In 2002 Germany enacted the Prostitution Reform Act with the aim of strengthening the social and legal rights of sex workers. On 11th April 2014, the Bundesrat, the Upper House of the German Parliament, called for further debate on the sex work laws and proposed a number of new measures. German sex worker organisation BesD, Trade Association Erotic and Sexual Services, has issued a statement in response, expressing deep concern over some of the suggested reforms.
Despite their concerns, the BesD also welcomes a number of positive recommendations made by the Bundesrat, the most significant being their rejection of the Swedish Model that criminalises the clients of sex workers. The Bundesrat also rejected the idea of re-introducing mandatory health checks for sex workers. The BesD supports this notion and argued that:
“[M]andatory health checks represented grave infringements of basic human rights, and there was no evidence that they could halt the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. In addition, the measure could create the wrong impression that other precautions (e.g. condoms) were then unnecessary. Sensible and effective, on the other hand, were the expansion of voluntary, anonymous counselling services…”
On the issue of human trafficking, the Bundesrat noted that there was no evidence to suggest that trafficking had increased ever since the adoption of Germany’s Prostitution Act and in fact, the numbers of reported cases had actually decreased despite an increase in police investigations.
Despite these positive and encouraging signs there were a number of other measures proposed by the Bundesrat that are of grave concern to the BesD. The first of these is the proposal to introduce statutory permissions (licenses) for sex work-related businesses. BesD is concerned that the authorities could refuse to grant these licenses simply on the grounds that the applicant is deemed to be ‘unreliable’. ‘Unreliability’ is an overly broad term that has not been properly defined in law. This would give authorities too wide a discretion to refuse licenses and the BesD is concerned that this discretion would be used against sex work-related businesses given the social stigma surrounding sex work. According to the BesD, it would particularly impact smaller businesses that do not have the resources to pursue expensive legal action to challenge decisions made by the authorities.
Another alarming proposal from the Bundesrat is the suggestion to introduce the registration of sex workers under the Trade Regulation Act. A registration system for sex workers would be extremely dangerous given the levels of stigma in society, and it would lead to significant harm for sex workers if introduced in Germany. The BesD strongly opposes this measure and their statement sets out the reasons why:
“Sex workers are affected by the moral condemnation of prostitution: our occupation is not socially accepted. An outing in connection with business registrations or brothel concessions is inacceptable for most sex workers. Many lead a double life out of their own free will or out of necessity to protect themselves from the negative consequences of stigmatisation.”
The Bundesrat is also considering the issue of the age of consent for engagement in commercial sex. The BesD is very clear that this should be set at 18 and not raised to 21 years of age, which the organisation argues would create a range of negative outcomes for younger sex workers including denying them “access to safe work spaces, leaving them vulnerable to criminals and forcing them to work at locations without protection from dangers.”
The BesD calls for the principle of equal treatment to apply to sex work and sex work-related businesses and rejects the formation of restrictive and specific legal measures that only serve to increase the stigma and discrimination faced by sex workers:
“In our view, equal treatment under the law with other occupations, including the age of consent, is the best means to promote the destigmatisation of sex work. In contrast, legal exceptions, especially in areas of criminal law, cement the particular perception of sex work among the population. It promotes the formation and cultivation of myths and prejudices, which are repeated over and over again to legitimise the continued discrimination of sexual service providers.”