Huschke Mau is a survivor, having been in prostitution for ten years, with many breaks.
She studied in university and founded the activist group Netzwerk Ella, exclusively for women in prostitution.
“EU Member-States: Presentations on international practices” session
In Germany prostitution was never prohibited, but always legal – it was deemed “counter to good morals”, however, that is “harmful to the community”. Therefore prostituted women couldn’t legally insist on their payment. In 2000, a court for administrative matters agreed in a lawsuit with Felicitas Schirow and Stephanie Klee, two brothel keepers, that prostitution must no longer be counted as “counter to good morals”. As a result, the German Prostitution Act came into effect in 2002. The law means a type of “legalisation” and was pushed for by a sex industry lobby mostly comprised of the associations “Hydra”, the “Berufsverband erotische und sexuelle Dienstleistungen”, i.e. professional association for erotic and sexual services, and the organisation of brothel keepers, the Professional Association for Sexual Services – “Berufsverband sexuelle Dienstleistungen”. The implementation of the law and some regulations and further laws on redefining pimping and human trafficking for the purpose of prostitution was left to case law, i.e. individual court cases, and to the Laender, the different German states, and there mostly to the municipalities within a framework of the general law, which also mandates that cities larger than 50,000 inhabitants must designate areas for prostituiton and brothel keeping. The various municipalities also decide on taxes they want to collect from prostitution, that is from the brothels and above all from the prostituted.
The law’s purpose was to make prostitution safer for the women in it, to make it possible for them to take the buyers to court over non-payment, and to ensure they would be able to enter regular health and social insurance services. This was not achieved. Only 44 women in Germany entered the regular (state) social security systems, the number of murders of prostituted women is very high, and Germany has become a sex tourism destination. There has been a massive increase in the number of prostituted women: between 400,000 and one million, but we don’t know how many there are. What we do know, however, is that 1,2 million men in Germany visit a brothel each day.
The state has recognised that the law has failed. Unfortunately, it could not bring itself to even consider the Nordic (Equality) Model. Since 2017 there has been an additional law, the “Prostitutes’ Protection Act”. Prostitution is still legal, but subjected to significantly tighter regulations. These regulations mainly target the prostituted women. As before, pimping is only illegal if it is deemed exploitative, that is if the pimp keeps more than 50% of a prostituted woman’s earnings. Regarding forced prostitution, there are no legal prosecutions without the victim’s statement. It is also up to the victim to prove the coercion or force which leads to very few sentences (about 350 a year).
As abolitionists we view the situation of prostitution in Germany very critically, and we believe it impedes equality between men and women. There cannot be any equality where one sex can buy the other. We see that Germany is being called “The brothel of Europe” and that German society is becoming brutalised here. We also see that Germany, together with The Netherlands, has a particular position within Europe as regards prostitution, as laws on prostitution are highly liberal. A few weeks ago two Swedish journalists visited my town for an interview. It was astounding for me to see that there are men who are shocked at the reality of prostitution in Germany. More than once they asked about a series on German television called “Der Pufftester” – “The brothel tester” – in which a man who has by now been sentenced for pimping was filmed helping other brothel keepers to improve, i.e. “to pimp” their brothels. The two journalists called our German attitude to prostitution “extreme”, something we never hear from German men.
I want to answer the questions about what steps we can take by explaining how we, as abolitionists, work in Germany, what our strategies are, what lines of arguments we use and what our practice is.
In 2014, which is also the year in which I began speaking publicly, abolitionists convened for a first time in Munich for an international congress under the motto “Stop sex buying” – “Stop Sexkauf”. The association “Stop Sex Buying” still exists. It is a kind of informal umbrella organisation for nearly all action groups, initiatives, associations and individuals in Germany that are critical of prostitution. We meet in Munich once a year to exchange strategies and actions and to encourage each other. We also have a group on facebook to keep up to date and connect our efforts.
Our strategy consists of several points. First, due to the engagement and work by many individuals and by initiatives or associations since 2014, there have been presentations, panels and smaller conferences and seminars on prostitution in many cities, and we are increasingly invited to present our analysis. This is difficult and slow work, a kind of grassroots revolution, but personally I have the impression that it has an impact. Nearly every time after one of us has spoken in a city, an informal group of women from this city will come together who will follow up on the topic, who approach their politicians with the issue, who do something on site.
Second, our strategy is to critically review and inform the media. Before 2014, German print, TV and other media almost exclusively portrayed prostitution as something wonderful. This is something we have successfully challenged and changed, by not accepting this kind of reporting. We wrote angry emails, complained, published counter reports and submitted useful criticism with suggestions which other experts should have been asked or interviewed. This has had a positive effect. Today, we do not see that many one-sided articles or TV reports, and when we do, they are challenged. Journalists are increasingly asking exited women and let us speak. The Nordic Model is mentioned more often. We are still far from having achieved a realistic presentation in all of the media, but at least there is hardly any report or documentary these days that does at least cast a view on both sides. Via the media, a change in public attitudes can be achieved.
The third strategy is enlightenment, i.e. information and education. This means again and again having to explain key terms. By that I mean, to make clear that the Nordic Model doesn’t mean a prohibition of prostitution, since it doesn’t make it illegal for women to prostitute, it is, however, forbidden for punters to use that, to exploit that by buying sex. What also has to be explained over and over again is that “legalisation” is not the same as “decriminalisation” and, above all, that as abolitionists we only wish to decriminalise the PROSTITUTED women and NOT ALL ASPECTS of the sex industry.
For a long time now we have placed the buyers, the punters in the focus of our analysis. From our point of view, endless debates on whether a woman is in prostitution “voluntarily” or not, or if this makes it an independent choice, get us nowhere. We ask: Who are the punters? What do they think about prostituted women and about women in general? What exactly happens in the brothel rooms? We value the reports by exited women, and also review the comments punters write in “punters’ forums”, i.e. online discussion sections about the various brothels in which they “evaluate” and rate the women in incredibly degrading ways. These forums clearly show that prostitution is sexual violence. Whether the woman who prostitutes herself “voluntarily” exposes herself to this violence or not, is then no longer a question.
Finally I wish to speak of my organisation. I believe that the abolitionist movement has to be led by exited women and survivors, because any change in the laws directly affect us. This is why I founded “Netzwerk Ella” in January 2018. Currently we are 12 women. All of us either were in prostitution once or are still in it, and this makes us the only association that is exclusively restricted to survivors in Germany. We have a homepage. On this page we publish – as individuals or in the name of our group – various texts on all aspects of prostitution. How we entered, how we exited, what legalisation has meant for us, why decriminalisation is important, and more. We plead for the Nordic Model and see how important it is to keep pointing out that this model does not solely consist of criminalising the buyers, but also of enlightenment, the decriminalisation of the women concerned, and of exit opportunities and valid support. We see it as our obligation to contribute to the implementation of the Nordic Model in Germany, and by that we mean 100% of it, as a mere punishing of buyers will not improve our situation. We don’t want a paper tiger, something that looks tough on paper, but has no effect, but an effective implementation of the entire Nordic Model. In order to achieve that I support the women in Netzwerk Ella who want to write texts, who give interviews or who want to speak on panels.