The “Prostitutes Protection Law” has reached a cul-de-sac, explains Criminal Law Professor Dr. Monika Frommel
Rather than patronising sex workers with criminal and police laws, they should be protected from exploitative brothel operators by using the trade law in Germany, says Dr. Monika Frommel, emeritus criminal law professor and co-editor of the legal journal Neue Kriminalpolitik.
Why do politicians fail yet again to adequately regulate prostitution during this legislative period? The goal of a reform should be to control brothel operators as effectively as possible. But instead, a draft bill has been created that will achieve the opposite: the strict and bureaucratic monitoring of sex workers. Brothel operators, on the other hand, have little to be afraid of.
Instead of “protection” from exploitation, the draft bill, modified several times and unlikely to draw a consensus, includes the duty to register and undergo health checks for those individually engaging in this line of work (it was once called “Bockschein”). Health authorities are supposed to be responsible for those health checks but they can neither provide comprehensive advice nor offer affordable HIV prevention. If one dictates mandatory health checks carrying potential sanctions anyway, one creates an entirely useless Normenfalle [lit. trap of norms; numerous regulations that are impossible to abide by at all times, which in turn renders them permanently criticisable and sanctionable; translator’s note]. The new provisions concerning police powers are unreasonable anyway. What’s missing is the tailwind for an adequate reform. Headwind there is plenty, however, for example from the fringes of the women’s movement, once interested in emancipation [but now arguing that] buying sex should be banned, clients of “forced prostitutes” should be punished, 90 percent of prostitutes were victims of human trafficking, and prostitution constituted an attack on “women’s dignity” – hard to believe that women who regard themselves as emancipated engage in such proxy battles. So far, they haven’t gotten their way, but they’ve nevertheless caused damage.
It’s simply absurd to prosecute exploitation – as hitherto – via the bizarre detour of making claims about human trafficking, a criminal offence whose legal definition has up until recently been regularly expanded at the instigation of the EU. Everybody involved has known for years that this leads nowhere and cannot lead anywhere. So why then repeat in the future what had not been thought through in the past already but was only ideologically motivated? The ideology is known: human trafficking is always forced labour, prostitution is almost always forced prostitution (apart from a few exotics). How do politicians for women’s affairs get to this simple equation? Many people work under economic constraints. (Apart from extreme exceptions) Brothel operators and third parties force nobody into prostitution. Economically weak independent entrepreneurs exist not only in this line of work. From that perspective, providing sexual services is a job like any other. A “Prostitutes Protection Law” could make sense. What doesn’t make sense is to speak about “coercion” and “voluntariness” exclusively in the context of prostitution but not in other lines of work, where poorly qualified workers are also being exploited. Not the work itself is harmful but the unchecked economical necessity to serve too many clients in order to be able to afford too high rental fees and extra costs. What is now planned complicates the work of those engaged in sex work without providing any benefits for them.
If legislators were interested in a rational, long-term solution and not in phoney, moralising debates, what would be the goal of an effective regulation under the trade law? Technically, brothels would be classified as commercial enterprises requiring permissions from licensing authorities. This would depend on the constantly verifiable compliance with minimum requirements. Experienced authorities could respond flexibly whenever operators would fall short of the specified minimum standards. Those who work there (independently) could examine the files at the trade office and check if the fees deducted for operational costs are in fact realistic, just as tenants have the right to control such matters and have tenants associations who support them in that. Why shouldn’t that be possible at brothels?