Prostitution "clients" know very well that they are committing violence
Research on sex buyers shows that men are perfectly aware of the fact that prostitution is violence, that criminal organizations keep women in terror and that there is no "regulation" that matters. But they only stop if they risk a criminal conviction, as happens in Sweden, Norway, Canada, France, Ireland, Israel and other countries that have introduced the abolitionist model. Otherwise they continue to consider paid rape as their right

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Of Julie Bindel

Germany is known as the brothel of Europe. It's a hard-won title. With more than 3,000 brothels across the country, and 500 in Berlin alone, his sex trade is worth more than £11 billion a year.

Prostitution, in all its forms, has been legal in Germany since the end of the Second World War. Recently, however, attitudes have been changing. People and politicians ask the government to take note of the so-called "pimp state" and to consider the terrible toll that prostitution takes on women and girls. 

Germany's "industrialized prostitution" is horrible, according to those who have managed to survive. Laws give freedom to pimps, who are called "businessmen" and "managers" as they buy and sell desperate women. It was opened in Cologne the first drive-through brothel in the world in 2001, and others have followed since then. In cities like Munich and Berlin they exist “mega brothels” that can accommodate around 650 customers at a time, which offer an "early bird" offer of burgers, beer and sex. In quiet moments, some brothels offer the formula “two for the price of one” and “happy hour” with discounted rates.

Regulation contributed to the expansion of the sex trade in Germany: it is estimated that there are 400,000 prostitutes and around one million two hundred thousand men (the German population is just over 80 million) who buy sex every day.

However, on the occasion of a international conference held in Berlin last week, a new report contributed to move the narrative on prostitution and its damage, in a country that has long defended and promoted the inside of a woman's body as suitable to be considered a workplace. The report, titled “Men paying for sex in Germany and what they teach us about the failure of regulated prostitution”, is based on data collected from 96 German sex buyers and validates much of what sex trade survivors and legal scholars have been telling the world for decades.

The men, aged 18 to 89, were a diverse group, ranging from unemployed men and men in low-wage, unskilled jobs, to high-level professionals. Respondents provided honest information about their attitudes, behaviors and motivations when it comes to paying for sex. They were asked questions such as: How does the regulation of prostitution work? Does it make women more confident? Has it led to a reduction in human trafficking? 

The research, led by psychologist Melissa Farley, represents the final part of one study of consumers of prostitution in six countries, based on extensive interviews with 763 men in the United States, Cambodia, England, India, Scotland and Germany.

In Germany, the 2002 prostitution law introduced a full regulation that classified the sex trade as a form of work and a “job like any other”. Pimps have become businessmen and women have become “sex workers”. It swept away all post-war restrictions who said that prostitution was not “forbidden but… immoral”. And, despite government attempts to regularize the sex trade, almost no pimps paid taxes: only 44 (out of 80,000) prostituted women registered as such, despite the law requiring it.

In 2017, following pressure from feminists and testimony from police officers about rising levels of crime and violence under the regulatory regime, the government introduced a series of restrictions: pimps are no longer allowed to impose what type of “services” women must provide to patrons, brothel owners must apply for a license and patrons are obliged to use condoms.

“Of course it wasn't possible to enforce these rules,” Angie*, a German sex trade survivor, tells me. “Pimps are criminals who just want to make money, and [customers] cannot be forced to wear a condom. We still had to do what we were told."

In Germany, prostitution is seen as a necessity for men and almost an asset for society in general. As one sex buyer said: “The nature of men is that they have no control over themselves. But because they can use prostitutes, there are fewer sexual crimes.” This concept is wrong: not only Sexual crimes are committed against women in prostitution, but in countries where prostitution is regulated, rates of male violence tend to be higher than in others.

Many of the German patrons interviewed saw evidence of coercion, terror and violence against women. Despite this, everyone is willing to pay for sex. “The German system has rape is effectively regulated, as long as it is performed on a woman who is a prostitute,” said Alice*, another survivor of the sex trade.

One of the arguments used by supporters of regulation is that if men know they will not be arrested for buying sex, they will be much more likely to report any evidence of trafficking and exploitation of underage girls. However, only one of the 96 German sex consumers interviewed reported to the police the existence of a case of human trafficking.

The problem is, as one buyer said: “Once you pay, you can do whatever you want to her”. The men were asked if they were aware of violence by pimps against women. Many were, as they had witnessed pimps routinely committing acts of violence that met international definitions of torture. One man said: “There was a [pimp] who actually beat one of his women. He hit her two or three times in the face with his fist and slammed her against the wall." Another reported: “When women didn't pay the pimp enough, they made him tear out their nails or beat them bloody. The women were scared and never said anything."

