This is a fairly unusual reason to revive the English section of this page, but yesterday something came up I cannot leave without a comment.

One of the comrades at SSK (the socialdemocratic student club here) offered T-shirts with a slogan against prostitution – coupled with the call for a boycott of the World Cup. Others dropped in and a few mails later Germany seemed to be a nasty place and a paradise for prostitution of all kinds.

Unsurprisingly I got angry and therefore I have decided to dig up some fact and write something like a summary about the situation and my personal opinion about such a boycott.

The awareness

400,000 people are working as prostitutes in Germany, of which 95 % are female. 100,000 to 200,000 come from foreign countries.
Prostitution in all of its kinds and trafficking are not topics which have been a lot in discussion during the last years in Germany. This may be due to the fact that we Germans tend to prioritize – and since our unemployment has been high for 15 years, it is hard to get through with such topics.

However it is covered in the media and brought to public attention. Last year we had a scandal about unlawful visa given out by the German embassy in Kiev, Ukraine. The applications for Schengen visa were unsufficiently checked aorund the year 2001, leading to an incredible increase of applications (almost 300,000 in 2001 vs. 115,000 in 2003), including certainly a lot of criminals abusing it to bring people illegally to Western Europe and subsequently exploiting them as sexual slaves.

The laws and the situation

For my usual readers I have to remark that prostitution is illegal in Sweden – the law here has the remarkable feature that not those who sell are criminals but those who buy. An interesting approach in my opinion.

In Germany however is prostitution legal since 2001 – a law introduced by the social democrats and the greens. The motivation for this law is based on two things. First of all, it is an adaption to the reality. Like in many other European countries, prostitution had been always illegal and still exists though. All attempts to extinct it were in vain. Secondly, prostitution has a social component: prostitutes are forced to live in an illegal situation with no security. They are not covered by any social security system – that means health care and no pensions later. It also makes it difficult to ensure their income – until 2001 a freer could leave without paying and could not be persecuted. Therefore prostitution was legalized within certain limits and is now considered as a profession. However this helps also to draw the line between illegal and legal prostitution. If the prostitutes don’t have a work permit or are not employed correctly they still commit a crime. Unfortunately I could find only one survey about the effects of this law. This is quite recently and has not been published yet.

Virtually unnoticed by the public during the visa scandal, a law concerning trafficking was enacted in early 2005. It sets a maximum of 10 years in jail for anybody who forces somebody to work as a prostitute. Promoting work as a prostitute to anybody under 21 years is also punished. Those who do that on a regular basis as a member of a gang get a minimum of 1 year in jail.

This sounds not very impressive, but in major cities all over Germany the police has special units who investigate such cases and try to find cases of illegal prostitution and sexual slavery. I don’t dare to give an estimates about their efficiency, but here some facts:

  • around 400 cases of trafficking are found every year
  • more than 75 % of all victims come from Eastern Europe
  • currently the biggest faction are people from Ukraine (18.8 % in 2004)
  • 173 out of 180 cases from Ukraine were women, while the difference for Russian victims is larger (87 women out of 113 cases)
  • in relation to the total population and the female population between 15 and 30 years Bulgarians are by far the biggest faction
  • 8 % are underaged
  • more than half of the victims are younger than 24 years
  • around 38 % of the criminals are Germans, 32 % come from Eastern Europe themselves, 20 % from other parts of Europe
  • the percentage of men among them is decreasing. 78 % of the criminals were men in 2004.
  • the reason for the trafficking: 30 % of the victims was told a wrong reason for the transfer to Germany, 52 % were caught by professional advertisement (in newspapers etc.), 12 % were violently forced, 21 % accepted to work as a prostitute before being transferred.
  • This acceptance however may have been received by giving the victims a wrong impression of what awaits them in Germany. Many of them was told that the could work freely and would earn a lot of money. Many accepted it as a way to pay back their “debts” for the illegal trafficking.
  • 72 % passed the border legally

It should be taken in account that these statistics reflect the year 2004 and therefore before the new laws regarding these crimes were introduced.
As far as I can tell, trafficking is a huge problem – but it is not promoted by the authorities, because prostitution without work permit is still illegal. Most sexual slaves pass the border legally with a tourist visa. Thus better border controls won’t help much.

Instead the problems have to be fought were the prostitution takes place.

Boycott?

Well, how is the World Cup connected to all that? The proposal was to boycott this event to protest against the prostitution taking place there, especially the trafficking. The European Social Democrats have startet a petition about that.

My understanding of a boycott is that you want to directly affect those who are responsible for an unjustified action. For example, if you want to stop the cruel treatment of chicken in a certain egg farm, you just don’t buy their eggs anymore. But what can be done to stop prostitution? If those who want to stop prostitution boycott the places where prostitution takes place, the result would be that all the freers would be among themselves – thus this doesn’t mean any damage to the business of the criminals.
Of course this is not realistic, but to take the egg example again: the last thing the egg farm would be afraid of is the boycott of the non-egg-eaters.

Therefore I think a boycott will hit all those who come to celebrate this event peacefully and legally, not those who abuse it. A boycott is wrong and leads to the same results.
A more effective approach is to address this in the public by any means – T-shirts are actually not a bad idea for that in my opinion.
Reporting suspicious activities to the police is another good thing. Not a single policeman in all of Germany is on vacation during the World Cup – they will be happy to stop every illegal action of this kind.

And for those who want it more directly: embarrassment is the best weapon against freers.

Jämställdhet (Equality between men and women)

The word Jämställdhet has been connected several times to this debate. I think this whole topic has not too much to do with that. Certainly there are mainly men exploiting mainly women – but the reason underneath trafficking is not that we have a profound inequality between the sexes. The reason why poor and desperate women get into this situation is that the iron curtain may not exist in a way of stopping people to cross the border. Today’s iron curtain draws the line between poverty and wealth. The border between Poland and Germany is open today, but the GDP in Germany is 30,000 US-$ per citizen, while in Poland it is only 8,000 US-$ per citizen.
Therefore I see this whole thing more as a matter of the war against poverty than a matter of equality.

Conclusion

The Swedish point of view on prostitution may be different from the German one, but there can be no doubt about it that poverty has to be reduced and exploitation of human beings has to be stopped in every possible way. I consider a boycott not as such.
I am happy to receive comments about this and discuss it further.

Finally: World Cup 2006 Germany – Die Welt zu Gast bei Freunden