“Women are not a commodity!” – Social worker Sabine Constabel, commenting on prostitution in Germany

Yesterday there was a “Public hearing on combating human trafficking and on monitoring prostitution areas” in the Bundestag [the German parliament]. The occasion for this was a bill submitted by the CDU/CSU [Conservatives] and the FDP [Liberals], which provides, inter alia, the trade-legal monitoring of brothels. One of the experts who appeared before the Bundestag in Berlin this afternoon, was Social worker Sabine Constabel. She has been working for 20 years in the Stuttgart red light district, where she attends to prostitutes in the Café “La Strada” – and she knows the milieu.

She says: “The presentation of the prostitution industry lobbyists – representing the prostitution among the miserable and destitute women as well as the forced prostitution as a regrettable marginal phenomenon within prostitution – misses reality.” Just as the draft law on commercial law. “We have in brothels quite different problems than the condition of the kitchen and the number of emergency exits,” says Constable. She calls for further measures to combat prostitution and human trafficking – according to the Swedish model. Here is her impressive speech.

Stuttgart is one of the few cities where prostitutes are generally registered. So we know exactly how many women are working as prostitutes, what nationality they have, and in what premises they offer themselves or are offered. In 2012, 3359 prostitutes were counted, only 18 percent had a German passport, 82 percent of the women were foreigners.

The proportion of foreign women has been rising continuously for years. Among the newly registered prostitutes, the share of foreigners even amounts to 90 percent. Most of these women come from Romania, followed by Bulgaria and Hungary. The major part of the women belongs to the Roma minority group or to the Turkish minorities in Bulgaria and Romania.

Most of the women working in Stuttgart in the brothels, in the clubs, or walking the streets, can hardly speak German; many of the women can neither read nor write and even have a poor command of their own native language. In recent years, I have only met very few women who wanted to finance a better life for themselves through prostitution. In general, the women work for their families and send their entire earnings home.

Many of the women are not alone here. They are accompanied by brothers, cousins, their husbands, their fathers, and sometimes there are also mothers who bring their daughters into prostitution to Germany. The prostitute then generates not only the money for the family at home, but also the maintenance of the people accompanying her.

Even many of the women who entered on their own tell us that it had not been their free decision to become prostitutes; they only prostitute themselves because they had no choice. Otherwise they would lose their homes or their children would not be able to attend a school if they lack the money for school materials. They are not here “voluntarily,” the women say.

Every day, women come to us looking for alternatives to prostitution. “I am completely broken” and “give me a job” are the women’s standard desires. Some women are virtually begging for help. They say that they no longer stand the pain during intercourse; that they cannot sleep, have nightmares, or that they are thinking of suicide. We have women who, after being in their home countries for a few days, come back with bags full of painkillers and psychotropic drugs.”

The extent to which women are under pressure can also be seen in how little money they spend for themselves. Every cent is saved and sent home. On the deposit receipts of the money transfer companies I see amounts of 50, 100, sometimes 200 euros. However, regardless how little they send, the women act as cash dispensers for their families. The better they function and the better the financial support of the families at home is, the higher the incentive for others in the home country to also send their wives, sisters, relatives to Germany into prostitution.

The Eastern European women in prostitution have nothing more to do with the professional whores who were active in large numbers 15 years ago in the industry. It is not so that in addition to the “good prostitution” there is prostitution due to poverty, but prostitution in Germany is predominantly poverty prostitution. So the typical prostitute comes from Eastern Europe, is in her early 20s and has two or three children in the home country. The presentation of the prostitution industry lobbyists – representing prostitution among miserable and destitute women as well as the forced prostitution as a regrettable marginal phenomenon within prostitution – misses reality. The opposite is the case. Poverty prostitution and forced prostitution go hand in hand.

Regardless of whether the brother is present, driving his sister to the brothel, or whether the woman enters alone; whether the family and the husband decided it that way, or whether she has even decided on her own (because the family in the apartment next door has always something to eat and can suddenly afford something, since their daughters are sending money from Germany): to our question of why they are here, the women answer, “Because I must.”

Since 2002, large brothels have been opened which are also called “wellness oases for the man” and which are efficient commercial enterprises that deliver women as a commodity for the customer and generate huge profits through this commodity. Young women who pay every day up to 160 euros for a tiny run-down brothel room, flush a lot of money in the pockets of homeowners and landlords. Is it any wonder that the number of brothels and flophouses is continuously rising?

The owners of brothels, apartments and flophouses are a relevant part of the system of exploitation in prostitution. For them there is no upper limit of rent. In Stuttgart, the price per square meter for a simple flophouse is about 300 euros. This price is absurd and only possible because the owner cannot be sued for exorbitant rents. This situation calls for an upper limit of rent , based on the price of similar hotel rooms.

