Photo courtesy of iStockphoto/RapidEye
Trading sex for money has been at least partially legal in Germany since 1927, but in 2002, Parliament passed a set of laws designed to improve the lives of the country’s prostitutes. The idea was to grant sex workers some of the rights and responsibilities other members of the workforce have, like receiving social security and having to pay taxes in return. As a result, the country became a magnet for hookers and johns, and it’s been reported that there are approximately 400,000 prostitutes servicing an estimated 1 million men a day inside its borders.
A lot of people don’t think this is a good thing. A study commissioned by the European Union released this year claimed that, globally, attempts to normalise the world’s oldest profession haven’t reduced human trafficking. Activsits have called for the criminalisation of buying (but not selling) sex in an effort to stamp out prostitution, and the government planned to ban “flat-rate” sex, which is when men pay a set amount of cash for a night’s worth of hanky-panky.
I wondered what the sex workers themselves thought of this debate, so I called up Undine de Revière, the spokesperson for the Professional Association of Erotic and Sexual Services, who’s been in the flesh business for 20 years.
VICE: What do you think about the studies that have found many instances of human trafficking in the sex industry? Is that something you worry about?
Undine de Revière: One of the two most commonly cited studies is based on a number of governmental reports that vary significantly in quality. I have witnessed some human-trafficking processes in court for research purposes, and it’s very complex. Most trafficking cases are a mix of voluntary sex work and a third party trying to influence the number of clients, sex acts or the general workflow.
How do you make sure sex work is safe and not tainted by these third parties?
Security isn’t an issue that’s limited to sex work – basically every job that confronts you with drunken partiers can be dangerous. Generally, I’m very pro empowerment and education, like peer-to-peer projects that teach sex workers about their rights and responsibilities, or classes in self-defense or German. I think the root of the biggest problems is poverty. Police raids are not an answer.
Aren’t the police supposed to protect sex workers who aren’t doing anything illegal?
I know a couple of women who were traumatised by the cops. The raids [on brothels] tend to be quite violent; they wear bulletproof vests, have dogs and guns, and they’re usually not very polite toward the women. I think the police should be more approachable so they can actually solve crimes instead of scaring the women and creating a general sense of distrust. Instead of victimising us and then trying to engage forced salvation through legislation, I think we would all be better off if there were campaigns to encourage respectful treatment of sex workers.