My new life as a lobby whore, or how an honourable gentleman kindly asked me to renounce my civil rights.
Last week, for the first time in ages, I was on the street again. Not working it, but rather at a demonstration in front of the House of Representatives, where on Tuesday the first sitting of the parliamentary working group called “Prostitution – where from here?” took place. It had been Instigated by members of the Bundestag Frank Heinrich (CDU) and Leni Breymaier, the Swabian mother ship of the SPD Baden Württemberg, the party that recently unanimously voted for the Sexkaufverbot (the ban on the purchase of sex) – in other words: for the abolition of prostitution. Prostitution where to? Yes, where to – quo vadis? What on earth will the German state, that cannot just leave you alone, do with you, oh you, “oldest profession in the world”? We whores, who had spontaneously gathered to rally in front of the House of Representatives, clearly sensed the direction we and our profession were supposed to go: that of prohibition, of illegality.
Leni Breymaier and other “abolitionists” (the name they stole from the slave liberation movement; I’d prefer to call them what they actually are: Neo-Puritans) advocate the so-called “Swedish model” or – as they prefer to call it – “Nordic model”, a designation that could be interpreted as if the Nordic world once again were the target of cultural classification for Germany or maybe even Germania! The Swedish model represents the kind of goodie-two-shoes puritanism that may not criminalise the poor whores and put them behind bars (well, thank you for that!), yet it goes out of its way to make it impossible for them to work; especially by imposing the so-called “Freierbestrafung”, the ban on the purchase of sex.
Excuse me, please? So, the whores themselves are not punished, but by banning the purchase of sex their livelihood is taken away from them? Exactly. It’s like telling journalists that you are against them being punished for the work they do, allowing them to continue doing it, but penalising anyone buying or even reading a paper, banning publishing houses, editorial offices and of course stopping anyone from running a personal blog or an online paper. It would be allowed to distribute texts on the street, but of course not just anywhere; not in inner cities, nor in smaller communities and mind you: whoever would get caught while purchasing a text
Abolitionists propose all this because journalism – errr… sex work is considered to be something that is bad per se, that is institutionalised rape, a result of patriarchal structures, the woman as a commodity, pure coercion (or psychosis), something that we as a society do not want. But the whores themselves should not be punished; they receive support: They are allowed to do a training as a cleaning lady for a temporary employment agency or, if they are foreigners, they are entitled to a free one-way ticket to their country of origin. Sure, they may be treated as criminals upon their arrival when the officials find out that they have been working as prostitutes/forced prostitutes here in Germany (who cares about the difference, the subtleties….), but that is of no concern to the abolitionists; they have done their duty by rescuing them. Plus, as U.S. police officer recently tweeted:
Enough about that. Reason enough for us politically organised sex workers to be highly concerned. Reason enough for us in Berlin just like recently in Stockholm to take to the streets with our demands. Worries of once again being labelled “lobby whores” by the Abolis, as we affectionately call them, no longer affected us. Who cares that we are lobby whores; whores need a lobby, now more than ever!
Of course, demonstrating in the government district alone won’t do the job; real lobby work is needed. Oh dear, what to do? Lobbyists are people who visit representatives and talk to them. Exactly that is what I decided to do: I got an appointment with Frank Heinrich, the initiator of the parliamentary working group “Prostitution – where from here?” I was sceptical and suspicious; Maybe he only wanted to see me to be able to say that he had heard all sides of the story, despite the fact that his decision to prohibit our line of work had already been taken?
I had to go and see him either way, if only out of curiosity: How does someone like that behave in a conversation – the powerful opposite someone whose existence he was soon to destroy? It at least has a literary added value and maybe I will soon have to live from my writing, if I am no longer allowed to be a whore.
I will try to recount this as accurately as possible. He surprised me, because he was not dogmatic, not a Christian preacher of morality, not someone basing his argumentation on “the image of women in society” or similar impositions. He was open, pragmatic, problem-oriented and with an opinion that is not set in stone. I don’t want to imply that he deceived me, that he was friendly and cooperative, because I cannot imagine that a parliamentarian such as he has so much time to go through all the trouble of meeting me, only because I wanted to. With my little Twitter account and my semi-prominence, I am not that important: I am not even on the board of my professional association; I am merely a curious affected party; the democratically elected representative saw it as his duty to give account to his sovereign. Frank Heinrich would like to be a good politician. He would like to reach a fair decision. In our conversation, he lamented the fact that, as I was probably aware, there are no numbers available concerning my line of work and that it is therefore quite impossible to know how many of us do this work on a coercive and how many on a voluntary basis. Were we talking about a 99:1 ratio, as neo-puritans would like us to believe? Or is it quite the opposite: Should we believe the lobby whores when they say that most of us do this work entirely voluntarily and that the actual victims of human trafficking are the absolute exception, albeit a tragic one? This is also what police statistics make us believe. Yet, Heinrich asked, of what use were police statistics, when – as it is commonly known – the actual number is higher, because most cases – as it is commonly known – were never reported.
I replied that I had heard that it takes years for social workers and federal counselling centres such as Hydra in Berlin to build up a relationship of trust with people willing to open up to them. Obviously, it requires a trustworthy environment. You cannot expect people to be open towards the authorities when they have to fear sanctions that will make their personal situation even worse, such as raids or police interrogations of the suspected perpetrators, who are allowed to leave whereas the victims receive no protection at all. Or detention.
He understood that; by themselves Prostitutes would not speak up, yet, it was now at least possible to examine the situation by going into the brothels, even the smallest ones, and catch the perpetrators in the act.
