My new life as a lobby whore, or how an honourable gentleman kindly asked me to relinquish my civil liberties. #respectsexwork is something.
Last week after quite some time I was on the streets again. Not on the streets, rather at a demonstration. In front of the Berlin House of Representatives. On Tuesday the first session of the new parliamentary work group Prostitution – where to? took place. Created by German parliament members, Frank Heinrich (CDU) and Leni Breymaier, the Swabian mother ship of the Baden-Württemberg SPD, who recently voted for the Sexkaufverbot (the ban on the purchase of sex) – that is, the abolition of prostitution. Prostitution where to? – Yes, where to, where should it go, quo vadis, what is the German nation-state to do with you – it cannot leave you alone, where and for what you are, oh “oldest trade in the world”? We whores, who spontaneously assembled in a rally in front of the House of Representatives, had a sense of foreboding; it was quite clear where we and our profession were headed, namely, toward prohibition, illegality
Leni Breymaier and other so-called “abolitionists” (they stole this word from the movement to abolish slavery, I would find it more appropriate to name them what they are: neo-Puritans), are advocates of the “Swedish Model” – they prefer “Nordic Model,” as if the Nordic world were again the goal of Germany’s, or more precisely, Germania’s cultural classification! The Swedish Model is a kind of hypocrite’s Puritanism, according to which the poor whores are not criminalized and brought behind bars (gee, thanks!), but everything is done to make their craft impossible, particularly the “client’s punishment,” the Sexkaufverbot.
Excuse me, the whores are not punished, yet the purchase of sex is banned, taking their livelihood from them? Yes, precisely. That is entirely the case, as if you were to tell a journalist we’re against you being penalised for your job, you are allowed to continue working; but we’re penalising everyone who buys newspapers or even reads them, we’re banning printing presses, editorial offices, and you are also not allowed to operate a newspaper or a personal blog online. You are allowed to distribute your texts on the streets, but of course not just anywhere, not in city centres or in small municipalities, and those who get caught in the act of buying a publication from you can be punished with high fines and in the case of repeated offense, with prison. And the abolitionists do this because they believe that journalism, er, sex work is bad per se, institutionalised rape, patriarchal structure, the woman as commodity, pure coercion (or psychosis), something that we as a society do not want. But the whores, they shall not be punished. They get support. They can train to be a cleaning lady in a temporary employment agency, or if they’re foreign, they get a free one-way ticket back to their home country. Perhaps there they will be treated like criminals when it gets out that they were prostitutes/were forced into prostitution here in Germany (what’s the difference, quibbles…), but this is of no concern to the abolitionists. They have always saved them. And, as a U.S. police officer recently tweeted: It is definitely right that the johns be punished and not the poor whores, but maybe it’s still good to arrest them if they’ll be safer in jail than outside on the streets.
Enough of that. Enough reason for us politically organised sex workers to be highly concerned. Enough reason in Berlin as recently in Stockholm, to take the streets with our demands. The worry of being labelled “lobby whores” by the Abolis, as we affectionately call them, no longer scared us, what of it, for we’re lobby whores, whores need a lobby, now more than ever. I am a passionate lobby whore!
But demonstrating in the government district won’t suffice, true lobbying work must be done. Lummy! How does one do such a thing? Lobbyists go to representatives’ offices and talk to them. I did precisely that. I got an appointment with Frank Heinrich, the initiator of the working group, Prostitution – where to? I was sceptical and suspicious. Did he perhaps want to meet me to be able to say to himself he had heard all sides, though his decision to ban our work was already certain?
But I had to go either way. Albeit out of curiosity. How does such a person behave in conversation, he in power, towards a concerned party whose existence he was soon to destroy? This at least has literary surplus value, and I will perhaps soon have to make a living on writing if I can no longer be a whore.
I’ll try to remember as fairly as possible. He surprised me because he was not a dogmatist, nor a Christian on his pulpit, not one to argue using the “image of the woman in society” or similar brazenness. He was open, pragmatic, problem-oriented, and in no way finished consolidating his opinion. I don’t want to assume that it was only pretence, that he was just blowing smoke, that he was kind and cooperative, for I cannot imagine that a parliamentarian such as he had so much time to make such effort just because I wanted to speak with him. I, the little lobby whore, am not that important with my little Twitter account and my semi-prominence. I’m not even on the board of my professional organisation. I am but a curious concerned party, and the representative chosen by the electorate saw it as his obligation to explain himself to his sovereign. Frank Heinrich would like to be a good politician. He would like to make a good decision. In our conversation he complained of the difficulty of not having any numbers about my line of work, that you could not bloody well know who does it out of coercion and who of their own free will. Is the ratio, as the abolitionists claim, 99:1? Or is it the other way around? Could one believe the lobby whores that the vast majority of us do it of our own free will, and the actual victims of human trafficking are the absolute exception, albeit tragic? Just as police statistics would have us believe? But what good would police statistics be, the dark figure, which is known to be higher because most cases, as is known, would never be reported.
I countered that I had heard that social workers and state counselling centres such as Hydra in Berlin need years to build up trust until people open up. Of course, part of this was a trusted environment. You cannot expect people to be open to the authorities when they have to fear sanctions that make their personal situation worse. Like a raid or police interrogation of the alleged perpetrator who is permitted to leave afterwards without the victim receiving any kind of protection. Or even detention.
