Huschke Mau, the formerly prostituted German woman whom you may remember from my “Dear Madame Minister” post awhile back, has been busy lately. She’s banded together with some like-minded colleagues from the political and social-work spheres, and together, they’ve formed a new group aimed at helping women to exit prostitution. Die Welt interviewed them to find out what they’re doing, and why:
Lobbyists of the prostitution industry love to swear by their ideal image of the free and self-determined whore, who provides her quasi-therapeutic services with pleasure, and who provides life help on the side.
For 90 percent of all prostitutes in Germany, however, another reality holds true. They need to service at least seven johns a day just to pay for their rent and food. They get degraded, abused, sometimes even tortured. And the vast majority of them do their job not freely, but out of material necessity or because they were forced to — by pimps, acquaintances, even their own families.
Whore, a normal job? “I know of no job in which it’s normal to be abused every day, in which mental harm is an occupational hazard, and gives men the feeling that it’s hot to degrade women,” says Huschke Mau.
She prostituted for ten years; the “voluntarily”, she puts in quotation marks. Three and a half years ago, she exited, with great difficulties. Now she’s the star witness of the scene for journalists, and tries to explain how prostitution is not a job like any other.
Along with Stuttgart social worker Sabine Constabel, and unionist Leni Breymaier, she campaigns for an exit from prostitution — and for the newly founded group, Sisters e.V., which will accompany [exiting] prostitutes along the way to a new life.
Counseling services to help women exit prostitution are still much too rare, says Sabine Constabel, who has been working with prostituted women for 25 years. “A woman who wants to exit is no happy sex worker. She’s ashamed, she’s disgusted with herself, she takes painkillers daily because her genitals hurt, or she does hard drugs because she just couldn’t take it anymore otherwise. We want to make these women a concrete offer.”
Sisters is to be the cornerstone of a network of volunteers helping exiting women on their way into a life outside of prostitution. For that, above all, Constabel emphasizes engagement by civil society. “I’ve given up all hope that political regulation can protect women,” she says. For that, the planned prostitute-protection law will do little to change things; it includes a registration requirement and regular counselling for the prostituted.
Leni Breymaier says that the real scandal is that Germany has long been Europe’s bordello. “For me, it’s not about morality, but about human rights.”
The picture painted by the two Sisters representatives is altogether different from what is still being presented to the public. 80 to 90 percent of the women come from foreign countries, says Constabel; most recently, from Romania above all. Some were sent by their own families after being told that one can earn enough money through sex in Germany to feed entire families at home. Hardly anyone cares what price the women pay for that.
And what’s up with those who so self-assuredly call themselves “sex workers”? “Half of them are dominatrices, and the other half are madams,” says Huschke Mau, the exited woman. “This pro-sex lobby is not representative for us.” The vast majority of prostitutes, by contrast, have stories much like her own: Violence and abuse in their own families, and the resulting sense that they are only good for sex and nothing else. “I have never met a single prostitute who hasn’t suffered violence,” says Mau.
Whether the planned prostitution law can provide help in exiting is doubtful for the Sisters activists. It still follows the demands of the prostitution industry lobby, according to Constabel. At least a hike in the minimum age from 18 to 21 would have made some sense. But this demand failed. The draft proposal, by family minister Manuela Schwesig (SPD), is still before an interdepartmental committee.
Breymaier, the SPD deputy chair for Baden-Württemberg, is also wrestling with the law. “But anything’s better than the law we have right now. We’re going in the right direction, but of the 100-metre dash we have before us, we’ve only put five behind us.” Most preferable, the women have made more than clear, would be a world without prostitution.
That’s a vision that the sex lobby naturally doesn’t share. The “Hamburg Prostitution Advice” group invited the public to a “Second Hamburg Culture Stroll”, in order to “get to know everything about the topic of sex work in St. Georg — with workplace tours from an hourly hotel to an S/M studio to an exclusive nightclub.” Afterwards, at a question-and-answer session with sex workers, one can then “relax over coffee and sweets” and quiz the experts “in peace about everything you’ve always wanted to know about sex work.”
Welcome to the parallel universe.
Somehow, I don’t think that info-stroll will include the inmates of the megabordellos. For one thing, a lot of them are foreigners, who can’t speak much German beyond negotiating a transaction, and who in any case are probably much too busy trying to pay the extortionate costs of room and board at the hooker-hotel to have much to do with this Happy Hooker lobby group. For another, even if they could speak fluent German, or talk at length about their work, they’d not have much nice to say. After all, they have to service at least seven johns a day just to break even. Little wonder, then, that the “stroll” will be limited to the “sex work” lobby’s preferred domain of hourly hotels (used by better-paid call girls, not lowly flat-rate brothel prostitutes), S/M “studios” (remember, half the lobbyists are dominatrices) and fancy-pants sex clubs. After all, it wouldn’t do to sicken any prospective clientele — or Amnesty-style supporters — with the shabby truth.