“Yes,” I said, “because with the Prostitutes Protection Bill (Prostituiertenschutzgesetz) of two years ago, the inviolability of the home has been repealed for sex workers and those suspected thereof.” “Exactly!” He cheerfully cried out, as if it were a huge political success.
A Simple Equation
And then he made this simple equation: Assuming that the ratio between coercion and voluntariness in our line of work were 50:50 –for both sides a favourable assumption – would it then still not be necessary to abolish the line of work in public interest? Would the suffering of the one half not outweigh our freedom to pursue this trade? Did I not see that I would have to make this sacrifice by virtue of a general interest criterion?
I stop and consider this conclusion. What we are talking about here is the main argument when it comes to the abolition of prostitution, what it all boils down to when you leave out Christian moral dogmas about the role of the good housewife and the layman’s psychology of the dishonoured soul and just look at it from a matter-of-fact perspective, as CDU politician Frank Heinrich does. Let’s have a look at the logical structure of this argumentation. First of all, the argument implies that we will have to disregard the fact that a ban on prostitution quite possibly will not help the victims of human trafficking, because it actually provides the criminals with a monopoly position, as was the case with prohibition. Second, we will also have to block out the human fact that a ban will never eliminate the demand for that which is forbidden (quite the contrary). Furthermore, it will be necessary to ignore the fact that whores – not the pimps and the brothel operators – everywhere in the world are against the ban. Let’s also not look at studies and observations in countries such as Sweden, Norway, France and Canada, where neither prostitution nor human trafficking have disappeared as a result of a ban, prostitutes’ rights, however have. Finally, let’s not care about what happens to the people concerned, to the enslaved girls and unemployed women, without pan-European concepts of social policy and international solidarity. Instead, let’s imagine that human-trafficking victims’ problems could only truly be eliminated by means of a ban and we can agree to trade the freedom of 50% for the freedom of the other 50%. Deal?
Some people will intuitively say yes to this, and rightly so. Especially, if you – in favour of the advocates of a ban – accept that the equation is rather the freedom of the 1% against the freedom of the 99%. Simply because so many people think like this, I should show understanding and not set my rights as an individual too high. Of course, I had heard the argumentation as used by this Bundestag representative before. It’s what people in social media would like me to take to heart. A couple of months ago, I had managed to end up in the audience of the idealistically titled event For a World without Prostitution (Für eine Welt ohne Prostitution) in Neukölln. It was there that even Leni Breymaier herself, after recognising me roared down at me from the podium and in front of hundreds of witnesses that I – I! was personally responsible for the suffering of every child who is raped as a result of forced prostitution. That is quite something and apparently there is no less-incensed way to talk about this subject. What an accusation, especially when you try to imagine what it implies visually, for the Abolis love graphic descriptions. For instance, Inge Bell of Terre des Femmes Deutschland e.V., who was also present, recounted a story of the Kosovo war of when she got to know an underage girl who had been cruelly abused by soldiers (I will spare you the gory details). The girl’s testimony, Bell concluded her story, had led her to be against prostitution. The audience was so upset by her account that they didn’t at all notice the absence of an actual correlation between these wartime atrocities and prostitution.
It is not so long ago that in the Federal Republic of Germany, the decriminalisation of homosexuality was argued against by claiming that it would automatically entail legalizing paedophilia. The fact that there is no direct correlation between homosexuality and “paederasty” – not even concerning the demand – as there is none between sex work and human trafficking, would simply not make sense to them. In many countries, this prejudice is still alive today.
The Simple Solution
I swear that if I, merely by earning my money in a different way in the future, were able to put an end to the suffering of only one person, I would do it. In an instant. Yet, the logic in the argument escapes me. What Frank Heinrich as a member of the Bundestag is demanding of sex workers is that they sacrifice their individual interests for the higher interest of the majority. The blatant utilitarianism of this collectivist idea is reminiscent of a Stalinist mindset rather than of the values of a Christian Democrat. If Frank Heinrich were a child of the now extinct GDR, the accusation could be made that this man has not yet incorporated our liberal understanding of democracy, that his mind-set is not based on the democratic constitutional order yet, according to which our constitution has been designed to protect weak minorities against the violence of the majority, not the other way around. All citizens are equal before the law, including the outsiders. Whores are citizens, too; the rights they have in this country today are as valid as anyone else’s. One of these rights is the citizens’ right to autonomous control over their body and to live out their own sexuality, as well as the freedom to carry on a trade using their body, as long as no harm is caused to anyone else by doing so. The latter is at most an offense to those who on their quest to solve complex problems by the implementation of a ban, are hindered by our basic civil rights. These problems would in fact better be tackled through proper police work and social policy across the EU.
I repeat: Nordic collectivism is undemocratic. The constitution protects the rights of every single citizen, not just those of the majority. A human being is never an instrument, also not the instrument of a higher moral or a collective will. If this were any different, it would be legitimate for the minority to renounce their rights in case the majority (or in this case lawmakers) desired thus, which would then imply the reverse to be 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? Even though they aren’t harming anyone? Perhaps we should as a consequence all renounce our civil rights as soon as they lead to conflicts of interest in politics.
Nevertheless, I wish to ascribe nothing but the best moral ethos to Frank Heinrich; he is not a whore hater, nor is he indifferent to the sex workers’ cause. However, he is also concerned about the upcoming budgetary package, that could entail police and social policy cuts.
It’s certainly not easy being a politician.