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Covid-19 prompts calls to end prostitution in Germany

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The Covid-19 crisis has shut down much of the world for a significant period of time. As far back as March 2020 I was reporting on the toll the virus outbreak was having on sex workers. That impact was only amplified as entire countries went into lockdown.

Germany has long had one of the most open commercial sex industries in the world. Private bordellos like Agentur Liberty in Berlin operate alongside large FKK sex saunas such as the famous Oase in Frankfurt, renown red light districts like Reeperbahn in Hamburg, and countless independent escorts to make up a very vibrant scene. Sex workers in Germany can collect state pensions like other “mainstream” workers who pay into the system too. But when Covid-19 came along it knocked a lot of ladies out of business.

Brothels in Germany were closed along with bars and restaurants. Income for sex workers dried up. Yet many cannot access emergency funds for business people due to their professions or positions. That is not to mention the women from various parts of Europe who rented rooms in the places they plied their trade. Especially hard hit have been those who were unable to get back to their home countries before travel restrictions were enacted. They are basically stuck in Germany with no way to make money.

Could Covid-19 lead to a prostitution ban?

There is no question that the Covid-19 crisis has had a major effect on sex workers in Germany. But rather than craft a response to this current crisis some are taking the opportunity to call for a permanent end of prostitution in Germany. These people say that the current crisis has made clear that sex workers “have no existence”. It is claimed that “they have no apartment, no health insurance, and are being controlled by pimps. A re-opening of prostitution venues doesn’t help these women. Rather an apprenticeship or work in a profession that helps them to establish their existence”.

We can only wonder what these voices think about reports that some sex workers have turned to street walking or asking for work at farms. Presumably the women who have turned to walking the streets still do not exist in their view. But those who have begged to pick strawberries for low wages have asserted their existence like Descartes proclaiming “je pense, donc je suis!” in his Discourse on the Method.

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Recently there have been increasing calls from certain people in the halls of power to adopt the so-called Nordic Model in Germany. Of course this Nordic Model is also known as “neo-abolitionism” and “the sex buyer act” for good reason. Under the Nordic Model the purchase of sex services is outlawed while selling remains technically decriminalized. Customers are arrested and labeled as “Johns” while providers are supposed to be provided with counseling, housing and alternative skills training. That way they can do “respectable work” like picking produce for a pittance.

This is all reportedly widely in German media and has already echoed across several outlets including Deutsche Welle (DW), Der Spiegel and the Deutsches Ärzteblatt. It has become something of a hot button issue in just a short period of time. Since there is such a big and broad sex industry in Germany that only makes sense.

Will sex work stay legal in Germany?

There are always those who call for vices like prostitution to be driven out from every society. Sometimes they are headed. Other times they are humored. In Germany they are now growing in scope and scale. But that doesn’t mean that the country will suddenly turn everything upside down and ban the exchange of money for sex overnight.

It is possible that Germany could go the Nordic route. After all the EU parliament adopted a resolution in favor of the Nordic Model several years ago. And Germany itself enacted a law regulating sex work and requiring things like the use of condoms when prostitutes perform oral sex not long after. It may not be all that likely however.

Only a handful of countries actually follow the Nordic Model to any real degree. Even in those countries sex work continues. The Iceland Monitor reports that prostitution is on the rise in Iceland. The National Commissioner of the Icelandic Police actually called the expansion of prostitution explosive. Then there are the relatively high numbers of Nordic clients who visit the legal brothels of countries including Germany. That’s on top of the fact that the new German condom law is routinely flouted. And the reality that prostitution is absolutely thriving in several countries where sex work is illegal.

The Nordic Model is opposed by groups like Amnesty International, UNAIDS, and UN Women. These organizations have all taken the sensible position that prostitution should simply be decriminalized. But even those who oppose prostitution have not been able to stop it in any real way. As has been the case throughout history the commercial sex industry proves to be resilient and impossible to simply legislate out of existence. It’s called “the world’s oldest profession” for a reason.

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