect Germany to be a safe haven for the prostituted?

Unfortunately we have only a few studies and no comprehensive empirical data dealing with this question. Our fellow activist Inge Kleine asked the important question how the state can ensure “equality between women and men and also “safety” in prostitution, if they don`t even bother do collect any data”?

What is evident is that with the invention of the prostitution law of 2002 that normalized prostitution even more than before and decriminalized most aspects of pimping, the German state and researchers obviously lost their interest in finding out what legalization means to the women involved in prostitution: We did not have statistics, we did not have numbers, we did not have governmental staff to observe the market.

So what do the few studies we have tell us about the situation of prostituted women in Germany?

First of all some estimates from different studies:

Where does prostitution take place? 2 of 3 prostituted women in Germany are prostituted in apartments. On the picture you can see a street in my neighborhood, the prostitution apartment is where you can see that red lamp on the balcony. Street prostitution and escort agencies only make 1% each in the german market.

9 in 10 prostituted persons are women, the other 10 % consist of 7% men and 3% transpersons.

In the course of the 2002 prostitution law as I have already mentioned pimping was redefined and further decriminalized, meaning that today only “exploitative pimping” is a crime, which is ruled by the courts as to take more than 50% of the prostituted s earnings.

What is the consequence of that? Actually it means in Germany being trafficked into the sex trade under brutal circumstances, being sexually assaulted and being kept prisoner in an apartment is no longer being the victim of a brutal crime. You don`t want to believe that? Well lets  look at the case study of a young eastern European woman. She had to be at the “escort services” disposal for 24 hours a day. Her “employer” drove her to appointments. He raped her. He locked her up in an apartment until she jumped from the window in an attempt to flee. She sustained very serious injuries to both her legs and to her lower back.

Please, can these of you who think this should count as a “work accident” raise their hands for a moment?

This young woman got granted benefits for her “inability to engage in her profession” – we are glad this gives her the opportunity to at least pay her medical bills. But what will happen when she has healed enough to go back to her “sex work”? Go figure! (Read more on this case here)

This case reminded me of the commonly used term in Germany speaking of “the most accidents happening in the household”. It took me many years to realize that this is an euphemism for speaking about the widespread male violence against women. Its just “accidents” that “happen” out of the nowhere ….

The health situation of women in german prostitution is awful: Not only does only 1 in 10 prostituted women have a health insurance, it is also shocking what doctors tell us about what they see in their daily work: inflammations of women`s sexual organs are normal and STDs are on the rise. Due to the high rents in indoor prostitution women have to continue to serve clients even while suffering from unbearable pain. Infertility, late miscarriages or severe disabilities as a result of Syphilis are pretty common and women are often back in prostitution already 3 days after giving birth.

AIDS organizations often emphasize when the issue of STDs is on, that there is no indication that there is a higher prevalence of HIV among prostituted compared to non-prostituted women. Studies proof this to be correct, but this statements does not go for any other STD as you can see in this comparison of prostituted and non-prostituted women from a survey, done by the University of Lübeck.

In 2005 a comprehensive study into the situation, safety and health of women in Germany, was published, which had been commissioned by the Federal Ministry of Familiy Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth. A survey of a sub-population of prostitutes showed that health problems and violence are a commonplace experience in prostitution. The study also made it possible to compare the occurance of health problems and the experienced violence in the lifes of average women and in that of prostituted women.

If we look at the physical health conditions we find the highest accounts for very strong menstrual pain, problems with the menstrual cycle in general and abdominal pain and problems.

If we look at psychological conditions the differences of the two compared groups are even bigger.

We can see that the prostituted women have a much higher experience with violent acts like house-breaking, robbery or restrictions in their freedom of movement.

1 in 3 prostituted women in the survey felt unsafe or very unsafe in prostitution.  4 in 5 reported about fear of johns, 40% reported about fear of pimps and colleagues.

On Wednesday I got hold of this little booklet here, which warns women in street prostitution of violent johns. It contains descriptions of the perpetrators and the violent acts, where they contacted the victims and where the violent acts were commited.  The pages on the picture describe two incidents from February this year: One perpetrator approached the woman in a light-colored old Mercedes. He was about 28 years old. He indicated he was a police man, let the woman perform oral on him and said he will renounce to report her if he doesn’t have to pay any money. He is said to be very familiar with the sex trade.

The second case is about a well-trained,  who approached a woman in a black station wagon. He drugged the woman with large amounts of crack and heroine, imprisoned and raped her, until she managed to flee through the window after two days. There we go with almost another one of these infamous “work accidents”? And you all need those booklets in your jobs to warn about certain customers, right?

The abeforementioned study showed that at least 1 in 3 women experienced physical violence within the sex trade context, and at least 1 in 3 women experienced sexual violence in prostitution.

Another study from the year 2001 even found much higher prevalence of violent acts and came to the conclusion that more than 80% of the sample were victims of sexual violence, of which 60% were rapes. 70% of the sample were victims of physical violence within the “work” context. In 77% of the cases the perpetrator was a john. Who is surprised?

When we started to document deadly violence in the german sex trade in 2013 we had a list of 22 women that were murdered in german prostitution. I found an article that was published in the 1960s, referring to a crime statistic of the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation that recorded the murders in prostitution back then: They mentioned 88 murders over a period of 15 years,  from 1950 to 1965.

So I wrote to the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation to find out if there are statistics available for today as well. They replied that with the invention of the prostitution law of 2002 they stopped recording the numbers, because this would be stigmatizing to the work of prostitution. Interestingly enough there is still statistics concerning the violence against taxi drivers….

Our Sex Industry Kills Wiki was launched in 2014 with the goal to uncover and publish details and background information about the individual murders, to humanize the victims and to educate the public about  their living situations.

Here is some of our findings:

Since 2000 at least 91 prostituted women have been murdered in Germany. There was another 43 murder attempts. Three prostituted women disappeared. We have one documented drug overdose and one suicide.

Almost 99% of the documented victims were female, two victims were transwomen and one victim was a man. The youngest victim was 15 years old, the oldest 67 years old. While foreign victims only sporadically appeared among the victims until 1990, the number of foreign women steadily increased after that. At least 1 in 4 of all victims between 1990 and 1999 was of foreign origin, between 2000 and 2009 migrant women already made up half and in the current documented decade almost 3 in 4 of the victims were migrant women.

For the time frame of 1990 – 1999 most crimes were committed against women in outdoor prostitution (street and caravan: 58.3%), while 78% of the murders committed between 2000 and 2009 occurred in indoor prostitution.

The known motives range from explicit misogyny, attempts to cover up other crimes (like rape, robbery, …), jealousy, anger over the refusal to perform specific sexual practices and fights resulting from fighting over the payment.

If we look at Germany one thing becomes crystal clear: Whoever wants to tell you that legal prostitution does make it safe for women in prostitution is either a liar or has no knowledge about reality.

The governmental evaluation of the Prostitution Act has brought unequivocal results.

Let me quote:

“The Prostitution Act has not been able to create any measurable real improvement in the social security situation of prostitutes. As regards the working conditions in prostitution hardly any measurable effects could be identified in practice. […] Exit possibilities from prostitution have not been improved by the prostitution act. There are no viable indicators of the Prostitution Act having had any crime-minimalizing effect.”

There is no alternative: If we want to stop harm done in and by prostitution, we must stop prostitution altogether.

And I give a promise to all of you : We will bring the Nordic Model to Germany!

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