By Jamie MacAlister
Prostitution is often called the oldest profession. It has been present in human society, dating back at least to the ancient Greeks’ hetairai and pornai. Throughout much of its history, prostitution has a stigmatized, dangerous, and often abusive industry. Concerns such as pimps, sex trafficking, and abuses within the industry have always been a concern. As such, in many different parts of Europe, there was a push to legalize prostitution under the idea that regulating the industry would bring safety to the women and girls who worked in it. The legalization of prostitution in Germany began in 2002 with the Prostitution Act, which formally regulated sex work. The dream was that through legalization, stigma against sex-workers would be eradicated, and would adiditonally result in increased safety, reduce sex trafficking, and increases in health for women and girls within the industry. In this plan, the government would provide regular Sexually Transmitted Disease checks and women would access the sponsored health benefits. While this was the goal, it quickly became apparent that this would not be as easy to achieve as first thought as the effects of the law began to take effect. However, some, such as the NGO Spiegal International, have suggested that women and girls have become more at risk after the legalization than they were before (2013).
Not only were girls at more risk, legalization has increased the demand for prostitution. After legalization, some clients (colloquially known as johns) who did not previously access prostitituion services as it was illegal, have started to do so now that they will not risk criminal repercussions according to academics such as Farley (2004). This has created the swelling of demand for prostitutes, and thus has required more women and girls to meet the demand increased the number of johns.
As almost no German women became prostitutes in the legalized brothels, the demand was instead filled with women and girls from poorer and unstable countries. These women often did not know the local language well and moreover lacked local support and connections, a fact which causes them to be particularly vulnerable to exploitation. This has thus situations only reinforced sex trafficking. Hence, despite the hopes of the German government, studies have found that in countries where legalization occurred there is in fact more sex trafficking inflow. (Cho, Dreher, Neumayer, 2012) Legalization, moreover, has reduced the will of the police and the government to investigate complaints, causing prostitution to be considered a non-issue for enforcement (Cho et al.)
As the greater number of women and girls were shipped into Germany from Eastern Europe to meet the demand and with decreased scrutiny, the prices for services quickly dropped – and these women were being expected to offer an increasing number of potentially dehumanizing and sexually risky acts in order to appease customers (Spiegal International, 2013).
In addition, others have argued that the making of prostitution legal and a taxed job filled by women and girls is rife with ethical issues. Prostitution cannot be considered a regular, safe job. It can cause trauma and serious PTSD, akin to that arising from combat experience (Farley 2004). Furthermore, Germany’s legalization model denies the inherent unethical power advantage of affluent German johns and pimps over impoverished Eastern-European women. This model moreover makes the government a partner in the exploitation of these women – as the industry is taxed. As witnessed in Germany, the legalization of prostitution has failed as it has only increased the dangers for women and girls. With the failure of the German model, more activists now look toward other models, which decriminalise sex work but do not fully legalise the sex industry, such as that seen in some Nordic countries.