Unprotected: How Legalizing Prostitution Has Failed

Photo Gallery: The Underbelly of Germany's Sex Trade Photos
DPA

Part 2: Flat-Rate Horror

In addition to so-called nudist or sauna clubs, where the male customers wear a towel while the women are naked, large brothels have also become established. They advertise their services at all-inclusive rates. When the Pussy Club opened near Stuttgart in 2009, the management advertised the club as follows: "Sex with all women as long as you want, as often as you want and the way you want. Sex. Anal sex. Oral sex without a condom. Three-ways. Group sex. Gang bangs." The price: €70 during the day and €100 in the evening.

According to the police, about 1,700 customers took advantage of the offer on the opening weekend. Buses arrived from far away and local newspapers reported that up to 700 men stood in line outside the brothel. Afterwards, customers wrote in Internet chat rooms about the supposedly unsatisfactory service, complaining that the women were no longer as fit for use after a few hours.

The business has become tougher, says Nuremberg social worker Andrea Weppert, who has worked with prostitutes for more than 20 years, during which the total number of prostitutes has tripled. According to Weppert, more than half of the women have no permanent residence, but instead travel from place to place, so that they can earn more money by being new to a particular city.

Today "a high percentage of prostitutes don't go home after work, but rather remain at their place of work around the clock," a former prostitute using the pseudonym Doris Winter wrote in a contribution to the academic series "The Prostitution Law." "The women usually live in the rooms where they work," she added.

In Nuremberg, such rooms cost between €50 and €80 a day, says social worker Weppert, and the price can go up to €160 in brothels with a lot of customers. Working conditions for prostitutes have "worsened in recent years," says Weppert. In Germany on the whole, she adds, "significantly more services are provided under riskier conditions and for less money than 10 years ago."

Dropping Prices

Despite the worsening conditions, women are flocking to Germany, the largest prostitution market in the European Union -- a fact that even brothel owners confirm. Holger Rettig of the UEGD says that the influx of women from Romania and Bulgaria has increased dramatically since the two countries joined the EU. "This has led to a drop in prices," says Rettig, who notes that the prostitution business is characterized by "a radical market economy rather than a social market economy."

Munich Police Chief Wilhelm Schmidbauer deplores the "explosive increase in human trafficking from Romania and Bulgaria," but adds that he lacks access to the necessary tools to investigate. He is often prohibited from using telephone surveillance. The result, says Schmidbauer, "is that we have practically no cases involving human trafficking. We can't prove anything."

This makes it difficult to track down those who bring fresh product from the most remote corners of Europe for Germany's brothels, product like Sina. She told the psychologists in the office of the women's information center in Stuttgart about her path to German flat-rate brothels. In Corhana, her native village near Romania's border with the Republic of Moldova, most houses have no running water. Sina and the other village girls used to fetch water from the well every day. It was like a scene out of "Cinderella." All the girls dreamed that a man would come one day to rescue them from their gloomy lives.

The man, who eventually drove up to the village well in his big BMW, was named Marian. For Sina it was love at first sight. He told her that there was work in Germany, and her parents signed a form allowing her, as a minor, to leave the country. On the trip to Schifferstadt in the southwestern state of Rhineland-Palatinate, he gave Sina alcohol and slept with her.

Marian delivered her to the "No Limit," a flat-rate brothel. Sina was only 16, and she allegedly served up to 30 customers a day. She was occasionally paid a few hundred euros. Marian, worried about police raids, eventually sent her back to Romania. But she returned and continued to work as a prostitute. She hoped that a customer would fall in love with her and rescue her.

'No Measurable Improvements'

Has Germany's prostitution law improved the situation of women like Sina? Five years after it was introduced, the Family Ministry evaluated what the new legislation had achieved. The report states that the objectives were "only partially achieved," and that deregulation had "not brought about any measurable actual improvement in the social coverage of prostitutes." Neither working conditions nor the ability to exit the profession had improved. Finally, there was "no solid proof to date" that the law had reduced crime.

Hardly a single court had heard a case involving a prostitute suing for her wages. Only 1 percent of the women surveyed said that they had signed an employment contract as a prostitute. The fact that the Ver.di union had developed a "sample employment contract in the field of sexual services" didn't change matters. In a poll conducted by Ver.di, a brothel operator said that she valued the prostitution law because it reduced the likelihood of raids. In fact, she said, the law was more advantageous for brothel operators than prostitutes.

