Which European country has the cheapest prostitutes?

Will Germany remain the "brothel of Europe"?

If it were up to Leni Breymaier, brothels could go bankrupt during the corona pandemic. The SPD politician finds it scandalous that brothel operators also get Corona aid because the sex work business has been standing still for around a year. It could not be that the state "supports criminals by showing taxpayers' money to brothels in which women are forced into prostitution by force," she said in an interview with the Funke media group at the end of last year. These and other critical statements about the sex industry brought her around 20 criminal complaints from around 50 brothel operators from all over Germany. You accuse the politician of defamation and defamation.

Sex purchase ban and "Nordic model"

Breymaier belongs to a group of members of the Bundestag who are vehemently campaigning for a sex purchase ban in Germany - based on the so-called "Nordic model". Such a ban would criminalize the suitors, not the prostitutes. The criminal prosecution of sex purchases in the Nordic model is flanked by extensive exit programs for sex workers, their decriminalization and broad social education.

The SPD member of the Bundestag Leni Breymaier is campaigning for a comprehensive sex purchase ban in Germany

Prostitution was legalized in Germany in 2002, and the Prostitute Protection Act has been in place since 2017, which aims to improve the working conditions of sex workers. Brothels need an operating permit, prostitutes have to register. So far, however, only around 40,000 registrations have been received in Germany - with an estimated number between 200,000 and a million prostitutes - depending on the statistics. For many, the law is already considered a failure, as the overwhelming majority of sex workers continue to work underground.

Germany - "Europe's brothel"

So far, however, no party represented in the Bundestag has included a sex purchase ban in its program. Leni Breymaier attributes the fact that Germany has one of the most liberal prostitution laws in Europe and is also known as "Europe's brothel" to the influence of the sex industry. "The prostitution and erotic industry has a strong and vocal lobby with us," she said in an interview with DW. The politician is a rapporteur for forced prostitution in her group and is active in the "Sisters" association, which also advocates a ban on buying sex and regards voluntary prostitution as a fairy tale. For Breymaier one thing is certain: "We are not at eye level as long as one sex can buy the other."

Eastern European prostitutes on a street prostitute in Frankfurt am Main. The debate on how to most effectively curb human trafficking and forced prostitution is picking up again.

The debate about stricter prostitution laws has picked up speed again, not least in the corona pandemic. In the first lockdown in the spring of last year, when the brothels were closed for the first time, several cross-party members of the Bundestag, including Breymaier, advocated further regulating the trade even after the corona restrictions. The industry is coming under increasing pressure. The CDU / CSU parliamentary group would also like to tighten the prostitution law; the European Union has been calling for more to happen for years. As early as 2014, the European Parliament passed a resolution recommending the introduction of the Nordic model to the member states.

Sweden exported its sex purchase ban

Sweden introduced this model more than 20 years ago, making it the first country to change the direction of criminalization. With the punishment of the suitors instead of the prostitutes, the demand for bought sex was to be dried up. Some European countries have followed the model and have also banned the purchase of sex: Norway and Iceland in 2009, Finland also followed suit, England, Wales and Northern Ireland also introduced the model with modifications, most recently France and Ireland in 2016 Year later. Similar prostitution laws exist in Canada and Israel. "The more countries decide, the more Germany comes under pressure," believes SPD politician Breymaier.

The Swedish Parliament was the first European Chamber of Deputies to pass a law that criminalizes not prostitutes, but clients.

In mid-February, the European Parliament also passed a resolution calling on EU members to do more against sexual exploitation and human trafficking. Especially suitors who realize that they are using the services of sexually exploited prostitutes should be punished more severely, it says. For supporters of a sex purchase ban, the EU's calls could be another argument in favor of promoting their goal even more. Because for them prostitution, sexual exploitation and human trafficking are inseparable. If prostitution is restricted, human trafficking will decrease, so the argument goes.

Numerous opponents of the Nordic model

Numerous associations and advice centers see this differently. The opponents of the Nordic model and a ban on buying sex include the German Women's Council, the German Aidshilfe, the Diakonie Deutschland and the German Association of Women Lawyers. In a joint position paper, they warned against criminalization of prostitution at the end of 2019 - because that only harms the people who work in the industry. "It increases the risk of becoming a victim of violence or of contracting sexually transmitted infections such as HIV. Stigmatization is increasing," the paper said. "Since sex work increasingly takes place in secret, when there is a threat of punishment, it is difficult for specialist advice centers and health authorities to come into contact with sex workers in order to inform them about rights, health offers and exit options," it continues. This makes prevention impossible.

The associations also reject the claim that a sex purchase ban will reduce prostitution and human trafficking. "Prostitution and human trafficking or forced prostitution must be viewed separately," explained Susanne Kahl-Passoth from the German Women's Council in the position paper. "There are women who independently earn their income from prostitution. Instead of criminalizing sex work, the working and living conditions of sex workers should be improved, according to the associations.

Hardly reliable data

What effects a ban on sex purchases based on the Nordic model really has on sexual exploitation and human trafficking - this is an extremely hotly debated issue. The very question of what is forced prostitution and what is self-determined sex work leads to emotional debates. Another basic problem in the assessment: the data situation. How many people work in prostitution cannot be quantified. How many of them volunteer as sex workers and how many are forced by, neither. This makes it almost impossible to be able to make reliable statements and leads to the fact that proponents and opponents of a sex purchase ban usually consult those studies that supposedly underpin their respective position.

In a research report by the Scandinavian researchers Carlotta Holmström and May-Len Skilöbrei on the effects of a ban on buying sex, the researchers point out the basic problem within the discussion: "In Sweden, as elsewhere, the knowledge base about prostitution is incomplete and one-sided." Years ago, a much-cited statistical cross-sectional analysis by the University of Heidelberg came to the conclusion that countries where prostitution is legally permitted are more in the focus of human traffickers. But there was also criticism of the empirical and informative value of the study.

Objective viewing is hardly possible

In any case, the Swedish government openly celebrates its model as a success. Since the law was introduced in 1999, the number of prostitutes is said to have halved. Violence against women and human trafficking are said to have been reduced as a result of the sex purchase ban. But scientists like the Swedish historian Susanne Dodillet cast doubt on the statements. The problem is "that facts and research cannot prove it," she wrote in a statement to the state parliament in North Rhine-Westphalia at the beginning of January. On the contrary, Dodillet even refers to reports that the ban on buying sex leads to growing violence against prostitutes and severe stigmatization.

In view of the inadequate data situation and the ideological debate, an objective consideration of whether a ban on sex purchases based on the Nordic model protects sex workers and can curb illegal prostitution and human trafficking seems hardly possible.

Despite everything, Leni Breymaier is certain: she will continue to campaign for a sex purchase ban in Germany. "Even if there are free, self-determined women somewhere who say: 'I like to do this'. Even if there are, their right to freely choose a career does not justify the suffering of many others."