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Law and order
6 August 2013

Germany’s unpleasant experiment with legalised prostitution

Warning to readers – today’s post is about the sordid reality of prostitution, not the airbrushed fantasy depicted in some parts of the media.

When a new brothel opened near the German city of Stuttgart in 2009, this – according Spiegel Online – is how the management advertised the venue:

  • “‘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.”

In Germany this is legal – and has been since 2001, when the Greens and the Social Democrats voted for a new prostitution law, meant to improve working conditions:

  • “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 [Andrea] 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.’”

One of the reasons for the decline in pay and conditions is the influx of women from eastern Europe. Official German statistics show that that there is less “human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation” than a decade ago, but not everyone thinks that this reflects reality:

  • “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.’
  • “...the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law concluded that official figures on human trafficking say ‘little about the actual scope of the offence.’”

So, what’s the solution? To go back to the days when the authorities hounded women off the streets, into police cells and back again? There is another way. In Sweden, they hound the clients, the pimps and the traffickers, not the prostitutes. 

The Swedish approach, so very different from that of countries like Germany and the Netherlands, seems to be having some success, with prostitution now in decline.

Sweden still has a long way to go, of course. But as Pierrette Pape, of the Europe Women’s Lobby, points out, some attitudes can only be changed over the long-term:

  • "Nowadays, a little boy in Sweden grows up with the fact that buying sex is a crime. A little boy in the Netherlands grows up with the knowledge that women sit in display windows and can be ordered like mass-produced goods." 


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