“Moralising Law”: Reform Proposals for the German Prostitution Act

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Sex workers protest in front of German parliament in June 2013. Source: BesD

Interview with Fabienne Freymadl, Political Spokeswomen for the Professional Organisation for Erotic and Sexual Services (Berufsverband erotische und sexuelle Dienstleistungen, BesD)

In an effort to curb “forced prostitution”*, the ruling coalition of Conservatives and Social Democrats has agreed on basic principles to reform the German Prostitution Act of 2002. In an interview by Barbara Dribbusch for German daily die tageszeitung, Fabienne Freymadl, political spokeswoman for sex worker organisation BesD, warns against a moralising law and explains why the reforms will harm sex workers* and fail to accomplish their alleged goal.

Please note that the copyright for this interview lies with taz.de and is not licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Ban on Flat Rate Sex and Gang Bang Parties

In the future, sex workers will have to register with the authorities, the owners of brothels will have to submit to reliability checks, and flat rate sex and gang bang parties are going to be outlawed. These measures are part of the planned reform of Germany’s Prostitution Act, which members of the ruling coalition agreed upon on Thursday. Sex workers, however, reject the plans.

Manuela Schwesig, Federal Minister for Family Affairs (Social Democrats), declared that the new regulations meant that for the first time, there would be “clear rules for legal prostitution in Germany that will protect the women”.

Social Democrats (SPD) and Conservatives (CDU/CSU) still negotiate on other items, including a minimum age for sex workers of 21. Conservatives want to raise the minimum age for sex workers from 18 to 21.

Among the already agreed items is the introduction of binding obligations for sex workers to register. Sex workers will then have to register and deregister with municipal authorities. Federal states will have to decide which local authority will be responsible, said a spokeswoman of the Federal Ministry for Women. [This is actually the same as the Ministry for Family Affairs. The full name of the ministry is ‘Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth’. A/N]

A law demanding mandatory registration would harm the women, criticised Fabienne Freymadl, political spokeswoman of the Professional Organisation for Erotic and Sexual Services (BesD), where sex workers in Germany are organised.

Fear of mandatory registration

Especially sex workers who work on a part-time basis do not want to register due to the risk that their data may be passed on to third parties and women could be outed for their stigmatised profession, said Freymadl. If women experienced assaults, they could henceforward not report them to the police anymore, if they weren’t registered with the authorities.

The BesD is also critical of the planned “statutory permission requirements” and “reliability checks” for brothel owners. According to the new regulations, brothel owners with criminal records can be barred from operating brothels. However, an exemption from the statutory permission requirements is planned, if individual persons sell sex in private apartments.

It remained unclear, however, what actually was defined as “brothel”, said Freymadl. An apartment rented by three women to use for sex work could potentially be labelled as a brothel, too.

Outlawing flat rate sex and so-called gang bang parties showed how moralising the debate actually was, the association’s spokeswoman added. Outlawing certain business models and practices, which the public perceived as particularly demeaning, contributed nothing to fight “forced prostitution”, since criminals wouldn’t heed such bans anyway.

Flat rate offers are a “publicity ploy”

So-called flat rate sex meant that men paid a flat fee and could then stay several hours at a brothel and have sex as many times as they wanted to. But that’s just a “publicity ploy”, said Freymadl. Usually, those men managed only one or two sexual encounters that led to an orgasm. Most men couldn’t go on after that. This business model had the advantage for women in the brothel that they could better plan what income to expect, compared to each customer paying for each sexual encounter separately.

So-called gang bang parties also evoked a false impression among the public, according to the association’s spokeswoman. At gang bang parties, a sex worker has oral, vaginal or anal sex with several men simultaneously, and with that, sex workers earned a relatively high amount of money in a relatively short amount of time. The public considers this practice as demeaning for women.

But if such encounters were voluntary, they represented merely a particular practice, emphasised Freymadl. It wouldn’t make sense to limit the complexity in the business to fight “forced prostitution”, which fundamentally, and independent from whatever practice, represented a grave human rights violation and a criminal offence.

Sex work as Freelance Occupation

The trade association of sex workers demands to recognise sex work as a normal freelance occupation and by doing so, to abolish the prohibition of sex work in off-limit zones.

The remaining points of contention regarding the reform of the prostitution law are to be clarified in the early fall. The plan of the Conservatives to punish customers of “forced prostitutes” remains controversial. Critics fear that even less customers would then provide tip-offs to the police about “forced prostitution”, should they involuntarily encounter such women.


The interview was conducted by Barbara Dribbusch for taz.de, a left-leaning German daily. Please note that the copyright for this interview lies with taz.de and is not licensed under a Creative Commons License. The photos above did not appear in the original article.

Translation by Matthias Lehmann. Research Project Germany. Every effort has been made to translate this interview verbatim. As a result, the wording may appear unusual on some occasions.

*Terminology

While it could be argued that the terms “prostitution” and “whore” carry a different connotation in German, they were replaced with the terms “sex work” and “sex worker” for this translation, apart from the quote by Manuela Schwesig and the name of the law.  

Since the term “forced prostitution” is contested, this author usually puts it into quotation marks. For this translation, they were added although they did not appear in the original text.

“Forced prostitution doesn’t exist. Prostitution is a voluntary sexual service provision that is based on the premise of mutual consent between adult contractual partners. Without this consent, it is not prostitution but forced sexuality, i.e. sexualised violence.” Press Release by the Federal Task Force Law and Prostitution, March 14th, 2005

Source (institute/publication): 
Taz.de