translation: Inge Kleine
Interview first published here
Huschke Mau is a survivor of Germany’s legalized prostitution system. In this article, Francine Sporenda interviews her, focusing on the recent changes in the prostitution law in Germany.
F: How do you explain that Germany (according to a popular quote) has become the “brothel of Europe”? What led to this situation?
HM: In my view, the reasons lie in the EU enlargement with the accession of Eastern European countries and the very high demand for prostitution in Germany. Every day about 1.2 million men visit a brothel here. Added to this are our laws. Fostering prostitution was legalized in 2002, and so it is no longer against the law to be a pimp or brothel keeper. Pimping is only criminalized if it is “exploitative,” which means if more than 50% of a prostitute’s earnings are taken from her. This does not, however, apply to rents for the rooms in brothels – these are very high. Rents of €100 to €180 per day are common.
Those on the political Right often disapprove of prostitution while simultaneously retaining the clandestine male right [to buy those in prostitution] and despising the women for it – whereas the political Left and the Greens present us with a kind of trick package: idolizing prostitution as work, sometimes even as feminist or empowering. Instead of offering women alternatives or exit support, efforts go into making prostitution as cuddly as possible. That 89% of all women want to leave prostitution is completely disregarded.
F: Can you tell us about the recently passed “Law for the protection of prostitution”? What does it entail? What are its negative and positive sides for prostituted women (if any)?
HM: This law – “Prostituiertenschutzgesetz” i.e. “Prostitutes’ Protection Law” – lays down regulations for brothel operators and prostitutes. It came into effect this summer . Brothel keepers now need a permit or license and those with prior convictions for trafficking are banned from running brothels. Prostitutes have to register, and they have to attend individual health counselling. Moreover, condoms are now mandatory for the punters, which is the only good point about the law. Punters who insist on intercourse without condoms can now face high fines.
These points aside, the political strategy as evidenced in this law is only about ironing out the very worst outcomes of prostitution in Germany, such as flat rate or gang bang offers, which have now been banned. The situation as such is not addressed at all. Except for mandatory condoms, there is no regulation that places responsibility on the johns, and there is still a huge lack of exiting support and no help for the women in finding alternatives.
The law does not even stipulate a minimum age of 21 – because it was argued this would amount to the “prohibition of a profession.” As a result, very young girls from Europe’s poorest areas can still be exploited here in Germany. Forced prostitution is very hard to prove, although police estimates are that nine out of ten women are working for a man in the background.
F: You say that municipal authorities are in charge of applying this law, and that this guarantees it won’t be fully implemented. Can you explain why?
HM: Municipal authorities are supposed to implement the law, but hardly any funds have been allocated to the municipalities for this. Cities now have to create new jobs, for example in the offices where prostitutes are to register. We need interpreters. We need doctors to carry out the health counselling. But the state seems to be concerned only with finding out how it can profit as much as possible from prostitution, and it certainly doesn’t invest in real help for the women. There are not enough counselling centers, there is not enough exiting support, and there aren’t enough alternatives that women in prostitution can use or access.
F: Can you explain how the legalization of prostitution automatically causes major corruption in the police, local authorities, and politics?
HM: It is above all pimps, brothel keepers and johns who profit from legalization. Legal prostitution signals to punters that it is okay to buy a woman. Being a punter is not shameful in Germany. On the contrary, a man was recently in court for having choked a woman. The judge, a woman, suggested that if he enjoyed choking women he could simply have gone to a prostitute. Violence against a specific class of women is being normalized in this way. That is not solidarity.
Many men in Germany are johns. Some studies suggest that as many as three out of four men have used prostitution at least once. When it is legitimised, they go ahead and just do it, just like that.
At the same time, the prostitutes are not decriminalized. If they are found in violation of zoning regulations, they are punished. Or if they fail to pay taxes. This makes it possible for brothel keepers or johns to blackmail the women. Many politicians and policemen are johns, too.
My first pimp was a policeman, and I had many policemen as johns. Even some who were investigating trafficking cases. They didn’t see any problem with that. And as johns, these policemen and these politicians make decisions that serve them as johns. And then brothels increase tax revenue, for example, big brothels like the Pascha in Cologne. No politician wants to spoil that for himself.
F: Can you tell us about the mega brothels/brothel chains in Germany? How the abuses of prostituted women in these brothels are probably worse than in any other kind of prostitution (“all you can fuck” rates, gang bangs, surveillance systems etc.) Who owns these brothel chains?