He could see that. The prostitutes would not open their mouths themselves. But now one could at least examine the situation, enter the brothel, even the smallest ones, and catch the criminals red-handed.
Yes, I said, because with the Prostitution Protection Act (Prostituiertenschutzgesetz) two years ago the protection of the home was repealed for sex workers. Or on suspicion thereof.
Precisely! He exclaimed, buoyantly, as if that were a huge political success.
A simple equation
And then he began an equation, or words to that effect: suppose the relation between coercion and free will in your line of work were 50:50 – for both sides a favourable assumption. Wouldn’t you then have to say, in the interest of the public, the profession must be eliminated, a prohibition is needed? Does not the suffering of the one half weigh much heavier than your selfish freedom of trade? Do you not understand that you should sacrifice yourself in this situation? In the interest of the public!
I pause to take in this conclusion. It is the main argument for the elimination of prostitution to which all the babble boils down, leaving out the Christian moral dogmas of the role of the good housewife and the kitchen sink psychology of the defiled soul, approaching the issue with pragmatism and sobriety, like CDU man Frank Heinrich. Let’s consider the logical structure of this argument only. Disregarding one moment, that a ban very possibly does not help the victims of human trafficking in the slightest because it gives the criminals a monopoly position just like back then during Prohibition. We’ll forget the human fact that a ban does not eliminate the demand for that which is banned (au contraire). Let’s ignore the fact that whores all over the world – not pimps – are against the prohibition of the purchase of sex. Let us not turn to the studies and observations of the reality in countries such as Sweden, Norway, France, and Canada, where because of a ban neither prostitution nor human trafficking have disappeared, only the rights of the prostitutes. Let’s shit on the question as to what happens to those effected after the ban, with the enslaved girls, as with the unemployed women without pan-European concepts of social politics and inter-state solidarity. Instead let’s imagine that the problems of the victims of human trafficking were to be eliminated only with the ban, and the assumption applies: the freedom of the 50% against the freedom of the other 50%. Deal?
Some people will find this intuitively correct, and fairly so. Particularly when assuming in the favour of the ban supporters, the equation is rather: the freedom of the 1% against the freedom of the 99%. And if only because so many already think like this I should show understanding and not set my rights as an individual too high. It is not as if I were hearing this argument in the office of this German Bundestag member for the first time. Such opinions are often shared with me in my social networks. And even Leni Breymaier, a couple months ago at an event in Neukölln with the idealistic title, For a World without Prostitution (Für eine Welt ohne Prostitution), where I managed to end up in the audience, and she recognised me, roaring down at me personally from the podium in front of hundreds of witnesses, I – I! – am personally responsible for the suffering of every child forced into prostitution and raped. That’s a bit much, a notch lower was obviously not an option on this issue. What an accusation, when you try to imagine that, visually even, and the Abolis love a graphic description. This is how Inge Bell of Terre des Femmes Deutschland e.V., who was also on the podium, told her story of the Kosovo War, where she met an underage girl who had been cruelly abused by soldiers (I’ll spare you the bloody details), and that’s why – Inge Bell concluded her description – that’s why she was against prostitution. The audience was so shaken by what was recounted that they didn’t notice there was absolutely no correlation between these wartime atrocities and prostitution.
More than just a few years ago in the Federal Republic of Germany the decriminalization of homosexuals was “argued” against by claiming it would indirectly legalise paedophilia. That there is no logically conclusive relationship between homosexuality and “paederasty,” not even with regards to demand – even less between sex work and human trafficking – did not enter these people’s heads. In some countries this abominable prejudice still prevails today.
The simple solution
I swear, if I, only because I make my money differently in the future, could end the suffering of only one person, I would do it. In an instant. Yet the logic of the argument is not evident to me. What Frank Heinrich, member of the Bundestag, is demanding of sex workers, that the individual sacrifice their interests to the higher interest of the majority, is blatant utilitarianism and collectivism, evocative of a Stalinist mindset rather than the values of a Christian Democrat. Were Frank Heinrich from the former GDR, the accusation would immediately suggest itself that this man does not yet have our liberal understanding of democracy down pat; he is not standing on the foundation of the democratic constitutional order, according to which our constitution exists to protect weak minorities from the violence of the majority, not the other way around. All citizens are the same in front of the law. Including the outsiders. Even whores are citizens; the rights they have in this country are just as valid as those of any other. As is the right of the citizen to their own body, to live out their own sexuality, and the freedom to run a business with it, causing no one harm – unless at most an offence in the eyes of those who see themselves thwarted by our fundamental rights to gain a seemingly simple solution for a complex problem with a ban. Problems better addressed by proper police work and social policy, across the EU in fact.
Again, Nordic collectivism is not democratic. The constitution protects the rights of every individual, not only those who belong to the majority. The human is never a means, also not the means of a higher moral or a collective will. If that were different, it would be legitimate for the minority to refuse its rights if the majority (or in this case lawmakers) desired thusly, then the reverse would be true for all minorities. And most citizens belong to a minority in some respect. Which rights do they sacrifice only because others want them to? Although they aren’t harming anyone? Perhaps we should all as a consequence refuse our civil rights as soon as they lead to conflicts of interest in politics.
Nevertheless, I want to ascribe only the best moral ethos to Frank Heinrich. He is not a whore hater. He is not indifferent to sex workers. Nor is he ambivalent about the next budgetary package, which could provide for police and social policy cuts. Being a politician certainly isn’t easy.
Sacrifice yourselves, all of you!