Unprotected: How Legalizing Prostitution Has Failed
Part 5: Standing Pat
In 2009, female politicians from the CDU, the SDP, the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the Green Party in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg called for an initiative in the Bundesrat, the legislative body that represents the German states, against "inhuman flat-rate services." But no changes were made to the law.
The Netherlands chose the path of legal deregulation two years before Germany. Both the Dutch justice minister and the police concede that there have been no palpable improvements for prostitutes since then. They are generally in poorer health than before, and increasing numbers are addicted to drugs. The police estimate that 50 to 90 percent of prostitutes do not practice the profession voluntarily.
Social Democrat Lodewijk Asscher believes that the legalization of prostitution was "a national mistake." The Dutch government now plans to tighten the law to combat a rise in human trafficking and forced prostitution.
The Germans aren't there yet. The Greens, who played such an instrumental role by supporting the prostitution law 12 years ago, have no regrets. A spokesperson for Kerstin Müller, the Green Party parliamentary floor leader at the time, says that she focuses on other issues today. Irmingard Schewe-Gerigk, who was also a leading Green Party parliamentarian at the time the law was passed, says: "The law was good. It's just that we should have implemented it more thoroughly." Interestingly enough, Schewe-Gerigk is now the chairman of the women's rights organization Terre des Femmes, which aims to achieve "a society without prostitution."
The third pioneer of the new law at the time, Volker Beck, also continues to support it today. Beck, his party's former legal policy spokesman, does call for new assistance programs and exit programs. But he says that Sweden cannot be a model for Germany. "A ban doesn't improve anything, because then it will just happen in places that are difficult to monitor," Beck says. Besides, he adds, "criminal gangs will take over the business" -- as if upstanding businesspeople were the ones running it today.
'Realm of Illegality'
A few of his fellow Greens disagree. "A large segment of the industry is already operating in the realm of illegality today," says Thekla Walker from Stuttgart. The chair of her party's state organization, Walker has sought to change her party's approach to prostitution.
"The autonomous prostitute we envisioned when the prostitution law was enacted in 2001, who negotiates on equal terms with her client and can support herself with her income, is the exception," reads a motion Walker introduced during a party convention last month. The current laws, it continues, do not protect women from exploitation, but grants them "merely the freedom to allow themselves to be exploited." The Greens, Walker wrote, cannot turn a blind eye to the "catastrophic living and working conditions of many prostitutes."
But they did. Walker withdrew the motion because it stood no chance of securing a majority, though the party has said it would take a closer look to see if the law requires improvements.
In Germany, those who speak out against legalization are considered "prudish and moralizing," says law professor Gugel. Besides, she adds, she doesn't have the feeling "that politicians have much interest in the subject."
Family Minister Kristina Schröder, though, did in fact set out to crack down on human trafficking and forced prostitution. "Despite very intensive efforts, it hasn't been possible to achieve unanimity among the four ministries involved," Schröder's ministry said in a statement. Her desire to regulate brothels more heavily failed in the face of opposition by Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger. Schnarrenberger believes that reforming the law is unnecessary and repeats the old argument, namely that the German law brings women out of illegality while the Swedish law forces them into the dark.
Given such disagreement, it would be a miracle if the government reached a decision soon to protect victims of human trafficking more effectively. Instead, women will continue to have to fend for themselves.
Alina from Sânandrei managed to flee from the Airport Muschis brothel. After a raid, she and 10 other women ran to a Turkish restaurant in the neighborhood. The owner's brother, who was a customer, hid the women and rented a bus at his own expense. Then he tried to drive them to Romania. The pimps tried to stop the bus, but the women were able to escape.
Alina now lives in her parent's house again. She hasn't told them about what happened. She is working, but she doesn't want to say what she does. The pay, she says, is enough for her bus ticket, clothes and a little makeup.
Alina sometimes visits the AIDrom, a counseling center for victims of human trafficking in the western Romanian city of Timisoara, where she speaks with psychologist Georgiana Palcu, who is trying to find her a training position as a hairdresser or a cook. Palcu says that the conversations with young women who have returned from Germany are "endless and difficult." She encourages them to be optimistic.
But Palcu has no illusions. Even if a girl could find a training position, she probably wouldn't take the job, because such positions offer no more than 200 for a 40-hour workweek. As a result, says Palcu, many of those who returned from Germany after being mistreated there are working as prostitutes again. "What can I tell them?" she asks. "This is reality. You can't live on 200."
The Airport Muschis brothel in Schönefeld no longer exists. It's been replaced by Club Erotica, which does not offer flat-rates. But johns still have plenty of choice in the area. A few kilometers away in Schöneberg, the King George has switched to flat-rate pricing. Its management uses the slogan "Geiz macht Geil," which loosely translates as "being cheap makes you horny." For 99, clients can enjoy sex and drinks until the establishment closes. Anal sex, unprotected oral sex and kissing-with-tongue are extra. The King George offers a "gang-bang party" on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
It's completely legal.
BY CORDULA MEYER, CONNY NEUMANN, FIDELIUS SCHMID, PETRA TRUCKENDANNER and STEFFEN WINTER
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
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