The women in the brothels usually keep less than 10 percent of their earned prostitution earnings for themselves; the majority of their revenues goes directly to the brothel operators, apartment owners and renters. These are at the end of a chain of unspeakable crimes against each individual woman – but they wash their hands in innocence, because they are exempt from punishment . They legally take advantage of the poverty and of the prevailing violent structures in underprivileged families in the women’s home countries, as well as of the discrimination against women that prevails there; and they shamelessly profit from this.

These operators are already looking forward to the concessioning of the brothels. Their wellness oases, such as the Paradise at the Stuttgart Airport, already meet all the requirements: they are clean and give themselves the appearance of transparency. The licensing suits these gentlemen very well, because it will minimize unwanted competition and they will prevail even more successfully in the market.

As everywhere, even in these so-called high-class brothels, most prostitution is poverty-driven or forced. Such mega-brothels are not attractive to the small group of independent, autonomous women, because the operators there naturally ensure that their customers receive the highest level of service at an affordable price, in order for them to return. That the women break down one after the other due to this service does not disturb the business here. Unprofitable women sort themselves out and the operators do not have to worry about the supply – which is available for free and in abundance.

Concessioning/Licensing is better than no concessioning/licensing, but it will not solve the problem of forced prostitution because of poverty.

If there were nationwide special police departments for this milieu, as there are in Stuttgart and Hamburg, the business with the prostitutes in Germany would be more transparent. For this, rights of access and control in all forms of prostitution sites are required. And since prostitution always takes place in the criminal milieu, the control must by no means be delegated to local authorities, but must be a matter for the police.

Violations of any future regulations for prostitution sites must not merely deemed administrative offenses, but should, in the case of persistent contravention, be considered a criminal offense. In order to counter the violence in the prostitution milieu and to intervene offensively and efficiently, an interdisciplinary approach/procedure is indispensable. Data must flow together. Therefore, round tables of all authorities and departments involved are mandatory/absolutely required. Working alongside each other is less efficient by far than is working in collaboration.

A health control obligation on the part of public health authorities, coupled with social counselling, would not only be a necessary step to deal with the spread of sexually transmitted diseases: this duty of [medical] examination is always a chance for the women to come into contact with people outside their milieu and to seek help. This would be a change that would be welcomed by both German and Eastern European prostitutes.

Brothel operators have always tried to isolate the women and deny them information. Contracted doctors come into the brothels, and there are canteens so that the women do not leave the house to take their meals. Much of what would be employee-friendly measures in the management of solid businesses, serves to isolate the women in prostitution establishments, thus depriving them of the opportunity to ask for help when they experience difficulties.

The obligatory medical examination for prostitutes which must be reintroduced, must therefore not be delegated to in-house and company doctors. If – in a licensed brothel – every woman, before taking up her work, were necessarily to provide a health certificate as well as evidence proving that she has visited a counselling service, exactly as if she worked with food (there is a prescribed instruction in this case), we could prevent young women from working here without getting the information that they need not give their money to the pimps and brokers, and that they can get help when they are being beaten and raped.

A great many of women do not know what is quite natural for us. But nobody tells them. They have only the information given to them by the persons accompanying them. Only! This can be changed.

Necessary and important are specialized milieu social workers who seek contact with the women, who inform them and offer assistance. Aids in prostitution are aids to exit. The women do not like to work in prostitution, they are looking for exit opportunities. For their project to succeed, appropriate programs need to be established.

Many of the women start at age 18 to work in prostitution. That’s too young. The minimum age should be at least 21 years of age. Even though this age limit will not change the young women’s situation. Because then the younger ones will be put into “interim storage” in Spain up to their 21st birthday. We are already encountering many Eastern European women with knowledge of Spanish.

It is important to finally make the johns accountable. The women need to be taken out and the men put in § 184e of the Criminal Code. Whoever requests banned prostitution must be able to be prosecuted. So far, only the women are being prosecuted – and they are the ones without a choice. The john has a choice – and he can be seized. Via the john, the situation can be changed. That is why coercive action must be taken against the john, not against the prostitute.

The criminal offense of exploiting prostitutes must be changed so that objective facts are sufficient to obtain a conviction. It cannot be that a 20-year-old poverty prostitute must first testify against her father, her mother, her brother or her neighbors, so that the perpetrators can be prosecuted.

Here the French law can be a good model. There, the penal provisions regarding prostitution and the promoting of prostitution are more extensive, and there can be prosecution of the people who bring the women into the brothels and keep their money.

Translated by Ulla Wojciechowski