by Julie Bindel
Germany is known as the brothel of Europe. It is a hard-won title. With more than 3,000 brothels throughout the country, and 500 in Berlin alonehis sex trade is worth more than 11 billion pounds per year.
Prostitution, in all its forms, has been legal in Germany since the end of World War II. Recently, however, attitudes are changing. People and politicians call on the government to take notice of the so-called 'pimp state' and to consider the terrible toll that prostitution takes on women and girls.
Germany's 'industrialised prostitution' is horrible, according to those who have managed to survive. Laws give freedom to pimps, who are called 'businessmen' and 'managers' while buying and selling desperate women. In Cologne the world's first in-car brothel in 2001, and others have since followed. In cities like Munich and Berlin there are 'mega brothels' that can accommodate around 650 customers at a time, proposing 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 has contributed to the expansion of the sex trade in Germany: it is estimated that there are 400,000 prostitutes and about 1.2 million men (the German population is just over 80 million) buy sex every day.
However, on the occasion of a international conference held in Berlin last week, a new report contributed to shift the narrative to prostitution and its harms, in a country that has long defended and promoted the inside of a woman's body as suitable as a workplace. The report, entitled '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 market survivors and legal scholars have been telling the world for decades.
The men, aged between 18 and 89, were a heterogeneous group, ranging from unemployed and men in unskilled, low-income jobs to high-level professionals. Respondents provided honest information on their attitudes, behaviour and motivations when it comes to paying for sex. He was asked questions such as: how does the regulation of prostitution work? Does it make women safer? Has it led to a reduction in human trafficking?
The research, led by psychologist Melissa Farley, is the final part of an study on prostitution users 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 Act 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 'sex workers'. It swept away all post-war restrictions who said that prostitution was 'not prohibited but... immoral'. And, despite the government's attempts to regularise the sex trade, Almost no pimps paid taxes: only 44 (out of 80,000) prostituted women registered as such, despite the fact that the law requires it.
In 2017, following pressure from feminists and testimony from police officers on the increasing levels of crime and violence under the regulatory regime, the government introduced a number of restrictions: pimps are no longer allowed to dictate what kind of 'services' women must provide to frequenters, brothel owners must apply for a licence, and frequenters are obliged to use condoms.
"Of course it was not possible to enforce these regulations," Angie*, a German sex market survivor, tells me. "The 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 a good thing 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 offences." This concept is wrong: not only sexual offences are committed against prostituted women, but in countries where prostitution is regulated, male violence rates tend to be higher than in others.
Many of the German visitors interviewed saw evidence of coercion, terror and violence towards women. Despite this, all are willing to pay for sex. "The German system has de facto regulated rapeas long as it is carried out on a woman who is a prostitute,' said Alice*, another survivor of the sex trade.
One of the arguments used by proponents 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 out of 96 German sex consumers interviewed reported a case of human trafficking to the police.
The problem is, as one buyer said: "Once you have paid, you can do whatever you want to her.". The men were asked whether they were aware of violence by pimps against women. Many were, because they had seen pimps routinely commit acts of violence that meet international definitions of torture. One man said: "There was a [pimp] who actually beat one of his women. He punched her two or three times in the face and slammed her against the wall'. Another reported: 'When women did not pay their pimps enough, they would have their nails pulled out or beat them to a pulp. 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," said one of them. 'It's like renting an organ for 10 minutes', said another.
In Germany there is no shame in being a sex buyer, and this is an important part of the problem. Regulation should reduce trafficking, violence and the clandestine sex trade, but, as the report points out, the opposite has happened, with the growth of illegal activities alongside legal ones.
For them, prostituted women are not 'rapable' and if they cannot have sex with whom 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 the interviewees took this attitude. As one of them put it: "Prostitution is good for society because men have an excessive sex drive and can take it out on them without attacking other women or assaulting children'.
Until 2020, Helmut Sporer was an investigating police officer responsible for the investigation and monitoring of prostitution in Germany, including international human trafficking. In the course of his career, Sporer witnessed a constant deterioration of both the conditions of women involved in prostitution and the response of the judicial authorities to effectively tackle the proliferation of organised crime and abuses within the system. For Sporer, this deterioration did not occur in spite of generalised regulation, but precisely as a consequence 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 criminalising the purchase of sex and help women get out of the sex trade. Incredibly, most of the men admitted that little else would stop them other than registration on the sex offenders' register or a criminal conviction. This law was adopted in Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Canada, France, Ireland and Israel, and evidence shows that this approach curbs the sex trade 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 this gave it the impetus to finally question its own laws? In the words of Rachel Moranthe Irish sex trade survivor, whose powerful speech closed the Berlin conference:
"These men have confirmed everything we have been saying for years," he said. "And I never thought I would 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, Julie Bindel's text was published by Feminist Resistance website
Meanwhile on Sunday 20 November the newspaper La Stampa published a perfect testimony to this ignorance of the 'customers': a piece by Patrizio Bati, who recounts without hesitation that he had dated the murdered young Chinese woman 'at least twenty times'. by a serial killer in Rome (together with another Chinese girl and a Colombian woman). As you can read here, although Bati is well aware that these women are slaves of criminal organisations and live in fear, 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's newspaper devotes two whole pages to the issue in response)
THE PRESS NORMALISES MEN'S VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
Dear Director Giannini,
We read with dismay and horror Patrizio Bati's piece in your newspaper about having known as a 'client' -the correct term would be terminal exploiter- one of the two Chinese girls barbarously murdered by a serial killer in Rome (the third victim is a Colombian woman).
He says he had been to her flat 'at least twenty times', describes in detail the slaughtered girl - 'amber skin, long black hair, slightly protruding incisors'-.
He speaks of 'women walled up in petticoats in their flat, social life reduced to the home-supermarket/supermarket-home commute', he calls them 'Chinese shadows cast on shutters'.
He admits their terror of being subjected to violence, writes of them as 'bodies without identity, conscious of being just that. Slaves of criminal organisations', yet absolving himself of any responsibility. As if he did not know that if this slavery exists it is because there are men like him who feed it, believing they have the right to rape for payment. If this vile trade is flourishing -trafficked women in most cases- it is because there is a demand that justifies and increases it.
In all this, poetising about the 'rivulets of semen', Bati shows herself completely unaware of herself, her own abuse and responsibility. She recounts in a detached manner and as if it were a perfectly normal thing of her 'at least twenty times', of those twenty times when a young woman forced by pimps was made an object and had to disassociate herself from herself in order to survive the disgust and humiliation she was suffering. She washed her hands of it, in a nutshell. But every one of those twenty times, and the hundreds and thousands she had to endure, that girl went on dying. He had something to do with it.
We are horrified and outraged. We do not understand why a newspaper as authoritative as La Stampa and precisely on the eve of 25 November, the international day against violence against women, has chosen to publish a text like this, in which violence is perfectly normalised. A text that if it has any value it is that of having recounted, black on white, the logic of male domination deployed to its maximum power.
Network for the Inviolability of the Female Body