HM: We have big brothels here – two types. Those where punters and women meet and decide to go up to a room, and those where johns walk through the corridors and pick a woman sitting outside her room. The “Prostitutes Protection Law” from 2017 bans flat-rate offers or other fixed prices set by the brothels, and gang bangs. But what we are seeing already is big brothels remaining and smaller ones, or apartment brothels closing down.
F: Legalization has turned pimps and traffickers into respectable businessmen. You mentioned before the case of the “prince” von Sachsen Anhalt, who has invested in brothels. These “businessmen” can now openly publish ads to recruit new prostitutes, advertisements for brothels can be seen everywhere. Can you tell us about this “normalization” of pimping and prostitution and the effect it has on German society and the situation of women?
HM: Having brothel keepers sit on TV shows or running their own television series places the acceptance of purchasing women on a new level in our society. Running brothels, managing them or being a punter are no longer seen as indecent in Germany. This does not, however, lead to any widespread acceptance of prostituted women, they are still counted as scum. To offer sex is still seen as morally dubious while buying sex has become perfectly normal.
Sympathies are clearly with the johns and brothel keepers and that is what legalization has brought us. And consequently, violence against women is being normalized. I have had to let myself be lectured by acquaintances who do not know that I was a prostituted woman that this is “a perfectly normal service.”
At the same time the normalization of prostitution has far reaching effects on how society understands (or rather doesn’t understand) other forms of sexual violence against women. We now have a situation where women who want to report rape are being hounded with a charge for defamation if the perpetrator cannot be sentenced due to a lack of evidence. I do not see this as accidental.
F: Can you tell us about the “sex worker unions” and the pro-prostitution lobby in Germany? Who are these people? How many real prostitutes are in these groups? Who finances them?
HM: Here it’s the BSD, Berufsverband Sexueller Dienstleistungen, the “Professional Association of Sexual Services,” which is an association of brothel operators only and which is consulted by politicians on all prostitution matters in spite of being operators only.
Then there is the BESD, the “Berufsverband erotische und sexuelle Dienstleistungen,” the “Professional Association of Erotic and Sexual Services,” which promotes itself as a kind of trade union for “sex workers,” but those who speak publicly tend to be dominatrixes or run studios for them, or they rent out rooms and thus they are among the operators, really. The association does not reveal how many members have joined it.
Hydra, a counselling and advocacy center in Berlin, openly engages in facilitating and counselling for the entry into prostitution.
F: You say that pro-“sex work” associations are not only totally useless for helping women exit, in fact they are trying to keep them in prostitution or even attract new recruits. Can you tell us about these associations?
HM: Due to political pressure, these organizations have begun to say that they support exit services, because according to them not every woman is suited to this “job.” But they do not offer any. Instead of exit support, we have advocacy and counselling centers, but they are few and far between – there are entire Länder, or states, within Germany that do not have any at all – and most of these are pro-“sex work.” They advocate for prostituted women not being seen as an at-risk group in spite of the murders perpetrated against them, because considering them to at risk is said to be stigmatizing. Besides, I have heard of cases where prostituted women who wanted to exit were told that they could simply adjust their careers and work as a dominatrix instead of escort. That is no great help, of course.
F: How can it be said that the German State is the biggest pimp (taxes etc.)?
HM: Many of these advocacy centers receive public, or state, funding. If women are not supported in exiting, but rather in “getting along better in sex work,” many remain in prostitution even though this is not what they want.
The state profits from this, because these women continue to pay their taxes. Some women pay up to €30 in taxes a day, the so called “Vergnuegungssteuer,” or “enjoyment tax,” which is cynical, because no woman I know personally has any pleasure in this job. The costs the women in prostitution face these days are huge: €100 to €180 per day for the room in the brothel (to be paid to the brothel owner), taxes (to be paid to the state), and more to the pimps.
F: I saw that German brothels are rated like hotels now. Is that correct?
HM: The BSD, a brothel keeper association, has introduced a “quality seal” which is awarded to brothels. In these brothels, all women are said to be working voluntarily and independently, and there is allegedly no crime there. The seal is of course completely useless. The brothel keepers’ club awards the quality seals to brothels. How is that is supposed to be unbiased or objective?
The association has even admitted that this is a new marketing strategy to reach johns who no longer need to worry about coming across women who are forced into being there. In fact, most johns really don’t care about that at all. They may even enjoy forced prostitution, because they can more easily abuse the women, who are allowed fewer boundaries and may not refuse many sexual practices or demands on them etc. The seal is geared towards a specific group of johns, the “ethically correct” ones, who are now to be enabled to visit a brothel without qualms.