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In Germany, “brothel of Europe”, prostitution is once again debated

Photo: Ina Fassbender Agence France-Presse Kevin, who says he has been working voluntarily “for years” as a sex worker, believes that banning prostitution would only increase covert violence.

Céline Le Prioux – Agence France-Presse in Berlin

10:19 p.m.

  • Europe

Birgit, 57, is used to offering the services of a sex worker in an authorized setting which reassures her. She fears seeing it called into question because prostitution is once again debated in Germany, more than 20 years after its legalization.

The conservative opposition in Parliament is campaigning to reform the law that made the sex trade legal. In a proposal to the Bundestag on Friday, former Chancellor Angela Merkel's party says the 2002 law has not achieved its goal of improving the situation of sex workers and curbing human trafficking, on the contrary .

Conservatives want to ban brothels and penalize people who buy sexual services.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz, a social democrat, also recently called for changes, deeming it “unacceptable that men buy women”.

The holding of the Euro football this year in Germany calls for particular vigilance against human trafficking, warned a Social Democratic MP, Leni Breymaier, on Friday: “Because the market created by this event cannot be fulfilled by voluntary prostitution.”

Among the 800 members of the federation of sexual and erotic services (BesD), Kevin told AFP he had been working “for years” of his own free will as a sex worker.


Banning sex work would only increase hidden violence, believes this 43-year-old man who charges 500 euros ($730 CAD) for two hours for his services, thus supplementing his income as a heating technician.

According to him, “pimping and trafficking in women should be punished more firmly.”

Manager of the Internet portal Callboyz.net, where other men sell their services, he explains that all sex workers there are registered with the German authorities and pay taxes as such.< /p>

Birgit, one of Kevin's clients, who like him does not wish to give her name, favors this framework for “the assurance of not being violated or catching sexual diseases during a meeting “.

“If everyone consents, every adult is free to do what they want with their body,” she told AFP.

Germany has around 28,280 registered prostitutes, according to the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis).

But there are many more undeclared sex workers: the co-chair of the conservative opposition parliamentary group in the Bundestag, Dorothee Bär, cites the number as 250,000, most of them women. She calls her country the “brothel of Europe”.

In France, the number of prostitutes is estimated between 30,000 and 40,000, a figure that does not take into account occasional prostitution.

The street, the drugs

The daily life of Jana, a 48-year-old Bulgarian who arrived in Berlin in 1999, has nothing to do with that of Kevin.

Hidden by her hood, Jana's voice cracks when she tells AFP how she sold herself to reimburse the bus fare (110 euros, or CA$160) to the man who helped her travel to Germany in 1999.

Two decades later, she sleeps on the streets and has to accept 30 euro ($44 CAD) passes in public toilets or sex shops.

To keep up, Jana, who prefers not to give her name, took methamphetamine (or “crystal meth”) for nine years, but says she stopped three months ago.

“A classic case,” explains Gerhard Schönborn, head of the Berlin association Neustart (new start, Editor’s note) which helps prostitutes.

He considers that legalization has had negative effects: “the initial idea was to bring the profession out of the shadows. But this contributed to an increase in the number of brothels in Germany.”

It is in the café of her association, located on Kurfürstenstrasse, the street of the German capital, that Jana comes to rest. “We help them register with the employment office, find a doctor, accommodation and possibly a new job,” describes Schönborn.

Its meeting place, open several hours a day, welcomes around 3,500 women per year.

At the end of 2022, Germany had 2,310 declared prostitution businesses — brothels, but also services supplying prostitutes for certain events, for example —, according to the national statistics office Destatis.

These establishments are also in the crosshairs of supporters of law reform who criticize the conditions in which women work there and the inadequacy of controls.

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Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116