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'People talk about, not to prostitutes'

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Photo: DPA
16:18 CET+01:00
With a wave of sex workers’ groups opening up in Germany calling for improvements to the industry, The Local looks at prostitution in the country in the latest installment of our sex series.

Since selling sex became legal in Germany in 2002, the country has morphed into one of the most liberal countries in the western world for prostitution. Sex workers pay tax and have to follow state-set regulations in what is now a multi-billion-euro industry.

In 2012, there were 200,000 sex workers active in the country, according to figures from the German Employers' Association of Erotic Companies (UEGD) This is an increase of 33 percent since it was legalized – a sign that business is not slowing. Just 45,000 of the workers have German citizenship.

Seen by the Bild newspaper, the new figures give a deeper look into the country's red light scene.

Prostitution made €5.58 billion in 2012 from the around 99.6 million sex acts sold that year. This averages out at around 273,000 people buying the services of a sex worker daily.

An average session costs a punter around €56, although so-called “flat rate brothels” are gaining in popularity in parts of the country. Clients go in and pay a set amount for as much action as they want..

The UEGD collected the figures by asking around 500 brothels across the country, spokesman Holger Rettig told the Bild.

And it is one of a small wave of prostitution rights groups cropping up in Germany.

Federal Association Erotic and Sexual Services is a new group set up in October. “Prostitutes are talked about but never talked to,” is one of their messages.

Their hope is to abolish the stigma around sex work and improve working conditions for those in the industry.

Others think completely differently, however. A huge campaign began earlier this month from women's magazine Emma, called “Appeal Against Prostitution.”

An accompanying book was launched on Thursday night in Berlin, outside which sex workers gathered in a protest organized by Sexwork Deutschland.

In under three weeks the Emma campaign has garnered more than 5,500 signatures, some high profile.

Their demands are clear, but ambitious - an end to the deregulation of prostitution, more public information about the trade and a ban on purchasing sexual acts.

Appetite for change?

As the country's two biggest parties figure out a new coalition government, there is talk that tighter regulating of the sex industry could be on the agenda.

The Social Democrats and Greens legalized prostitution when they were in government in 2002, but those plans arguably failed to play out as expected.

Now both those for and against legalized prostitution are starting to call for change.

Questions are being raised with more frequency about the links between people trafficking and the sex trade and the media is putting attention on huge new brothels. One is set to open its doors in the sleepy border town of Saarbrücken, causing uproar in the surrounding area.

In Berlin, one of the most famous areas for streetwalkers and prostitutes, Kurfürstenstraße, could see change to what has been the norm there for a century. Conservative politician Frank Henkel told the BZ newspaper earlier this week that he would be pushing for a curfew on streetwalkers.

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Meanwhile, workers at Frauen-Notdienst women's charity told the paper that they had been going along the stretch advising women to put trousers on in the hope it would let workers remain on the patch.

Centre-left politician Dilek Kolat (SPD) acknowledged there would be problems in creating an overarching curfew for sex workers in a certain area. “They will move elsewhere,” he said.

The Green Party seems to be taking a more rational approach, calling for a “roundtable debate” about the sex industry.

“Complex problems need varied solutions and not a quick fix answer,” a Green party spokesperson told the newspaper on Friday.

More from The Local's Sex in Germany series:

'We have more freedom to teach sex in schools'

'We have less of a problem with sex on TV'

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