FEMEN protesting Amnesty International (photo: EMMA). The feminist “sextremists” may not be so extreme after all; in Germany, it turns out, they speak for more people than one might think. A clear majority of Germans opposes pimping, and an additional one in five would like to see prostitution gone altogether. Here are some interesting facts and figures, courtesy of STERN:
The blue bars represent the percentage of Germans who think that prostitution should be totally legal in all its forms; purple, those who think it should be legal for the prostituted, but not for pimps or traffickers; and pink, those who think it should be altogether illegal. As you can see, the greatest number, across all age groups and both sexes, think it should be legal for a woman to be a prostitute, but not for anyone else to sell her. The “totally legal” and “totally illegal” groups are much smaller, and even in the groups most likely to favor totally-legal prostitution — men, and those between the ages of 18 and 29 — most want to see the pimps and traffickers cut out of the business altogether.
It’s a slap back at Amnesty, which recently voted to support total legalization of “all aspects of sex work”, including pimping and brothel-keeping, and by extension, trafficking (because let’s face it, there’s no other way supply could keep up with demand). The mainstream of German society thinks that if a woman makes her living in prostitution, the police should not harass her, but rather protect her from abuse and exploitation.
STERN’s Werner Mathes claims that these figures “support the German model”, but the fact is that the “German model” of prostitution law is full of holes, and favors the pimps and traffickers heavily, while the general public doesn’t feel that this lobby should even get a look-in. EMMA’s analysis is clearer:
A Forsa survey for STERN magazine found that 78 percent of all Germans are against prostitution. 59 percent want pimps penalized, 19 percent a total ban. Nowhere is the opinion gap between people and politicians in Germany so great as in the area of sex-for-sale.
While the Great Coalition is trying, after 13 years of failed politics, to prepare a soft reform of the fatal prostitution law, which once again protects the interests of woman-traffickers, pimps and brothel owners, and sells women out to prostitution, the populace has long held a clear position.
According to a survey by the Forsa Institute for STERN, 59% of the 1005 persons surveyed want prostitution to remain unpunished for the prostituted — but not for Pimps & Co. Another 19 percent — that is, almost every fifth person — want to see prostitution forbidden altogether. So some 78 percent want punishment for pimps, who work hand in hand with also-to-be-prosecuted traffickers and exploitative bordello owners. Only 15 percent of Germans are against prosecuting the peddlers of woman as merchandise: 19 percent of men and 11 percent of women, that is, barely one man in five, and one woman in nine.
That is the expression of a radical change of heart and disdain for sex-buying, even in Germany — in the country that today, thanks to deregulation of the prostitution market in 2002, is known as “the hub of sex-trafficking in Europe”, and with its “wellness bordellos” and megabrothels, and their bargain-basement flat rates, has become a haven for sex tourists.
Yes, EMMA is a radical feminist publication. But as prostitution has become more public in Germany, and its abuses more blatant, the outcry against it has grown. EMMA’s long-held position on prostitution is gradually going mainstream. Art students in Osnabrück recently protested the trafficking of Eastern European women and girls with a public installation of worn-out shoes with “price tags” offering sex-for-sale; men have protested sex-buying and trafficking by pushing women around in shopping carts bearing placards denouncing the practice. German trauma experts have turned out in force against prostitution, having found that the majority of prostitutes they see have PTSD as a direct result of their jobs. Photographer Bettina Flitner has won awards for her work, which often takes the viewer inside bordellos, and features empathetic, non-judgmental portraits of women in prostitution, as well as a sober confrontation with their johns. And the mainstream media keep reporting what women really face on the streets, as well as in brothels…and on the human trafficking that brought them there. It’s not a sexy picture, no matter what the brothel billboards might try to sell you.
Little by little, the German public is coming around to rejecting the idea of woman as sexual merchandise. For it is, after all, mainly women and girls who are bought and sold. And the buyers are almost exclusively male. It is such a heavily gendered industry, so heavily skewed in favor of men and against women, that the inequality can no longer be missed. Where, after all, are the bordellos dealing in men, marketed with gleeful abandon to an eager female customer base? There aren’t any! (That’s because a majority of women the world over can’t bring themselves to buy a man, even if they could afford one. We are not taught that men were put on this Earth to sexually service US, after all.)
Furthermore, it has proved impossible to provide sexual servicing at a price without the inevitable market forces bearing down and making it a race to the bottom. Megabrothels now outcompete each other at “flat-rate” prostitution: all-inclusive sex (minus condom, even!) at a low, fixed rate. And with a shortage of German women “volunteering” for that kind of service (would you?), trafficking of impoverished women (and increasingly, under-age girls) from Eastern Europe has become a “necessity” — as have raids on bordellos dealing in such persons. Of the nearly half-million prostituted women in Germany, a majority are not Germans, barely speak the language beyond what it takes to negotiate a “transaction”, and come from dire poverty — often in Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, etc. They are trucked in by mafiosi who confiscate their passports and papers, making it impossible for the women to escape or alert the authorities. And their health is at risk, too, because to cover the extortionate room rates and other fees charged by bordellos (which are NOT to be mistaken for women’s shelters!), they have to service three or four johns before they break even and start making any money of their own (assuming their pimps don’t take it all for themselves, of course).
A dozen johns a day and scarcely a condom in sight makes for a very bad health situation among prostitutes, and don’t think the average German has failed to notice! It’s bordering on a public health emergency, with STD rates up and little wonder. It’s a striking irony in the glitzy world of the “wellness” bordello, where the simple act of getting one’s rocks off is assumed to be the healthiest thing one can do…if one is a man, that is. The women who have to act as receptacles to all these men’s bodily fluids tell another story.
And it’s hard to imagine how Amnesty manages to square all this with their tone-deaf call for “sex workers’ rights”. Um, WHAT rights? When the women don’t even know that what they’re doing won’t get them arrested (and the traffickers tell them that they will, and make sure they do by leaving them without documents, thus rendering them illegal migrants), how on Earth are they supposed to assert even the most basic rights granted to them by the lax and putrid German prostitution law — which, by Amnesty’s lights, is A-okay?
The STERN survey is flawed, too, in that it does not ask what should be done about the johns. It tacitly seems to assume that they are doing no wrong. But without them, this industry would not even exist. Is it right to leave the driving economic force out of the equation?
It’s time for a new survey, this time one that asks Germans what they think of the Nordic Model, where johns are penalized along with traffickers and pimps. I’m guessing that the figures from such a survey would be even more interesting, and an even bigger slap in the face of Amnesty’s men’s-rightsy, pimp-lobby-financed resolution.