To operate a mobile snack bar in Germany, one has to be in compliance with the DIN 10500/1 standard for "Vending Vehicles for Perishable Food," which states, for example, that soap dispensers and disposable towels are required. A brothel operator is not subject to any such restrictions. All he or she has to do is report to authorities when the brothel is opened.

Prostitutes still avoid registering with authorities. In Hamburg, with its famous Reeperbahn red-light district, only 153 women are in compliance with regulations and have registered with the city's tax office. The government wants prostitutes to pay taxes. Does it have to establish rules for the profession in return?

The odd role the government assumes in the sex trade is in evidence among street hookers in Bonn. Every evening, prostitutes have to buy a tax ticket from a machine, valid until 6 a.m. the next day. The ticket costs €6.

A Big Mac for Sex

In the northern part of Cologne, where drug-addicted prostitutes work along Geestemünder Strasse not far from the Ford plant, no taxes are levied. As part of a social project, so-called "working stalls" -- essentially walled off parking spots for car sex -- are built into a space under a shed roof. Although there are no signs plainly indicating that the facility is for prostitution, a speed limit of 10 kilometers per hour is posted for the fenced area, and drivers are required to move in a counter-clockwise direction.

On a cold spring evening, about 20 women are standing along the edge of the area. Some have brought along camping chairs while others are sitting in repurposed bus shelters. When a john has agreed on a price with one of the women, he takes her to one of the stalls. There are eight of the stalls under the shed roof, as well as a separate room for cyclists and pedestrians, with a concrete floor and a park bench. There is an alarm button in each stall, and a Catholic women's social service group monitors the area every evening.

Alia, a 23-year-old in a blonde wig, has squeezed herself into a corsage and she is trying to cover up the alcohol on her breath with a mint. Referring to herself and the other street prostitutes, Alia says: "People who work here have a real problem."

Alia's path to Geestemünder Strasse began when she dropped out of school and moved in with a boyfriend, who sent her out to turn tricks. She began working as a prostitute because of "financial difficulties and love," she says, and soon marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines and alcohol came into the mix. "There is no prostitution without coercion and distress," she says. She has been walking the streets for three years. "A woman who is doing well doesn't work like this," she says.

The going rate for oral sex and intercourse used to be €40 on Geestemünder Strasse. But when the nearby city of Dortmund closed its streetwalking area, more women came to Cologne, says Alia. "There are more and more women now, and they drop their prices so that they'll make something at all," she complains. Bulgarian and Romanian women sometimes charge less than €10, she says. "One woman here will even do it for a Big Mac."

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1. Misinformation and Disrespect to Sex Workers and Migrants
Tilopa 05/30/2013
The article is a fabrication of misinformation and disrespect to sex worker's and migrant's diverse experiences working in prostitution in Germany. With cherry-picked sensationalist trafficking stories, inflated guestimates, and citations out of context, it is catering to religious and feminist prohibitionist ideology - but is far from representing the existing body of facts and evidence. The German version of the article has already been refuted and heavily criticised by sex workers, sex worker rights activists, lawyers, and researchers. If you speak German, you might be interested in how unfairly Carmen, who is an actual sex worker, has been treated by Spiegel in the recent issue. At the end of her blog post you can also find the URLs of the various rebuttals to the German language version of this article (as mentioned above): http://courtisane.de/blog/?p=659
2. Prostitution
redbaron616 06/05/2013
Amazing how even the language is changed to make it sound wonderful: sex workers. When you sell your body, you inevitably sell some of your soul with it. There's not way around that. Sorry that Germany decided that making prostitution legal would solve all ills.
3.
MelanieMay 06/06/2013
http://forum-international.spiegel.de/showthread.php?t=3798 Everbody should read this before making a hasty judgement...
4. trafficking - prostitution
Vago 06/07/2013
This article discusses the problem with legalizing prostitution: http://www.indianapsa.org/2008/article2.pdf
5.
Matthias_Lehmann 06/07/2013
A response by two German researchers to DER SPIEGEL's deeply flawed cover story about the alleged failure of the German prostitution law (and an account of the questionable journalistic ethics of the magazine's staff) http://feministire.wordpress.com/2013/06/06/does-legal-prostitution-really-increase-human-trafficking-in-germany/
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