Sex buyers showed little or no empathy towards women. “It's like drinking a cup of coffee, when you're done you throw it away,” one of them said. “It's like renting an organ for 10 minutes,” said another.

In Germany there's no shame in being a sex buyer, and that's a big part of the problem. Regulation should reduce trafficking, violence and the clandestine sex trade, but, as the report highlights, the opposite has happened, with growth of illegal activities alongside legal ones.

For them, prostituted women are not "rapeable" and if they cannot have sex with whoever they want, when they want and how they want, they will be forced, as one man said, to “rape a real woman”. Three-quarters of those interviewed took this attitude. As one of them said: “Prostitution is good for society because men have excessive sexual desire and can vent it on themselves without attacking other women or attacking children."

Until 2020, Helmut Sporer was an investigative police officer responsible for investigating and monitoring prostitution in Germany, including international human trafficking. Over the course of his career, Sporer has witnessed a constant deterioration of both the conditions of women involved in prostitution and the response of the judicial authorities to effectively address the proliferation of organized crime and abuses within the system. For Sporer, this deterioration did not occur despite the generalized regulation, but precisely as a result of it.

German sex buyers seem to be aware of how violent prostitution is: “Prostitution only works because men are dominant,” said one of them.

So what could dissuade men from paying for sex? In Germany, a change in the law would be necessary. The regulation should be repealed and replaced with a law criminalizing the purchase of sex and help women exit the sex trade. Incredibly, most men admitted that little else would stop them other than signing up to the sex offenders register or a criminal conviction. This law has been adopted in Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Canada, France, Ireland and Israel, and evidence shows that this approach curbs sex trafficking in all its forms.

Wouldn't it be a bitter irony if the German government was so shocked by the words of sex buyers that it gave them the impetus to finally question their own laws? To put it in the words of Rachel Moran, the Irish survivor of the sex trade, whose powerful speech closed the Berlin conference: 

“These men confirmed everything we have been saying for years,” he said. “And I never thought I'd say this, but I thank the German sex buyers for giving the German government all the ammunition it needs to stop the sex trade.”

translated by Ilaria Baldini, the text by Julie Bindel was published by Feminist Resistance website


Meanwhile Sunday 20 November the newspaper The print has published a perfect testimony of this laziness of the "customers": a piece by Patrizio Bati who says without problems that he had met the murdered young Chinese woman "at least twenty times". by a serial killer in Rome (along with another Chinese girl and a Colombian woman). As you can read here, although Bati is perfectly aware of the fact that these women are slaves to criminal organizations and live in fear, he does not consider himself in any way co-responsible for the horror.

Following the publication of this text, the Network for the Inviolability of the Female Body launched a mailbombing to the address of the director of the Press Massimo Giannini (today in response the newspaper dedicates two entire pages to the issue)


Dear Director Giannini,

we read with dismay and horror the piece by Patrizio Bati who in your newspaper says that he met as a "client" - the correct term would be terminal exploiter - one of the two Chinese girls barbarically murdered by a serial killer in Rome (the third victim is a woman Colombian).

He says he was in her apartment "at least twenty times", describes in detail the murdered girl - "amber skin, long black hair, slightly protruding incisors" -.

He talks about "women walled up in their slips in their apartment, their social life reduced to the journey from home to supermarket/supermarket to home", he defines them as "Chinese shadows projected on shutters".

He admits their terror of suffering violence, he writes of them as "bodies without identity, aware of being only this. Slaves of criminal organizations" while absolving themselves of any responsibility. As if he didn't know that if this slavery exists because there are men like him who fuel it, believing they have the right to rape for money. If this vile trade is increasingly flourishing - women are victims of trafficking in most cases - it is because there is a demand that justifies and increases it.

In all this, writing about "trickles of sperm", Bati shows himself to be completely unaware of himself, of his own abuses and of his own responsibilities. He talks in a detached way and as if it were a perfectly normal thing about his "at least twenty times", those twenty times in which a young woman forced by pimps was made an object and had to dissociate herself from herself to survive the disgust and humiliation he was suffering. He washes his hands of it, in short. But every one of those twenty times, and the hundreds and thousands she had to endure, that girl continued to die. He has something to do with it.

We are horrified and outraged. We do not understand why an authoritative newspaper like La Stampa, on the eve of November 25th, the international day against violence against women, chose to publish a text like this, in which violence is perfectly normalized. A text which, if it has any value, is that of having narrated, in black and white, the logic of male domination deployed to its maximum power.

Network for the Inviolability of the female body

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