Joint submission by Kofra, Abolition 2014 and Stop Sexkauf to UN Women

Kofra – Kommunikationszentrum für Frauen is a women’s advocacy centre. Stop Sexkauf and Abolition 2014 are secular and feminist, advocating for the abolishment of prostitution via viable support for women in prostitution and the penalization of the buyer, as he sustains this industry.

Germany has become a showcase of implementing the sex industry’s demands – while some municipalities reserved some regulations, cities like Berlin embraced a full decriminalisation – and offers a grim view of the future of an unfettered sex industry.

We insist on the full decriminalisation of those in prostitution and a zero tolerance approach to pimping and trafficking. We educate and raise awareness of what prostitution does to the prostituted and of the impact of a state-endorsed sex trade on the equality of women and men.

We are honoured to submit our position – informed by exited women and by witnessing 15 years of a state policy of prostitution as a business model – to UN Women.

Universality, human rights and leaving nobody behind.

The sex trade is extremely gendered and needs sexual discrimination and stereotyping to exist. It assigns specific positions to men as buyers and to women as those with the option of putting a price tag on the use of their bodies. Thus men are given agency and women are to be satisfied with possibly being permitted to negotiate conditions within a field of power defined by these men. This abrogates equality, which is a pre-condition to universality and the enjoyment of human rights. The sex trade thrives on the sexualizing and racializing of poverty, targeting all women and specifically women from racialized and marginalized backgrounds. This is evidenced here in the advertising of women from Asia or Africa, in the sexist and racist views of women from Eastern Europe and in the contemptous depiction of Roma women in the sex trade. Since the removal of the last obstacles to prostitution as a major business in 2002, huge billboards have dominated the landscape along motorways, and trucks, trolleys and taxis featuring brothel ads signal buyers‘ privilege to men. The new law on prostitution coming into effect in July 2017 fully legalises such advertising. Easily accessible punters‘ fores abound in violent and racialized descriptions. Mega-brothels for up to 1000 buyers, apartment buildings, “sex boxes“ and “love mobile“ sites are part of a state endorsed industry guaranteeing men monetarized sexual access to women 24/7. The racism underpinning the trade is echoed by publicly funded advocacy groups and vocal supporters of the sex trade stating that a German brothel may be preferable to the human rights abuse of racial persecution or that “we should leave it to the less privileged to themselves define where the boundaries of their human dignity lie.“ Human rights abuses serve as justification for other abuses, worse, they become their resource. This is incompatible with equality, universality, human rights and leaving nobody behind.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and sex trade policies.

Women’s reproductive rights are eroded by an exploitative business expanding into new markets, easily accessible via punters‘ fores, for pregnant women, including the “gang bang“ prostitution of pregnant women, although advertising these practices is to be banned. The buyers want to feel the foetus move. Wolf Heide, a gynecologist speaking in a government hearing, showed how STDs and other illnesses result in infertility for many women. This effectively abrogates the women’s reproductive rights.

Poverty is both a resource for the sex trade and an exit barrier, as a survey of prostituted women from Bulgaria in Stuttgart showed.

Legalising the sex trade means tax revenue: A daily fee of € 25.00 per woman collected from brothel keepers, or per m² of the prostitution premises, or parking meters for tickets for women in street prostitution. In Munich, tax collectors levy VAT on the “services“ via the brothels so that the rent is at € 185.00/ 24 hours per room (Caesar’s World). This is in addition to income tax, calculated by IR officials via estimates based on independently engaged women’s websites. Tax debt operates as exit barrier.

The sex trade seems “sustainable“, as most women in prostitution are from abroad and must leave the country once they become sick, while German women drop into poverty, unable to effectively organize therapy and entry into society. A superficially “peaceful society“ is achieved not by inclusion but by the exclusion of those exited. Consequences are deported to other countries.

The legalisation of the sex industry changed the definitions of “pimping“ or “trafficking“ and affects “consent“ in sexual relationships. This affects our rape laws, laws on “domestic“ violence and on stalking, and thus women’s legal status as regards violence against women. The Istanbul Convention, which is binding for EU states, is clear in its article 36 definition of sexual violence and guarantees effective legal redress. But its implementation could serve to question “consent“ in a brothel, and our legislature delays its ratification and introduction into national law, thus undermining every woman’s right to due legal course.

Protection of women in the trade from harm, violence, stigma and discrimination.

The informed approach is a decriminalisation of the women in prostitution, police training, public education, support for women wishing to exit, for migrant women and those trafficked or drafted into the industry. It demands a policy that recognises violence as such and that is willing to stop it, not one negotiating allegedly acceptable degrees of violence in regulatory approaches or leaving this negotiation to individuals, notably individuals with the least standing in society.

A fully accepted sex industry however equals calling the harm and violence a business while turning stigma and discrimination into its resources. It means defining the violence out of existence.

Prostitution was decriminalised here in the early 20th century, and prior to 2002 brothels were tolerated. The Prostitution Act of 2002 mainly intended to make women pay into pension and health insurances and to legalise the profits. Laws on procuring and trafficking were “adjusted“ in the following years (view the changes made to §§ 180 ff. and 232 German penal code).

Now, cases are closed before reaching the courts, while others lead to minimal sentences. Police are discouraged from putting resources into trafficking cases as these are costly and legally dropped. Law enforcement assumes vast underreporting while statistics are sanitised: Convictions for pimping decreased by 99% in 2011, and trafficking into sexual exploitation had 557 victims in 2014. Serious human rights violations like sexual violence, trafficking and kidnapping count as “work accident“, offering compensation for medical bills at the price of accepting the violence as such. (Sozialgericht Hamburg S 36 U 118/14)

The interests of trafficked migrant women are ignored, and the legalisation of the sex industry has done nothing to change that. The only difference is an exploded market.

Although a 2004 study on violence against women showed the same levels of violence in prostitution as studies world wide, the 2007 evaluation of the ProstAct did not address violence. And although only brothel keepers expressed satisfaction and the study concluded that “there are no viable indicators of the Prostitution Act having had any crime-minimalizing effect”, government responses centered around regulatory matters like building laws or how to better tax the venues.

This approach undermines the rule of law as demanded in point 8 and elsewhere in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and is incompatible with the Leave No One Behind Call to Action. It does not meet the needs of the most vulnerable but ensures they will remain targeted. This is evidenced in a western, rich country that has followed the rhetorics of the sex trade according to which the legalisation of buying, brothels and “operational aspects” like “management” and the “facilitation of travelling” supposedly makes the industry safe and empowers women.

The sex industry may temporarily offer some marketing chances for individual women within an unequal system that thrives on stigmatisation and discrimination, but does not contribute to women’s equality which is a prerequisite to ending violence against women and to building peaceful and inclusive societies. The decriminalisation of the women (or others) in prostitution is a necessary step to safety, but that step is rendered meaningless by creating a situation that effectively decriminalises violence against them. Basing a policy on men’s sexual access to women as a supposedly male right does nothing to prevent violence against women, be that sexual, physical, emotional, economic or institutional. On the contrary: We witness a rising acceptance of violations of women’s human rights. The entrapment of women within caste systems, their dispossession in rural areas, their condemnation to poverty, their racial persecution, the denial of rights to education or to recourses against HIV or to reproductive health are cited in order to render crimes like trafficking or the abuse of women in the global sex industry acceptable or desirable. In view of any meaning of human rights as inalienable and as indivisible this is utterly inacceptable.

Inge Kleine writing for:

Kofra – Kommunikationszentrum für Frauen

Abolition 2014

Initiative Stop Sexkauf

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