It’s the oldest profession, right? It’s worldwide, and attempts to criminalize it don’t seem to work. Does legalizing prostitution solve any problems?
That’s the question Nisha Lilia Diu of The Telegraph set out to answer. In a lengthy piece that focuses on Germany, Diu visited brothels, talked to their owners, visited with prostitutes – all in order to see if the legalization of prostitution “works.”
Germany legalized prostitution in 2002. The law was meant to to do a number of things, but primarily it was meant to give prostitutes legal standing, making their job like any other. Was it effective?
The idea of the law, passed by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s Social Democrat-Green coalition, was to recognise prostitution as a job like any other. Sex workers could now enter into employment contracts, sue for payment and register for health insurance, pension plans and other benefits. Exploiting prostitutes was still criminal but everything else was now above board. Two female politicians and a Berlin madam were pictured clinking their champagne glasses in celebration.
It didn’t work. “Nobody employs prostitutes in Germany,” says Beretin. None of the authorities I spoke to had ever heard of a prostitute suing for payment, either. And only 44 prostitutes have registered for benefits.
Instead, what occurred was prostitution as big business: think of a mall-sized brothel, complete with dim lighting, pseudo-Moroccan decor, meals, alcohol and of course, sex. One such brothel, Paradise, is actually a chain business – five establishments, with three more set to open.
The Netherlands also has de-criminalized prostitution. Diu found that the EU has labyrinth-like laws surrounding the selling and buying of sex, and all it seems to have done is increased sex trafficking.
There is “absolutely” a correlation between legalised prostitution and trafficking, says Andrea Matolcsi, the programme officer for sexual violence and trafficking at Equality Now. “For a trafficker it’s much easier to go to a country where it’s legal to have brothels and it’s legal to manage people in prostitution. It’s just a more attractive environment.”
She points out that Denmark, which decriminalised prostitution in 1999 – the same year Sweden made the purchase of sex illegal – has four times the number of trafficking victims than its neighbour despite having around half the population.
Some Germans are disgusted: their towns and cities, once known for outstanding food or tourism, are now sex stops. With virtually no restrictions on opening a brothel in Germany, it’s easier to do than opening a restaurant.
And what about the women that these laws were meant to help?
Myria Vassiliadou, the EU anti-trafficking co-ordinator, tells me about a Nigerian woman she met recently in London. This woman was trafficked to Britain where she served up to 20 clients a day. “She was telling these clients that she didn’t want to be there, that she was forced and that she would be killed if she didn’t do what the traffickers said. She told the men and the men would say, ‘I don’t care. I paid for this.’”
Forced prostitution comes in many guises. Some women are kidnapped, others are tricked with the promise of jobs as nannies or waitresses. Others choose to work as prostitutes but have no idea of the conditions that await them. Often, a woman’s pimps or traffickers are people from her own town. They know where her family lives and aren’t afraid of harming them in order to control her. Sometimes it’s the families who pressure girls into prostitution in the first place – unable, or unwilling, to think of another way for a woman to earn a living.
There are many lies surrounding the world’s oldest profession. One is that we can do nothing about it. Another is that legalizing it will help. Finally, there’s the lie that it is “victimless:” one person is simply selling and another buying. In the world of brothels, pimps and prostitutes, dressing it up with up-scale decor and lighting doesn’t make it right. This is not Paradise: it’s profoundly evil.
In Becoming Europe, Samuel Gregg examines economic culture - the values and institutions that inform our economic priorities - to explain how European economic life has drifted in the direction of what Alexis de Tocqueville called "soft despotism", and the ways in which similar trends are manifesting themselves in the United States.